Saturday, January 01, 2005

Hawk watchers need to distinguish between pair-bonding

1/1/05 -- 1:55 p.m.
Just received the following correction from John Blakeman, for the item just below. So much for trying to be lady-like and avoid using the word "copulation"! It's great to have a scientist reading my website! I promise to avoid Victorian euphemisms from now on.

Marie,

Your New Year's Day note about the pair sitting next to each other, vocalizing, and sharing food, describe very normal behaviors for a well-bonded, experienced breeding pair at this time of the year.

You noted, quite accurately, that the pair will soon be "mating." But I think it's important to make a distinction between what we biologists would call "mating," and what the general public might regard "mating" to be. Biologists would presently regard the pair as "mated," meaning that they share the same territory, defend the territory, cooperate in building the nest, and participate in activities involved with rearing offspring.

The public, however, generally regards "mating" (as implied in your note) as copulation. As you know, red-tails can be promiscuously bold in their copulatory activities. The red-tail sex act takes only a few seconds, but it happens repeatedly during the prime sex-act days of February and March.

Hawk watchers need to distinguish between pair-bonding, the generalized, non-sexual "mating" of a male and a female, and specific copulation, the mounting by the male upon the back of the receptive female that produces fertile eggs.

We prefer to avoid the generic term "mating" altogether, and when appropriate, use "pair-bonding" and "copulating." Right now, the pair is strengthening the pair bond. Copulation will ensue in a month or so.

Indeed, these are "Red-tails in Love," encompassing all that that implies -- both long-term pair bonding and short-term copulation.

Sincerely,

John A. Blakeman