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Birds Do It:
Attracting Attention in
Mating Season
or, Everything I Need to Know About Dating I Learned at the Aviary

by Kate Mayfield

In the well-documented mating rituals of many birds, the male displays for the female those qualities that make him the best possible choice for a mate. He spreads his lovely feathers, he struts, he puffs up his chest. You might say he jumps through hoops... and in the case of certain birds, were a hoop present, that wouldn't be an exaggeration. The female watches, she demures, and she eventually chooses the male whose histrionics best convince her that he is good daddy material.

Humans -- girl and boy -- can learn from the strategies of the male bird when looking for a mate with whom to bill and coo. Compare, if you will, the Peacock's glorious fan to Cleopatra on her burnished throne. Find the origins of Zsa-Zsa's stilettos in the Sage Grouse's puffed chest. Note the similarities between Mick Jagger's frenetic gyrating and the Whooping Crane's own gangly dance. Do this, and you will discover how an ornithology textbook, read with an open mind, can become a how-to manual for humans interested in attracting other humans.

Fact: In his quest for a mate, the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo raises a remarkable red crest of feathers on its head and hangs upside down moving its crest back and forth to give females a better view.

You probably already do a few special little things in your personal quest for a mate: a lucky pair of earrings, a splash of musky cologne, the special shirt that -- for good or ill -- really says "you." That's all well and good. But consider for a moment how you'd stand up in competition with the Cockatoo. In the bird world your earrings and cologne would never cut it. If you're one Cockatoo out of fifty, you cannot be understated. You're going to be bobbing your head for all you're worth. Get noticed; that's your objective.

Likewise, in the maze of singles culture, you don't want to be just another earring-spangled girl or musky-scented guy. You want to be remarkable, extraordinary. Bold is good. Unique is good. Dare we say it: even strange may be good.

You, like Cleopatra, have a bigger brain than the humble Peacock. Use it! Be creative! Whether by wearing glitter, skating backwards, or carrying your iguana Sid on your shoulder in the library, your ability to catch others' attention will help describe who you are before you even say a word.

Fact: The Peacock is well known for its strutting display of its fantastic feather fan.

Nature knows: color turns heads. And, psychologically speaking, bright colors cause emotional reactions. In the dating scene, these facts join together and scream loudly, "Add some color to your wardrobe!"

About a decade ago I knew a young gentlemen who shopped the Sally Ann for bright stripes and plaids, dressing himself in bold arrays of colors and clashing patterns. Perhaps I'm part Peahen, but at sixteen I thought it was dreamy and ten years later the thought of him still brings a blush to my cheek.

Maybe you don't want to go that far, but a dash of color can bring you a bit of avian flair. Make like a Blue-Footed Booby and bedeck your feet with a suave pair of blue suede shoes. Take a tip from the Robin and don a swash of red across your chest. If you insist on a wardrobe of chic grays and blacks, rethink your approach to color, and prepare to stand out from the maddening crowd.

Fact: The Australian Bower Bird decorates his nest with colorful pebbles, bits of glass, and insect wings.

In other words, the Bower Bird accessories. These extra touches should say something about the inner you. While in college, my friend Sylvan often wore a cravat. It told the world he was daring, dashing, a bit old-fashioned and quite a bit fun; all qualities he could easily claim. Mark, on the other hand, wore a rainbow-colored propeller cap everywhere he went his freshman year at Columbia. On top of knowing a little something about his personality, everyone on campus knew who he was.

Propeller cap not your style? No worries. When choosing personalized adornments, just look to your own interests. Perhaps you're attracted to a particular era of history. Some evenings, when feeling particularly Edwardian, I sport a knitted shawl. The Victorian me carries a parasol under the auspices of sun protection. Try complimenting your sneakers with a bowler hat, carrying a vintage handbag, or keeping your pants up with a replica Civil War belt buckle.

In addition to long brilliantly colored feathers, The New Guinean Greater Bird of Paradise, sports two especially long, thin tail feathers. (Sounds kind of eighties, doesn't it?) To give yourself an exotic flare, delve into your own cultural or ethnic interests: Bindis, clogs and henna tattoos are all excellent material for the true exhibitionist. Look to your own ethnic background... or borrow from someone else's.

Fact: The Greater Attwater Prairie Chicken has a yellow sac under it's chin that it blows up and deflates making a booming sound to attract a mate. At dawn males gather at their mating ground hopping straight into the air, dancing and booming. Females watch from the safety of tall prairie grass.

As demonstrated in the dance of the Prairie Chicken, there is another form of exhibitionism you can use to distinguish yourself. For birds it's called a mating dance; for humans, it's "showing off."

Behavioral exhibitionism is perhaps harder to implement than additions to your wardrobe. In true Prairie Chicken fashion, L.A. resident Jamie attracts attention at parties by jumping up and down, speaking quickly, and mumbling his words. "Enunciating is a waste of time," Jamie says of his unusual behavior. "If they don't understand you, they have to try harder to listen. Jumping up and down is a way of attracting attention visually. It's all about, 'Look at me, look at me!'"

Not that you should necessarily bounce and mumble, but there may be something already in your behavioral repertoire that you never even considered doing publicly. If there isn't something already, adopt a skill. Take a class or just go teach yourself something unusual and impressive. Consider swing dancing, juggling, or one superb card trick. Anything that you can do "spontaneously" in a group of people will attract attention.

Don't despair while practicing your newfound talent; it needn't be revolutionary. No one needs to explain the effect of a delicately strummed guitar on a moonlit night, ala the Mockingbird. Dance, as only you can, like the Kestrel dancing for his beloved in the sky. Or simply blush, like the Flamingo, who turns a deeper shade of pink when mating season begins.

Fact: Peacocks don't look underwater for a mate.

The only rule in exhibitionism is to be true to yourself. Express your inner nature, and enjoy whatever you end up doing. No one likes a poser, after all... but a true eccentric is a real treat. You are attractive the way you are. So highlight it, don't fake it. The little bird puffs up his chest to make himself seem bigger; he's not pretending to be another bird.

Now get out there and strut like a Peacock, sing like a Mockingbird, go crazy like the Prairie Chicken! And let the world see the fine-feathered work of art you are.

Kate Mayfield isn't kidding about that parasol thing. In her last BTD, she showed us how to climb the walls for love.

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