Conservation-Courtship continued By: Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director
May 17, 2013
Last week, word restraints forced me to cut things way short of the information I wanted to share about bird courtship. It all started with the rooster pheasants doing battle near my house. Besides the fighting episodes influencing a female’s decision for a mate, there are a host of other aspects of bird courtship depending on the species. Singing: Singing is one of the most common ways birds can attract a mate. The intricacy of the song, or the variety of different songs one bird can produce, help to advertise its maturity and intelligence – both very desirable characteristics for a healthy mate. Singing can also advertise the boundaries of one bird’s territory, warning off competition. For some species, only one gender (most usually the males) will sing, while other species may create a duet as part of the bonding ritual. Displays: This is generally flamboyant plumage colors but can also be elaborate displays of prominent feathers (peacocks), skin sacs (prairie chickens), or even body shape (blue jay’s crest) to show off how strong and healthy a bird is, advertising its suitability as a mate. In most species, birds may use subtle changes in posture to show off their plumage to the best effect sort of like bodybuilders in their posing sequences. Dancing: Physical movements, from daring dives to intricate sequences of wing flaps, head dips, or different steps can be part of a courtship ritual. In many species, the male alone will dance for his female while she observes his actions, while in other species both partners will interact with one another. Dance mistakes show inexperience or hesitancy and would likely not lead to a successful mating but from what I’ve observed still might land them an audition for Dancing With The Stars. Preening: Close contact between male and female birds can be part of the courtship rituals. The birds may lightly preen one another, sit with their bodies touching or otherwise lean on one another to show that they are not intending to harm their partner. Feeding: Offering food is another common part of the bird courtship behavior for many species. A male bird may bring a morsel to the female, demonstrating that he is able not only to find food, but that he can share it and is able to provide for her while she incubates eggs or tends the brood. For some species the male may just bring food and transfer it to the female for her to feed, while in other species he will place a seed or insect directly in her mouth just as he might be expected to do when helping feed hungry nestlings. Building: Some birds seek to attract a mate by showing off their architectural skills. Constructing nests before the female arrives is a way for males to claim territory and show the suitable nesting areas they can defend. Male bluebirds and wooducks arrive ahead of the females and do this. Other species may decorate the nest with pebbles, moss, flowers or even our own litter to make it more eye-catching. The female may then choose the nest she prefers. Male wrens may fill a half dozen cavities with twigs allowing the female to choose which of the homes she prefers. I’m glad my wife didn’t demonstrate that behavior or I’d still be single.
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