Here’s one I’d better handle delicately!
While Piping Plover are generally adorable, friendly, and curious animals, they can also be territorial, defensive, and violent. You most often see the aggression in the boys when they are setting up their territory for nesting, or defending it from others in tightly packed neighborhoods of nests.
Many times mates will also appear to scream at each other and bicker when exchanging egg incubation duties. Sometimes it seems like they are are saying “Where the hell have you been! You’re two hours late!” Other times it seems more like “What are you doing back so soon? Get the hell out of here! I got this. Quit checking up on me!”
But there is one particular display of PIPL aggression that is especially strange and mysterious. It is the one pictured above, being demonstrated by Pete & Phoebe.
I’ve always called it “The Takedown” for lack of a better term. It happens so quickly, you might miss it even when watching carefully, or perhaps not understand what you just witnessed. But just when a PIPL couple finishes copulating, the male will often immediately attack the female, usually by biting her on the face or the neck and either dragging her, shaking her, or rubbing her face in the sand. It is sudden, and it is violent. But it is it purposeless?
It seems like a such a strange finale to the otherwise very formal, polite, organized ritual that is the Piping Plover courtship…. the slow building dance which appears to be all about progressive consent, with the male carefully making sure the female is absolutely sure she wants to go to the next level. The male has just spent all of this time calling, building a nest, bowing, presenting, fanning his tail, marching… and when the ritual is finally complete, his first action is to attack and violently dominate his newly bonded mate?
I know that they don’t always do this, and I wonder if there is any relationship between a successful or unsuccessful copulation which triggers it.
The only thing I know for certain is that this world, and the deep impulses which propel it forward, are as fascinating as they are mysterious.