Sex and the Birds: 6. Divorce

on 22nd November 2013

Yes, monogamous birds do divorce their partner. Divorce here occurs when the pair bond is broken when one of the pair decides to leave. Another cause can be when a usurper chases off one of the pair and develop a bond with the other.

Among monogamous LINK birds that pair for one season, divorces usually occur between seasons. Among migratory species, the late arrival of a mate to the breeding grounds may result in divorce, as waiting for the mate to appear may result in missing out on the breeding season. In such a case the female may take on a male of a higher social rank or one with a better breeding territory than that of her previous partner.

Within-season divorces, also referred to as rapid mate switching, are less common than between season divorces. Again, the reasons may either be abandonment by one of the pair of forced out by a usurper.

There is a general belief that females more often initiate divorce than males. And in such instances, she is more likely to have had mixed-paternity broods prior to the divorce than females who stay with their previous partners.

Examples of divorces among birds include Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber roseus) (top: flamingoes in a lake in Kenya, Africa), Common Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) and Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), among others.

YC Wee
November 2013

Cezilly F. & A. R. Johnson, 1995. Re-mating between and within breeding seasons in the greater flamingo Phoenicopterus rubber roseus. Ibis 137, 543–546.
2. Choudhury, S., 1995. Divorce in birds: a review of the hypotheses. Animal Behaviour, 50 (2), 413-429.
3. Ens, B. J., U. N. Safriel & M. P. Harris, 1993. Divorce in the long-lived and monogamous oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus: incompatibility or choosing the better option? Animal Behaviour, 45(6), 1199-1217.
4. Jacot, A., M. Valcu & B. Kempenaers, 2010. Within-season divorce in Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus). Journal of Ornithology, 151, 477-482.
5. Ramsay, S. M., K. A. Otter, D. J. Mennill, L. M. Ratcliffe & P. T. Boag, 2000. Divorce and extrapair mating in female black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus): separate strategies with a common target. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 49 (18), 18-23.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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