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RECAP: Welcome to our first recap of Married at First Flight (MAFF): Lovebirds. Bust out your tissues and get ready to Tweet the drama, because our first bird couple will take you on a romantic roller-coaster.

We all know that the humans version of this show is trash TV disguised as a “social experiment”. But in MAFF: Lovebirds, the stakes are much higher. This isn’t just an experiment in love for these hot-to-trot birdies: the fate of their species depends on the outcome.

There are only around 2,500 whio in New Zealand, but it’s hard for these shy ducks to find love. Populations are found along remote rivers up and down the country — from Te Uruwera in the north, to rugged Fiordland in the south. This is where the MAFF: Lovebirds experts come in by hand-picking sexy singles who are down-to-duck.

MAFF: Lovebirds has a few key differences to the human version. First, the experiment begins much earlier, with experts recruiting the birds while they are still tucked up in their eggs.

The participants are incubated and raised in the safety of the MAFF mansion, sometimes known by the humans as The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust. After this, they are screened for the second stage of the experiment. Some birds are sent home to the wild, while others stay in the mansion to give love-at-first-flight a try.

A group of 6 whio flock-mating in the raceways at The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust.
Down to duck: flock-mating in the raceways at the MAFF mansion (Photo by The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust)

Then comes the second key difference: instead of matching pairs based purely on compatibility tests (genetics), the experts look to the lovely lady whio to choose her beau. MAFF: Lovebirds takes cues from Bachelor in Paradise with ‘flock mating’ as the method of choice for matchmaking. The experts call this “dating with a feminist twist” as it is the female who gets to pick from the pool of single males.

Hidden cameras allow the experts to watch the drama unfold as eligible whio bachelors and bachelorettes match and and ~ruffle~ each other’s feathers.

Couple #1: Ruby and Cobb

Our first couple, Ruby and Cobb, are young whio (blue ducks) looking for love. Both Ruby and Cobb came to the experiment from Kahurangi National Park in the South Island.

Eleven-month-old Ruby was besotted with Cobb from the moment she first laid eyes on him. “He’s so handsome,” she gushed, “We have so much in common. We’re both from the mountains of Kahurangi, we’re similar in age, and we both love to surf the river waves.”

Somehow, Ruby was able to look past the fact that 12-month-old Cobb was named after a second-rate chain of “family” restaurants. She was perhaps blinded by her desire to start a family, saying she “couldn’t wait to have a flock of her own”.

Despite Ruby’s immediate feelings (stage five clinger, anyone?) the couple’s relationship got off to a rocky start.

Cobb was hesitant from the get-go. Like many young males, he was scared of commitment and had difficulties expressing his feelings in quacks (perhaps because male whio don’t quack. They whistle). “I’m just not sure I’m ready for fatherhood,” he told a tearful Ruby in a dramatic confrontation orchestrated by the MAFF producers.

But Ruby wasn’t about to give up on the duck of her dreams. She dragged Cobb off on romantic dates by the tail-feathers (literally) and convinced him with heartfelt appeals to “do your bit to save our species” (and, as hidden camera footage revealed, with her feminine wiles).

“After my party duck ways, I’m ready to settle down now,” sighed Cobb in the couple’s emotional vow renewal ceremony.

Meanwhile, rumours have swirled about Ruby’s luscious lips, which appear especially well-padded in recent paparazzi snaps. Some have accused the blue bombshell of receiving lip-plumping injections, but Ruby insists her pillowy pout is “all natural, all me”.

As a second breeding season approaches, will Ruby and Cobb hit any snags as they surf the whitewater waves of love? Stay tuned to MAFF: Lovebirds and our juicy recaps to find out.

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