#Relationshipgulls: Lessons from lovebirds this Valentine's Day

The long-term relationships of northern gannets and other birds would put some human couples to shame, says a seabird ecologist.

How monogamous seabird relationships can inspire other species

A pair of northern gannets clack their bills together, one of the signs of affection that mates show each other. (Submitted by Shawn M Fitzpatrick)

When it comes to popular symbols of love and romance, birds are near the top of the list. Doves released at weddings, lovebirds singing together on a tree branch and pairs of swans swimming in a lake are just some of the images that may come to mind.

But where's the love among seabirds found on Canada's rocky cliffs and beaches — like seagulls, puffins and gannets? 

Turns out, there's a story of romance there too that would put most romantic comedies to shame.

Two seagulls share a moment at the edge of a Newfoundland cliff. (Submitted by Shawn M Fitzpatrick)

"One thing that's really endearing about their relationships is that they tend to have long-term monogamous relationships," seabird ecology professor Bill Montevecchi told the St. John's Morning Show.

"They probably have a much higher rate of stick-to-it-ivity and a much smaller rate of divorce than we do as humans."

Love on the cape

Though seagulls and gannets are alone on Valentine's Day — they won't meet up with their mates for another few months — Montevecchi suggested anyone looking to see how commitment in a relationship works should travel to Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve in southeastern Newfoundland during the summer.

That's where tens of thousands of northern gannets, gulls and other birds gather on the cliffs to meet their life-long mating partners.

Looking for inspiration for your love life? The Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve in southeastern Newfoundland has tens of thousands of examples for you to see. (The Canadian Press)

In some cases, the birds travel from their winter retreat in the Gulf of Mexico to meet up with their loves, in the exact same spot year after year.

"You have these long, long term relationships," Montevecchi said.

"There's the exuberance of it. You've been five thousand kilometres away for the winter and then you come back and all of a sudden there's your mate that you've maybe mated with for a decade or more."

Aggressive birds get soft

The commitment that gannets have to their mate is especially impressive given that the birds are not exactly known for their gentle ways. But when the two lovers meet, the mood changes, with the two birds displaying their affection by pruning each other's plumage and clacking their bills together.

Even pigeons are not immune from the bonds of love. (Submitted by Shawn M Ftizpatrick)

"If you go to Cape St. Mary's, these gannets are just atrocious, aggressive birds that will just hammer the eye out of the bird next to them if they lean over," Montevecchi said.

"But you watch the mates interacting and you wouldn't see a more gentle or sensual interaction between animals."

With files from St. John's Morning Shows


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