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I have had a tough week. So challenging, in fact, that I had not really done much with my correspondence until it occurred to me it was getting close to (okay, actually past) deadline time for the column. I usually look first to reader comments for inspiration. This time I found quite a pile and thought I perhaps should get a few done before I am pilloried — either by the readers or the editor.

So you buy that crap about aggressive males and subservient females being normal?

I guess I do not understand the context of this question unless it has to do with the nest-building column. The most-studied element of gender role in animals has to do with mating strategy. Key to most of these is the statistical proposal, dating from Darwin and Wallace times, that males have less of an energy investment in their gametes, so therefore it is best for them to be as promiscuous as possible, whereas females have a huge investment, making their best strategy to mate with only the most-fit males.

There are several dramatic examples, much touted of late in popular literature, of species behaving just the opposite, but an article in the last Journal of Ornithology reports a study which indicates that, exceptions aside, the Darwinian model makes the most environmental sense and is the norm for an overwhelming percentage of species. Reading the article, I found my interest piqued by some of the ancillary ideas that came out of this maximization of result study. I cared less about the mating strategy debate, figuring if there were great grouts of rhetoric generated over the exceptions, they were most likely inconsequential. However, after the mating, building the home was what I found most fascinating. In most cases there, it was the exact opposite of your question.

You need to check your grammar. According to your sentence, Captain and Tennille are “large aquatic voles.”

What is your point?

You seem to imply that female birds are the primary nest builders. Is that universal?

Heck no, although in the vast majority of species, the female seems to get the final say of when it looks right, when the walls are thick enough to start putting in the lining, and when to stop building.

In most species, there seems to be a division of labor, each gender performing a different portion of the construction. However, bird species are wondrously diverse. Long-tailed tits, similar to our chickadee but native to Europe, construct domed nests composed of moss and up to 600 spider egg cocoons. Once most of the dome is built, the female calls for a change and the birds begin to cover the outside of their nests with lichen flakes, which adhere in Velcro-like fashion to the spider silk incorporated into the nest walls.

Finally, the birds create an entrance hole and line the nest with an estimated 2,600 feathers. Researchers classified the nest-building process in long-tailed tits into 13-14 discrete, highly stereotyped actions that must be organized correctly to produce a viable nest. Both genders work on this, but the female gives the orders.

The nest of the little spiderhunter, native to southeast Asia, is made under a banana leaf. The male makes a hole in the leaf and pokes a long strand of fiber through. On top of the leaf, the female waits to wind the end of the strand with spider web, acting like a pop-rivet to ultimately create a hammock to support the nest.

In Australia, the male mallee fowl digs a hole 3 to 4 feet deep. Then both parents carry in huge amounts of sticks and leaves. The hole is filled with pure vegetable material, then a mound roughly the size of a station wagon is created of a mixture of sand and vegetable debris. Now the female goes off to rest in the shade for a few weeks while the male checks the temperature of the mound by thrusting his tongue into the pile in various places.

When it hits 92 degrees, he signals the female and she begins laying eggs, which he promptly buries. Over the course of the two weeks it takes to lay her eggs (each one weighs 1/3 as much as the bird), the male continually adjusts the temperature by piling on more sand or scratching it off. When she finishes, he continues monitoring the pile’s temperature (with his tongue) and makes adjustments, keeping the temperature within one degree of the perfect 92. The male malle fowl’s tongue is one of the most precise temperature-sensing instruments on the planet. Once the eggs begin to hatch, both male and female leave to start another nest.

The young hatch, dig out (a process taking from two to 15 hours), dry off and within two hours can fly. They raise themselves without any parental assistance and soon begin their own elaborate nest building. So — there is quite a variation in who is involved in nest building and how much — which is why I find bird nesting behavior so interesting.

Why do they call them peepers? I think the little frogs in our pond sound more like ducks.

You are seeing and hearing wood frogs. Usually the peepers start a day or two later, but in some ponds there may only be one or the other.

Did you really compare rap music to cows bellowing? Rap is the greatest form of American performance art yet invented.

I bee told the same thing about Punk Rock. Both concepts are wrong. The greatest form of American performance art yet invented is didley bo instrumentals followed closely by shovel guitar.

I am aware some of your questions did not make it but I am out of room. Stay tuned.

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoor column for The Post-Star.


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