The Solitary Goose
In the world of animals, mating can either be random, related to status, or purely monogamous.
Dogs will mate with any other dog; female walruses will only mate with the alpha male of the group, while geese will mate for life with only one other individual. Humans exhibit all three characteristics in their mating habits, meaning that as a species we can tend to be completely indiscriminating and promiscuous, purposefully calculating, absolutely faithful, or any combination thereof in our sexually diverse behaviors.
There are several situations I have empirically observed in nature that by chance involved the mating loyalties of birds.
There was a group of pheasants living in a copse around the corner from my house. Male pheasants will usually maintain a small harem of females. One day as I drove to work I noticed that a female pheasant lay dead by the side of the road, undoubtedly having been killed by a car. The male pheasant not only kept vigil for about two weeks, but every time a car drove by he hopped out of the brush, fluffed up his feathers and stood by the roadside squawking angrily at each vehicle. It was easy to see that he was royally pissed off and knew exactly what had killed his mate.
In another situation a Mocking Bird living in my yard lost his mate and then spent four weeks driving me both crazy and insomniac by singing continuously from dusk to dawn. These birds never sing at night unless under emotional distress, and I hope his eventual silence meant not because he had been shot by one of my equally sleepless neighbors but rather that he was getting laid again.One or two more nights of it and I would have been sorely tempted to shoot him myself by spraying random buckshot off into the general vicinity of his irritating miming cackles.
Then on another bright morning I noticed a female Flicker lying dead on the gravel walk at the base of my house and sadly realized it had died after flying into one of my windows. Unfortunately, many millions of birds meet this fate every year because from a certain angle all they see is a reflection of the sky as they rush headlong into the false security of the unintended mirror.
Flickers are a beautiful variety of woodpecker with yellow and red highlighted feathers. I had always enjoyed both their unique beauty as well as the fact that they would not limit their activity to trees but would also regularly patrol my yard in their hunt for insects that were attempting to destroy my lawn. That opinion changed on the day the Flicker died as her mate then took it out with a vengeance on my murderous house.
Every day at dawn he literally pecked the ever-loving tar out of my home by attacking the shingled roof and then not being satisfied by that began to attack the cedar siding in order to exact revenge on the giant wooden beast that had taken away his mate.
Not wanting to have to kill it, I consulted a wildlife expert who explained to me that the male of this species would usually beak-batter a loudly resonating tree in order to attract a mate, but that he had never heard of one purposefully assaulting a house in order to make the appropriate sound. In fact, in twenty-five years of living in the same house it had never been attacked either before or after by a woodpecker of any species. After several thousand dollars worth of damage, the bird simply disappeared. I never saw him again leaving me to guess that either he too had found a female replacement or he had completed his vendetta and moved on to another territory.
But one of the more poignant scenes I have ever witnessed was that of a Snow Goose who had lost its mate in the middle of January. The dead bird of the pair had washed up in front of my father’s bulkhead and was subsequently decaying on the beach in front of his house. The surviving mate of the pair staged a death vigil by standing in our front yard for several months enduring the most extremes of weather; only seeking partial shelter by occasionally going to the leeward side of the house. During one particular storm my heart bled for the animal as it stood out in the teeth of an arctic driven gale, slowly becoming covered with ice and snow while hopelessly waiting for its mate to come back or to be resurrected.
This is not to say for humans that they do not grieve at the loss of loved ones.
But for anyone who honestly believes that animals are devoid of feelings or emotions; better think again.
(Baby elephant refuses to leave the carcass of its dead mother)
Til death do us part.