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Dating for Drongos

“Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” Charles Darwin

‘A large inauspicious nose, sunken eyes and a beard like Parmeliaceaen lichen’- no, I’m not describing myself. This is a description of the great Charles Darwin, so-called father of evolution and thus (inadvertently) the founder of etholobestiaerotology. The study of animal love, and what we as humans can learn from it. And yes- I made that word up.

It’s Valentine’s day soirée- date night- and you’re already feeling the butterflies. As these giant arthropods collide with your inner organs, you have two options. Either you play the old lady and swallow a bird, or you can take a few deep breaths, preen back your feathers and take faith from our avian amis. Your choice. For the former, I recommend head-first and to try with something smaller than a shoebox at least to start. If however the latter was your choice, then read on and find out what tips and tricks you might pick up from the animal world.

Firstly, start with a gift. And make it good. I mean, I hate to put the pressure on so early in the piece, but the first thing you’ve gotta learn is that you only get one turn to impress and it can go very badly wrong. Thankfully, there’s no such thing as plagiarism in survival of the fittest, so let’s look towards the blue-footed booby (an unfortunate name, but most definitely a bird) for some consoling words. When male suitors bring new presents of sticks, female blue-footed boobies have an eye for class: if the piece is sub-par, the unfortunate partner may receive anything from a disapproving squawk to a faceful of droppings. You don’t want to go there.

Just as important is to make sure you’re dressed to perfection, if not to kill. For those of you who haven’t seen a frigate bird, imagine blending a vulture with an albatross and a sprinkling of Dracula- chances are, you’re not far from the mark. But come breeding season, these great imposing hulks of bird sure know how to strut their stuff- add to your bird a bright red travel cushion of an air sack extending down from its Adam’s apple the size of several watermelons. Now you have a male frigate bird. Okay… so maybe stuffing party balloons down your suit isn’t quite ideal, but a bowtie might work just as well, so make the effort.

And finally there’s performance, because pulling off a date requires more than first impressions. The New Zealand kakapo is a bird no-one can help but love. With a face like a mildly confounded angel and an utter fearlessness amongst humans, it’s not hard to see why. But when you’re the same colour, size and shape as a very mossy stump- well, suffice to say, it takes a little extra effort to make yourself stand out. Their booming baritone voices are put to maximum effect, amplified in the display amphitheaters they create. Explorer Charlie Douglas described the noise as “screeching and yelling like lots of demons,” but then again he also describes shaking them like apples out of trees, so that might very well explain why. Clearly for the ladies, it’s music to their ears, and they arrive from many kilometres away to the shared display grounds that males employ.

So there it is. All the advice you’ll ever need to impress the love of your life- soak it in. I would add that if you’re bird-brained enough to accept any of this advice, you do so at your own peril. Best of luck- dare I say, you’ll need it.

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