This week’s Economist featured a fantastic little article about fairy-wren mating practices. Stay with me … Fact: Most males are reluctant to raise another’s children. Fact: Almost half of baby fairy-wrens are cared for by a male bird that is not their biological father. Daniel Baldassarre of Cornell University undertook a study to find out what techniques male fairy-wrens use to try to guarantee paternity, and which strategies work best. The resulting study was published in Biology Letters on February 24. Baldassarre and his colleagues found that when challenged, all male fairy-wrens attacked the rival (to keep him away from their mate) and sang with their mates (to woo her and send a signal that she’s taken). Interestingly, the researchers discovered that a male’s level of aggression towards the rival made no difference in whether that male subsequently ended up raising another bird’s young. By contrast, “[t]he best duetters had almost no offspring born of adultery inflicted on them.”
I found this article very sweet, although not terribly surprising. Any woman would tell you she would rather be wooed by a man than have him beat up some other suiter, and yet, males throughout the animal kingdom continue to duke it out to keep other dudes away from their lady. Male fairy-wren and men alike should take a note from Mr. Baldassarre’s research – romance, not machismo, is the key to fidelity. Unfortunately for men, it takes more than the occasional karaoke to woo most women.
For me, the music to my ears is the six little words my husband knows will always get my attention and lift my mood: “What can I do for you?” I often say, “Nothing,” but just being asked makes me feel loved. And when I tell my husband I would appreciate it if he would empty the dishwasher, get the kids in their PJs, or give me a massage, he always honors my request good naturedly. I appreciate all of these little acts of devotion – big and small – but the most valuable is the question itself. He’s my mate for life (and there can be no doubt our kids are his)!