Feathered Flirts, Avian Advances Feathered Flirts, Avian Advances
“Two Mallards near a Snow-Covered Lotus”, Ohara Koson, circa 1925-1936, Rijksmuseum (CC BY 4.0)

Feathered Flirts, Avian Advances

An Interview About Birds
Stasia Budzisz
time 13 minutes

So many birds, so many customs! Some are unfalteringly faithful, loving their mates until death do them part, while others cheat left, right and centre. Some drop their chicks into other birds’ nests and some defend their young with all their might. They have been mythologized, turned into symbols, and some have even become national emblems. Birds turn out to be more human-like than we, humans, would think them to be. Jacek Karczewski, author of the book Zobacz ptaka. Opowieści po drodze [See the Bird: Stories on the Way], talks about all things avian.

Stasia Budzisz: Many people believe birds to be a species of one monolithic pattern of behaviour. After all, they all do pretty much the same thing: they fly, go to the toilet in the least predictable moments, prey on mice and insects, avoid humans, and sing. However, in your books, you prove that each and every one of them does things differently. It turns out that birds have their particular preferences when it comes to lovemaking and in choosing lovers. Some birds are hermaphroditic, some homosexual or polyamorous, while others mate for life, divorce, or just plain cheat on their partners.

Jacek Karczewski: Birds can be very passionate! But each bird to their own. Sparrows, for example, make love a lot, even up to 100 times a day. And it’s very dynamic, too, time after time. One erotic experience can last more than 10 minutes. No wonder that, until recently, they were consumed as aphrodisiacs. The sparrow’s brain was considered to be the most potent. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the recent decline in their population? Larks, on the other hand, mate just once for every time they lay their eggs: that’s twice, thrice a year. That’s how many times they procreate in one season. In their case, we can speak of purposeful procreation: intercourse always leads to starting a family. Many owls start having sex long before laying their first egg, and their favourite foreplay happens on a bed of corpses – preferably those of voles, but other kinds of animals will also do. No need for outrage, we also have dates in restaurants with schnitzel and steak on the menu. The way to the heart is through the stomach. As for other birds, I once watched a pair of storks that regularly made love in their nest throughout the summer once their young had left it.

I’ve heard that you like geese and


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Also read:

The Pious Bird The Pious Bird
Illustration by Marek Raczkowski

The Pious Bird

Storks in Myth and Memory in Lithuania
Wailana Kalama

Stork spotting

I first spied a stork in Lithuania from the back of a bike. It was the dead of summer, a blazing hot July day cycling in the grassy countryside northwest of Vilnius. We were cycling up to Kernave for Midsummer’s Day celebrations, expecting bonfires, singing, sausages, and candles floating in the river. It was the type of hot, sunny day that drew out smatterings of wildlife here and there – a few cats, cranes, even a fox once. We kept to the forests where we could, crossing dirt paths and sandy roads. But sometimes the sand was too much, and drove us out onto a paved backroad with no trees in sight. A couple hours into the ride, we spied a telephone pole topped with a thicket. A nest. Catching a glimpse of a thin bird overhead, I pointed at the sky: “Gandras!” We watched it as it glided downward, silent, soon swallowed up by grassland.

The Ballads of Kukutis

“My, Vilnius is big!
At one end
A stork stands –
At the other
It claps its beak.”

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