Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Surge and Madame X"

Humans like to think of themselves as a 'faithful species' but when it comes to  true fidelity, many other animals offer better examples to keep a relationship together.  Although monogamous and long-life-pair-bonds are generally rare in the animal kingdom, there are some animals that succeed. We, as humans can learn much from them if we but observe...and practise!

Throughout my extensive 'odyssey' about Mourning Doves, who three different times nested on one of my balcony chairs, I experienced and learned much about the 'relationship' between humans and these loving mourning doves.  In 2011. I wrote in the concluding blog article ~ The Human Touch:

During 'pregnancy' the parents share the time and effort to bring the babies to fruition.
They each feed the young with 'milk' to nourish them several times a day.
They provide shelter from storms and care for their family with whatever means they have.
They help their 'squabs' prepare for 'Life beyond the Nest'...often pushing them out to fly on their own.
                          It's a story of affection and of Peace in a harsh environment.
                          It's a story of violence in often a 'world of troubled people.'
                          It's a story of love and devotion to one's partner.
                          It's a story of love for the offspring.
                          It's a story of 'love and life lost'.
                          It's a story of 'grief, sadness and sorrow.' one of a New Life and Rebirth...and a story of gentleness.

A Good Bird Broken by a Fickle Mate
~ a true story written by Steve Buist in the Hamilton Spectator ~

There will be an autopsy, but surely that's not necessary.  It's as plain as the beak on your face.  Surge, the falcon is dead, and how can it be from anything other than a broken heart?

Surge, the faithful old feathered sentinel atop the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel, had been recuperating for the past five weeks after losing a vicious territorial struggle with a new rival vying for the affections of his longtime mate...Madame X.  On a cold January night, a wounded Surge was found near the HMCS Haida. His beak was nostril was eye was scratched.

At 13 years of age, the sands of time were running out for Surge, but he seemed to be making a steady recovery at the Owl Foundation sanctuary in Vineland.  His days as Madame X's main squeeze were finished...there was still hope a place could be found where he'd be able to putter around in retirement.

But Wednesday morning, Surge was discovered on the floor, breathing with difficulty.  He was taken to the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph and found to be having seizures.  He was given medication and that appeared to be working. Mike Street, a senior monitor with the Hamilton Community Peregrine Project's Falconwatch said they were ready to give him another dose of the anti-seizure medicine...and he just keeled over. The vets at the OVC were very puzzled as to why this happened.  Age certainly could have been a factor. Male and female peregrines have lived for 15 to 20 years in captivity but in the wild, 13 years is pretty darned good.
Surge was, by all accounts, a devoted mate and father!

The identity of the newcomer that knocked Surge off his perch remains a mystery, although he appears to be engaging in some type of courting ritual at the moment with Madame X. 

Mike Street states, “Surge will be hard to replace. He was always attentive to the chicks, especially when they were learning to fly.  We always said that Madame X whipped him into shape.”

Animals That Mate for Life

Lovebirds are social and affectionate small parrots: 8 species are native to Africa and the gray-headed lovebird is native to Madagascar.  Their name stems from the parrots' strong monogamous bonding with the long periods which the paired birds spend sitting together.

Gibbons are the nearest relatives to humans that mate for life.  They form extremely strong pair bonds.  The couple will spend time grooming each other and literally hanging out together in trees.

Swans form monogamous bonds that last for years and in some cases, for life.  Their loyalty to their mates is such that the image of 2 swans swimming with their necks entwined in the shape of a heart has become a nearly universal symbol of love. 

Black Vultures:  Good looks are not a prerequisite to a faithful relationship.  In fact, black vulture society makes sure of that!  They have been known to attack other vultures who've been philandering!

French Angelfish:  You're unlikely to ever find a French angelfish alone.  These creatures live, travel and even hunt in pairs.  The fish form monogamous bonds that often last as long as both are alive. 

Wolves:  Wolves have a family life that is more loyal and pious than most human relationships. Packs normally consist of a male, female and their offspring, essentially making wolf packs akin to a nuclear family.

Albatrosses may fly great distances over the oceans, but despite extreme travels, these birds will always return to the same place and be with the same partner when it's time to breed.  Pair bonds  form over several years...cemented through the use of goofy, but affectionate ritual dances.

Termites:  In an ant colony a 'queen' mates once with the male(s), stores the gametes for life...and the male ants die shortly after mating.  Several species of termites can form life-long pair-bonds between a female 'queen' and a single male 'king'...who literally gave birth to their entire kingdom!

Prairie Voles:  Although most rodents have a reputation for promiscuity, prairie voles generally form pair-bonds occasionally lasting a lifetime.  They huddle and groom each other, share nesting and pup-raising responsibility and greatly show a high level of support behavior...akin somewhat to humans.

Turtle Doves:  There's a reason they come in pairs of two...The Turtle Days of Christmas.  Their emblems of love and faithfulness have even inspired Shakespeare, being the subject of his poem...The Phoenix and the Turtle.

Schismatic Manson Worms: (YUK!):  These parasitic worms are usually far more faithful than the humans they inhabit. They cause the disease 'Schismatics' also known as 'snail fever'.  When they reproduce within the human body, they form loyal, monogamous pair-bonds lasting the entire cycle.

Bald Eagles (the national emblem of US):  When it comes to maintaining relationships, they soar much higher than the country they symbolize.  Bald eagles typically mate for life,,,except in the event of their partner's death or impotency...a number far lower than America's divorce rate now exceeding 50%.
A pair of bald eagles last summer returned to nest in a high pine tree
in Cootes Paradise...after almost complete extinction in Southern Ontario.

Peregrine Falcons are a wide-spread 'bird of prey'. They are the fastest members of the animal kingdom.  The highest measured flight speed of these species is 389 kmh (242 mph).  Their breeding range includes land regions from the Arctic tundra to the tropics.
We have been fortunate in having a few of these falcons nesting
in the Hamilton area and in the span of the Skyway Bridge.

Penguins:  Such loveable seabirds!  Recently I viewed a TV documentary about the largest settlement in the world of these tuxedo-birds...amazed that it was a sand and rock beach along Peru's coastline. Their nests are in the desert-like sand; during the mating season, the male and female are monogamous...each incubating the eggs, returning down steep rocky banks to the ocean to feed...  protecting and raising  their chicks with numerous challenges  in the harsh environment...whether here or in Antarctica.

With anticipation, we await Madame X's new brood
atop the Sheraton Hotel.

Merle Baird-Kerr...written March 23, 2015
Your comments I to:

Update:  Lily Swoops in on MadameX and her Terviah Moro:
Lily is young, strong and fertile.  More so than Madame X, the rival whose perch…she’s usurped atop the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel.  She basically just showed up and hopped in.   This sudden changeover happened around mid-March.  Now Lily and partner Ossie are starting a family at the Sheraton site.  These peregrine falcons have at least three eggs together.

The whereabouts of Madame X, who turns 16 this year, are unknown. Lily, 5, took the older bird’s throne quickly, but it seems she’d had her eye on it for a while. (There must have been a fight of some sort.  We just don’t know.  And Madame X got the message and she left.)

Falconwatch would like to find Madame X and take care of her during the time she has left.  If she survives, Madame X, who is likely at the tail end of her reproductive cycle, will spend her twilight years trying to find shelter, food and perhaps warmth.

The first Peregrine Falcons were first spotted in Hamilton in the mid 1990’s.  Now there’s the Sheraton pair and two at the Skyway Bridge. Last summer, two more were spotted in upper Stoney Creek.


  1. JEANNE WROTE: "Thank you, Merle.
    I so thoroughly enjoyed today's post.
    Every year I follow their story in the Hamilton Spectator."

  2. We learn so much from the animal world, other than ourselves!
    Nature is an Ace Teacher...if we will stop to observe.
    Having nesting doves, as you and I did, is a valuable experience.
    Thank you for your interest, Jeanne, and comments.