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The Mating Game


Spring is the time when male birds moult into their breeding plumage and engage in courtship behaviours. In the photo above, this colourful male yellow-bellied sapsucker is drumming on a wire fence. Why drum on a wire fence? The sound produced from striking metal carries much further than on wood and is more likely to attract a desirable mate. This guy is a real rock star, and a combination of fancy plumage and fantastic sound should result in a strong pairing.

Courtship Display

Here a couple of Red-breasted Merganser drakes are vying for attention from the hen. The drake in the rear of the image is saluting her with head held high while the one in the foreground curtseys by tipping his rear in the air and holding his bill high – looks awkward. Eventually the hen will accept a mate (not necessarily this pair) to form a monogamous bond for the mating season.

Somali Ostrich Dance

Some birds perform dances to attract a female. The dance routine by this male Somali Ostrich in Kenya was quite exotic as he strutted around in circles while flapping his wings and bobbing up and down and displaying his beautiful plumage. How could a female resist? In this case, she did just that as she strutted off leaving her flashy suitor deflated and embarrassed.

Blue-footed Booby

The Blue-footed booby is an expert in attracting a female’s attention by raising his head and feathers toward the sky to attract females flying by. This is known as sky pointing. At the same time, he shows off his bright blue feet with a high stepping strut. The bluer the feet, the more attractive he is to his prospective mate.

Wild Turkey Strut

The male turkey (gobbler) will spend entire days strutting around showing off his iridescent feathers, bright red and blue face and neck while fanning his tail and drooping his wings toward the ground. This is accompanied by very loud gobbling noises.

Trumpeter Swan Ballet

During their courtship display Trumpeter Swans face each other, bob their heads, and perform a synchronous routine to reinforce their bond for each other.

Black-billed Cuckoo

Some birds present their mates with a gift prior to mating. Often the male will approach his mate with an insect in his beak which he’ll eventually give to his her. This male, Black-billed Cuckoo got by with a small twig.

The Duel

An important part of the mating game is protecting territory. Even though several species of birds will be monogamous for a season or in some cases for life, there is a difference between social and sexual monogamy. Red-necked Grebes are known for staying with a mate for the season, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t cheat on each other. A single clutch of eggs from any one bird species may be fertilized by multiple mates. Fierce battles often break out as is the case with these Red-necked Grebes where the defending male fends off competition from other males.

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