Love is in the Air, and at Lincoln Park Zoo

February 11, 2022

‘Tis the season of love! Like humans, animals pair up in various ways. Some species mate for life, while others live in groups. Some only come together to reproduce and otherwise choose to be solitary. Below, discover ways that some species pair up—or don’t!—and learn about partners here at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Pairs at the zoo engage in more than just procreation. Behaviors between individuals in same- or different-sex pairings can include courtship displays, affection, pair bonding, and parenting.

Japanese macaques are known to form strong same-sex female bonds, spending time regularly grooming or embracing one another. Some male ostriches have a special courtship dance that they will only perform in front of other males.

Japanese macaques. Photo courtesy of Julia Fuller.

Penguins, flamingos, and birds of prey are known to form strong pair bonds between same-sex partners.

At Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove, Pilchard and Maynard are an African penguin same-sex pair. These males tend to spend most of their days nearby one another. Opposite-sex pairings in the colony include TJ and Sunny, Liam and Maria, Mandela and Lesedi, Dudley and Madiba, Phil and Nessi, Cecil and Rosie, Preston and Aiden, and Oliver and Luna.

Pilchard and Maynard in their shared nest at Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove. Photo courtesy of Melissa Bailey.

Over at Hope. B McCormick Swan Pond, there are currently seven same-sex pairs that are a part of the Chilean flamingo flock.

What species at the zoo mate for life? Jethro and Cheyenne are an opposite-sex pair of European white storks who reside at Regenstein Birds of Prey. This species is monogamous, meaning that breeding pairs mate for life. If you visit the zoo regularly, chances are you have heard (and witnessed) the pair engage in a courtship behavior. The behavior involves the pair throwing their heads back and rapidly opening and closing their beaks to create a clattering sound, which is amplified by their throat pouches. This serves as a form of greeting.


Instead of being in a monogamous pairing, some species live in groups—such as the western lowland gorilla. Western lowland gorillas form very tight-knit family groups, which are comprised of a dominant silverback, multiple females, and their young. The silverback is tasked with leading and protecting the group. At Regenstein Center for African Apes, the family troop is made up of silverback Kwan, adult females Rollie, Bana, and Bahati, and their offspring Bella, Nayembi, Patty, Mondika, and Djeke. Adult females are known for their maternal care and share very strong bonds with their offspring.

Adult females Bana and Rollie with their offspring Djeke and Mondika. Photo courtesy of Jesse Leinwand.

Although many species mate for life or live in groups, not all animals need or want to pair up. Some species are solitary animals who only come together to mate, such as polar bears and snow leopards.

Male snow leopard Ozzy. Photo courtesy of Cassy Kutilek.

Next time you visit the zoo, keep an eye out to see if you observe (or hear!) any courtship displays.


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