The book: The Love Lives of Birds: Courting and Mating Rituals by Laura Erickson (Storey Publishing)
The beer: How about an Early Bird Breakfast Barley Wine from Cameron’s Brewing? The boozy brew is a marriage of two unlikely but totally compatible independents: Ontario maple syrup and cold-steeped coffee. This “barley wine” (aka STRONG beer in disguise) registers at 11.4% alcohol, so, enjoy with a stack of pancakes or you’ll be as flat as a pancake in no time.
The who: This one goes out to all the romantics, bird nerds, twitchers, listers, lifers and newbies. For fans of all things Attenborough, Peterson, Sibley and David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things. If blue-footed boobies excite you like boobies excite teen boys (and just as many girls, to be fair), this one is for you.
The part you’ve been waiting for: Laura Erickson is an ornithologist and former science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so there’s no goofing around here. She showcases 35 species of birds and their quirky mating habits. They are often an embarrassing mirror to human (mis)behavior.
Birds have identical Twitter feeds that blow-up over messy divorces, non-committal partners, dead-beat dads and homewreckers. On the flip side, there are stories of monogamy that will warm the cockles and cockle-doodle-doo’s of your heart.
Really, this is one sex-ed class that you won’t want to skip! There are R-rated slow dances involving mallards that would make Dr. Ruth blush and excuse herself. For example: the male mallard has a corkscrew-shaped penis-like organ that “can be shockingly long: up to 8 inches, or more than a third of their body length. Now I understand the warning, “Duck, get out of the way!”
Red-winged blackbirds are the Hugh Hefner’s of the avian world, establishing harems of up to 15 females. The gals are wise to this and are “no more faithful to one mate than the males are.” Here’s the reality TV scandal: “About half of all red-wing nests contain at least one chick fathered by a male other than the mother’s mate.”
Florida Scrub-Jays represent the millennials without the laundry. They never leave home! They will wander no more than a mile or two from their original territory, making it impossible for the parents to Netflix and chill.
Erickson describes bird antics with awesome comedic beat from the pogo stick dance of the Whooping Crane to the nest trashing that’s synonymous with cowbirds. Known for their lazy parenting skills, cowbirds will lay their eggs in the nests of foster moms. If the unwilling foster parent kicks the egg out, the cowbird will trash the nest and destroy the other eggs in a dramatic hissy-fit suitable for TMZ coverage.
There’s so much to learn and snicker about in The Love Lives of Birds. It’s a lesson in love with feathered characters like boobies who are known to whistle at other females flying overhead like a construction crew. Male terns are equally deceptive and are known to pretend to be females during mating season. Duped male terns will present the great pretenders with fresh fish to woo them. Yeah, the catch of the day comes with a catch!
The accounts of murderous loons lynching competitors (male or female) are cutthroat! Actually, it’s usually a fatal stabbing that comes from a defensive loon’s attack from underwater. I was also amazed to learn that screech owls will sleep separately to protect their multi-roost real estate in the forest. Yeah, nature is cool.
Even if you’re not totally bird crazy, you can’t help but marvel at the wonders of nature and the parallels to human kind. Cedar Waxwings and hawks will show their age in the development of more red wing markings (for waxwings) or deeper orange-red eyes (for hawks). Scientists have dubbed this “assortative mating: older birds specifically choose to match with older mates—like Elite Singles vs. Tinder.
Peppered with pop culture nods, references to Austen, Bond, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Shakespeare and the Beatles, this book is a rich romp and spy cam on the sky-high romances that surround us with gorgeous watercolours by Swedish illustrator Veronica Ballart Lilja. Her talent can be found in Vogue Japan, Harper’s Bazaar and tropical Simon Col 70% cocoa + sea salt chocolate bar wrappers–among a bazillion other creds. Pour another beer and have a Scandi interlude via her Peppercookies gallery or crawl through Lilja’s arresting Food & Nature portfolio.
It’s a one-two punch of crunchy bird IQ and sensational, whimsical bird portraits.
If you have spring fever, this is the balm.
If you loved The Love Lives of Birds, check this one out next:
Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin. If you’re just figuring out which end of the binoculars to look out of, this book will be the perfect companion.