Why Does My Male Play Air Guitar? And Other Scientific Inquiries

Q. Why is my male such a showoff?
A. The male feels a compelling need to display his wealth or sportscar or penis to impress other females and intimidate other males. You cannot talk him out of it, just as you cannot tell a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) to stop carrying a fish around the breeding colony and displaying it to females.

Q. Why does my male think women who chug beers are really awesome?
A. Well, the female Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor Vieillot) impresses the male by stretching her neck and giving a repeated "chugging" call. Perhaps this is why he is compelled by women who can pound back the brewskis.

Q. Why does my male spend 45 minutes on his hair every morning?
A. "Preening" is taking oil from the preen gland near the buttocks and spreading it over the feathers to keep them waterproof and supple. It's just like gel! It has a protective function!

Q. Why is my formerly dowdy male suddenly dressing up?
A. Among many ducks, "eclipse plumage" is what happens after mating. Their shiny feathers turn dull and muted. When they're ready to breed again, their plumage turns bright and perky. Your male's change in plumage could indicate that he's trying to win your interest again, or he could be contemplating an affair.

Q. Why does my male sniff his food?
A. Ducks' bills contain touch receptors that help them find insects and seeds in murky water. Your male is only making sure that his food is actually food. Do not take offense.

Q. Why do males travel in packs?
A. "Grouping" is a way to avoid predators. Some guys watch for danger while others feed. You never know when a guy with a big knife is going to jump out at the Burger Barn! Also, their sheer mass may confuse the enemy. When males are together, the odds of any one male getting attacked are lessened. Also, when in a group, they can turn on a potential attacker. However, for some reason they do enjoy going to public bathrooms alone. Any female knows this is absurd.

Q. Why is my male insecure about the size of his penis?
A. Scientists did an experiment in which they lengthened or shortened the tail feathers of Long-tailed Widowbirds. The males whose tails were artificially made longer acquired the most new mates. Males with regular-sized tails got an average number of mates. Males with the smallest tails had the smallest number of mates. DUH. You can reassure your male about his attractiveness, but biology tells another story. No wonder the poor thing is insecure.

Q. Why do males have iron stomachs?
A. The gizzard is a part of a bird's stomach lined with horny ridges, like teeth, that grind the food the bird swallows. Birds often swallow sand and pebbles to keep the gizzard sharp and fresh. Grebes eat fish, which may have sharp bones, so they swallow their own feathers to cushion the bones. Your male is in good company.

Q. Why does my male have a compulsive need to play air guitar and/or drum along with the stereo?
A. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drum against dried branches, gutters, stovepipes and trashcans to proclaim their territorial boundaries and attract mates. The ruffled grouse plays air guitar by striking the air with his wings, making cool sounds and turning on the chicks. Exuberant mimed musicianship must somehow be a biological imperative.

Q. Why are males such disgusting housekeepers?
A. Well, what are nests made of? Saliva, feathers, guano, regurgitated food, spider webs, cow poop, snakeskin, human hair, leaf mold and/or mud. Le voilà.

Q. Why is my male so territorial?
A. Some birds defend an entire part of the woods (the really possessive type), others defend only their food supply (the "DON'T EAT OFF MY PLATE!" type), others defend only their place to mate (the "I love my waterbed" type), others defend the nest site (the "why does your annoying friend have to come over here" type). Sandpipers defend tiny bits of space on their lek (the "you don't understand, I ALWAYS sit there" type).

Q. Why does my male hog the remote control?
A. Acorn woodpeckers live in environments with uneven food supplies (abundant in summer, barren in winter) so they must plan ahead. They therefore find a hollowed-out tree and fill it with acorns for later, packing them so tightly that no one can steal them without creating a huge woodpecker-alerting ruckus. (Imagine the walnuts-in-the-closet scene from the old Dick van Dyke Show and you get the idea.) The hoarding of the remote control has the same origins. The human male never knows when something good might come on, as his television environment usually features periods of uneven entertainment supply. This is why he must channel surf constantly. If he were to give up the remote control, he might starve for lack of stimulus. If he were to allow the female access to the remote control, she might use it to watch Absolutely Fabulous (the television equivalent of stealing his nuts).

Q. Why is my male so paranoid?
A. A male meadowlark will assualt a stuffed bird placed in its territory, totally unable to recognize that its "rival" poses no threat. In other words, it's genetic.

Q. Why won't my male try new restaurants?
A. "Site fidelity" is when birds frequent certain regular locations. It's the avian equivalent of returning to a neighborhood pub or going to the same Club Med every blessed year. Familiarity with a site makes the male feel confident and assured. Can you train your male to visit a new feeding area? Certainly. Once he becomes comfortable with you, he may willingly follow you (a la Konrad Lorenz) to the restaurant of your choice. If he is resistant, though, you may still be able to bring him to a restaurant you want to visit, if you first make sure that they can make him a "kiddie plate" of familiar foodstuffs that have safe and comfortable associations--hamburgers, chicken fingers, etc. Many high-class restaurants are familiar with the recalcitrant male and will not bat an eye when you arrange in advance for special male meals.