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This Week’s Creature Feature: Fatherhood in the Animal Kingdom

Birds set the highest standard


      Fatherhood in nature varies from the seahorse and pipefish, which carry eggs and then offspring in a special pouch, to the praying mantis father that gets eaten by the female after the reproductive act. In many herbivore mammals, like deer, the father does very little parenting. They are not around for the birth or care of the offspring. Herding mammals like bison collectively parent, with the fathers working as protectors. Fox fathers will feed the kits, but the vixen does most of the close care and training.

      Birds are frequently intense fathers. I have bluebirds living near my home and have seen a father bluebird feed and guide four offspring through life to the point that in the middle of winter he brought the young back to the nesting box to show them where their life started. The father bluebird also attacks threats to the nest and babies. 

     I also study osprey behavior and find them doting fathers. As the mother osprey sits on a nest, the father brings her fish and periodically trades places and sits on the eggs. When the eggs hatch, he is the major provider of food and again spells the nesting mother. He listens to the female’s calls for food and calls for attacks on predators. He stays with the fledglings until they can fish on their own. However, when the young are self-sufficient, then he and his mate abruptly stop parenting, disappearing south for the winter, leaving the young to fend for themselves and to migrate on their own.