Do birds really mate for life? Many people believe that doves, swans, and other birds actually remain with just one mate their entire lives, like most people strive to do. But do birds mate for life in reality? And if so, which ones? Here’s the facts on birds and how long they usually choose their mates for.
When it comes to birds, like most animals, instinct and survival are the primary goals of the bird in question. Since most small birds only live around a year or so (succumbing to harsh weather, predators, etc) they may remain monagomous for a single season (mating and choosing a mate takes a lot of time and effort, and those eggs need to be laid!) but go separate ways once the eggs have hatched and the baby birds have flown the coop. Since the likelihood of both birds being alive the following season is pretty rare, these birds won’t mate for life. They won’t abandon one another while they are raising their young, but the same couple won’t be together next egg-laying seson either. Basically, small birds choose a mate to get those eggs laid, and that’s it. This goes for most small birds, such as robins, sparrows, finches, and yes, even doves.
Now, larger birds claim another story. Instinct has them choosing to remain together for more than one season (which in bird terms is mating for life, so to speak) for many reasons: the length of time to lay eggs and incubate them can take many months, the raising of the chicks is longer than that of smaller birds, and there is migrating for the winter to keep in mind. For larger birds, like geese, swans, and eagles, mating for life just makes sense- there’s not enough time in the birds’ entire lifespan to spend so much time seeking a mate. Not when there is reproduction at hand, and migration to worry about. Imagine if a goose had to fly south for the winter, and choose a new mate when it got there? Mating for life is just plain easier for larger birds, so they tend to remain a couple much longer than smaller birds do.
So essentially, the longer the bird is likely to live, the longer it is that they will remain with the same mate. If one mate dies, the bird may appear to mourn, but is more likely than not to ‘replace’ their former mate with a new one, as their instincts to mate will take over. So the next time you run over a dove and worry about its poor mate, just think: next season that dove will have a new mate anyhow, and the old one will be long forgotten.