Sunday, January 02, 2005

difference between mating and copulating

After receiving the correction from John Blakeman about my use of the word "mating" as a euphemism for the word "copulating, I e-mailed him back to say that I was just trying to be unnecessarily delicate, but that I knew what they were doing on the various rooftops and antennas of Fifth Ave. I also sent him a copy of Red-Tails in Love, which I began to realize he had not read. [It was never a book directed towards scientists, after all.]He wrote back the following letter, which I thought extremely thought provoking, and important -- a wonderful and profound letter:


I well understood that you (and most others) recognized the difference between mating and copulating. And I also understand the discretion that might be appropriate in presenting any of this to the public.

Bt given both the birds' profligate sexuality, and that contemporary uses of exact sexual terminology are not now so socially egregious, I think the public should be prompted to recognize the distinctions.

I say this because those of us who have worked with these nonsocial, solitary predators always marvel at their socializing behaviors when pair bonding. All of what you described, the vocalizing, sitting close together, and especially food sharing, are so counter to normal, day to day red-tail behavior. As both a falconer and a raptor biologist I get to see both a) normal hunting behaviors (in my hunting red-tail) that are solitary and decidedly nonsocial, compared to the b) social mating behaviors during the extended breeding season which has just begun.

I marvel at how the birds restrain their solitary and predatory behaviors when pair bonding. Red-tail copulation is interesting enough, but is not so remarkable as the complete turnaround in pair bonding behaviors. The public use of the two terms will prompt the hawk watching public to discern the importance of the bonding behaviors. It's important that observers not arbitrarily or casually ascribe human or mammalian explanations for any red-tail behaviors, especially the "lubby-dubby" behaviors that are now beginning seen. It's love all right, but very different from that of social predators such as dogs, or the ultimate primate, humans.

People need to understand that red-tailed hawks are altogether unique unto themselves. They are not a mirror or model of any other species. Their nobility is their own. And again, your book, I'm sure, has conveyed that. I look forward to reading it.


John A. Blakeman