She Talks, He Listens

You can tell these eagles have been married for awhile

I love watching not just birds, but their behaviors. Across species, many similar behaviors give the appearance of being “built-in” or “hard-wired” as part of some universal bird program. From my observations, however, such similarities do not preclude differences unique to individual birds that, if similarly observed in humans, would be considered “personality.” So while it’s often possible to interpret what a bird is doing, and even at times predict what it might do next, the video above suggests that there’s more to avian personality than we humans might guess.

To me, the close relationships enjoyed by mated pairs of eagles are reminiscent of married couples. Just watch as he teases and tempts, trying to coax a smile from her, which behavior she tolerates briefly with a measure of barely disguised irritation, finally grabbing him firmly by the scruff of his neck — and pinching a little — to make her feelings, and limits, crystal clear.

I’m dreaming, you say? Well then grab your dictionary and look up “henpecked.” I certainly didn’t coin the term, but I’ve definitely observed it both in the wilds — and suburbs — of America for years.

Even with my limited powers of observation, I can clearly see that from their lofty perch at Yaquina Head, these eagles are planning their day. Blue skies and sunshine prompt him to preen his feathers in anticipation of flying far and fast for fun — he even takes a quick little practice loop to show her how much fun it could be. But as they talk it over, she explains that fun is nowhere on her “Honey Do” list for the day, and in the end, the only flying she sanctions is to have him swoop down on his way home and pick up some of the “groceries” that you hear squawking in the background — common murres no doubt receiving similar instructions from their mates.

In a human context, the males of both species cited above would spend all afternoon mowing their lawns. It’s a story as old as time. Just watch the video and see for yourself.

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