There are many online videos that proclaim that baya weavers are inseparable, even in death. But do birds die when their mate dies? I explore this myth in the article below and share the truth – and perhaps there’s a lesson in it for humans as well.
You might have frequently heard that many bird species are monogamous – and taken it to mean that they mate for life.
However, monogamy in the animal kingdom is slightly different.
“Monogamous” birds are simply species that bond with a single mate for the duration of a single breeding season.
They may or may not match up again in the next season.
The primary reason for this is to ensure the best scenario for the offspring’s survival by having both parents present during its growth.
Around 90% of the world’s birds follow this ritual. Let’s break down the falsehoods surrounding this.
Do Birds Mate For Life?
While it is not common, some birds do mate for life, such as:
- Bald eagles
- Secretary birds
- Macaroni penguins
- Golden eagles
- Little fairy penguins
- Barn owls
- Most species of swan and geese
Life-long mating has mostly been observed in migratory birds or large birds of prey who have fewer broods per year.
Having a life-long mate means these birds can produce offspring at any point when food is in abundance.
Finding new mates in new territories while covering large distances can take up considerable time and energy.
Moreover, for chicks that take long to fledge, the parents need to be alert and devoted for longer periods of time, reducing the time left for courtship every season.
However, various research show that different conditions can change this.
For example, birds that are only monogamous for a single season can repeatedly choose the same partner over seasons if the population of the species in that area is low.
Does A Baya Weaver Bird Die When its Partner Dies?
You might have seen the touching video that claims a Baya weaver bird died as their partner did.
For those who haven’t, here it is:
While this makes for a good narrative, it is not biologically true.
Both sexes of the Baya weaver birds are polygamous and have multiple mates within a single breeding season.
Moreover, in the specific viral video, both birds are males. The video also does not show how the second bird dies but cuts to a shot of them being buried together.
It is definitely a false claim created to garner sympathy.
However, birds do exhibit grief (or some similar emotion) towards the deaths of their partners and loved ones.
Many species have elaborate rituals surrounding the same.
For example – crows and jays will surround the dead body, stop foraging and create a ruckus for around 15-30 minutes before dispersing.
But whether this is a “funeral” or something else altogether? I have covered that later on.
Do Barn Owls Die When Their Mate Dies?
Barn owls are one of the few truly monogamous bird species.
However, one bird does not die when their mate dies.
There are many falsely reported claims of this, and while barn owls have a high mortality rate in the wild, dying of a broken heart is not one of the reasons.
Around 70% of barn owl fledglings die within their first year. Hence, it is more likely that the survivor will look for a potential mate to increase the chances of its chick’s survival.
Do Swans Die When Their Mate Dies?
Swans are famously known to show a mourning process when their mate dies. This includes staying close to the body or site of death, aggressive behavior, and excessive vocalization.
However, once done (this may take a few days or weeks), the swan will likely look for a new partner.
It may stay in the same place or try to join a new flock. But one thing is for sure – swans do not die when their mate dies.
Do Golden/White-Tailed Eagles Die When Their Mate Dies?
White-Tailed Eagles are monogamous and form life-long bonds. Usually, they attain sexual maturity at around 5 to 6 years of age, beyond which they stay with a single partner.
Again, they do not die when their mate dies but look for a new mate instead after some period of time.
In fact, this replacement can be surprisingly quick as most pairs are focusing on nesting attempts.
What Bird Kills Itself When Its Mate Dies?
No bird species kills itself when its mate – either seasonal or lifelong – passes away.
Animal suicide cases, while not totally unknown, are rare and usually motivated by –
- Group defense behavior (for example – killing themselves to save the colony), or
- Parasitism (when a parasite takes control of the host’s behavior and drives it towards death).
Over the years, various media outlets have reported individual cases of ducks or dogs killing or starving themselves after their mate or owner dies.
You must understand that these are exceptions and not the rule.
Do Birds Mourn Their Dead?
Birds do exhibit behavior that can be akin to grief or mourning after losing a chick, a flockmate, or a mate.
However, whether this can be classified as grief is a topic of debate.
In humans, grief is an emotion that lasts long and often alters the host’s behavior. Humans display long-term memory of the event too.
While birds do “mourn” and exhibit certain rituals when they die, they do not exhibit long-term behavioral alterations.
These rituals can be elaborate, such as when magpies “decorate” the dead body using clips of grass or when crows circle over the area.
However, these can also be interpreted as trying to mark out the area as one with predators or trying to frighten away the predator.
Here’s how some of these “mourn” death:
Jays Seem To Hold Funerals
Jays are known to crowd and swoop around the dead body of a fallen flock member.
While many take this as a sign of mourning, some research shows that this is probably less of a funeral and more of a tactic to try and figure out the cause of death and the predator.
Their constant calls are a warning that there is an unknown predator nearby.
Crows Flock Around Their Dead
Crows flock around their dead, fly in circles and increase their vocalization. Around 70% of them do not actually interact with the corpse but send out alarming calls.
This is likely them trying to figure out the cause again and warning nearby flocks of the particular crow’s fate.
In fact, some crows (during breeding season) have been seen to present themselves to the corpse as a potential mate.
Despite being intelligent birds, it seems that the concept of death is something that confuses them.
Oftentimes, it is we, as viewers, who impose our ideas of grief, mourning, and human emotions onto our actions.
In fact, their behavior at times like these can also be taken as confusion towards the idea of death.
Reaction to a dead mate seems more of a social behavior targeted towards understanding the sudden cause rather than trying to unravel the grief associated with it.
As of now, all the evidence we have of birds displaying grief is based on superimposing our ideas of grief on them.
Deep-seated evidence such as mapping the emotions within the hippocampus has not yet been done – and most such experiments would be unethical today.
In the ones that had been done prior to the 1990s, most birds who lost their mate found new ones within very short periods of time!
Nature holds life and its continuance dear over all other things – even a lifelong love.
Finding potential mates takes precedence as most birds and animals are driven towards nesting and continuing their species.
While individual birds have shown varying reactions to their mates passing away, most revert to finding a replacement soon.
Some birds also display peculiar behaviors towards a corpse. For example – some crows may peck at it, swoop at it, or try to engage in mating!
While it might be jarring for us to hear, the laws governing birds and animals are different from our own.
Thank you for reading.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do birds grieve when their mate dies?
Birds exhibit behavior that can be similar to grief or mourning after losing a chick, flockmate, or mate.
However, many will agree that this is not the same as the human understanding of “grief.”
While some birds, like jays and crows, do perform rituals when they die, they do not exhibit long-term behavioral changes.
These rituals can be elaborate, but they can also be interpreted as marking out the area as one with predators or trying to scare predators away.
Which animal dies when its partner dies?
One animal that gives its partner and might die in the process is the Gibbon monkey.
These primates are known for their strong social bonds and lifelong partnerships.
When one of the partners dies, the surviving Gibbon monkey can become depressed, stop eating, and ultimately die from heartbreak.
This phenomenon has been observed in both captive and wild populations of Gibbon monkeys and suggests that these animals have a deep emotional connection with their partners.
What happens when a love birds partner dies?
When a lovebird’s partner dies or is separated from the flock, the surviving bird may exhibit behavior similar to depression.
This is seen in most pet birds who don’t like being alone.
However, this does not mean that lovebirds die when this happens
At best, they might grieve for some time, but if provided with another mate, they would eventually grow out of the depression and possibly even mate again.
Can birds die from separation?
No, nature does not hold monogamy this dear. While many birds are seasonally monogamous, only a few are true to their partners for life.
Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, even with these birds like barn owls, etc., the death of a partner is merely a cause for temporary grief.
Over time, the bird will find another mate and pair with them. Life will go on, and perhaps this is a lesson that we as humans should also take from our avian friends.