When birds band together, their associations can take many forms. Some, like penguins and albatrosses, form bonds that can last decades. Other species only stay together for one or more seasons. And there are also groups (like grouse, hummingbirds and the amazing birds of paradise) where there is often no pair bonding and males play no role in raising their young. However, in all these relationships, males and females must attract and select suitable partners, and they must know when the time is right to consummate their relationship, a more difficult task for birds than one might imagine.

"Sex is the furthest thing from a bird's mind for much of the year," says bird expert Kevin McGowan.online education, who creates and teaches courses on bird behavior for the Cornell Laboratory Bird Academy. “Most birds' sexual organs shrink in winter and then have to regrow in spring. The longer day length activates hormones that allow the testes and ovaries to develop and resume function. And as that happens, courtship behavior actually helps stimulate physical changes that prepare them for action."

Courtship behavior can include things like surrender of food, dance movements (demonstrations) and mutual grooming. In many cases, the most extravagant courtship displays occur in species where males contribute little to the relationship: think of large strutting partridges or dancing birds of paradise But even for long-term couples, there is a series of measures and appeals that help men and women mend their relationships after often spending a winter apart, such as jumping and clicking notes or "pointing towards the sky" of the Laysan albatrosses. This could be the birds' way of saying: "Let's stick together" or "Tonight is the big day!"

An example spectacular courtship behavior comes from grebes. Males and females perform a seemingly choreographed duet dance, culminating in a coordinated running game in which two birds glide from wing to wing as if throwing rocks across the surface of a lake or pond.

Most courtship behaviors are more subtle, but most birds, including many backyard birds, perform a series of actions to signal certain later thoughts to amateur ornithologists. Try looking for them in these common species:

Northern Cardinal

A male northern cardinal is interested in a female with a body and song, including a 'contorted display in which he turns his body to better show off his chest, and a singing flight display in which a short flight ends with him singing and flapping his wings towards the female.

If these movements don't scare you, the next stage of cardinal courtship is an exchange of food from male to female. To attract a male's attention, the female cardinal sometimes imitates a young bird's begging behavior by flapping her wings. In other cases, the female simply approaches the male and tries to tear off a piece of his beak. Mating usually occurs immediately after an exchange of food: the female is likely to decide to allow a male to mate if she is satisfied with the food supply. Since both the male and female raise the young, this behavior may signal to the female that the male will be able to fulfill her part of the deal, which is to raise the young.

California Jays

They may not have all the dance moves of their distant relatives, the birds of paradise, but the males aren't afraid to show off their talent. Things during the mating season.

A male jay expresses his interest in a female by opening his tail, spreading his wings and making a few gestures towards her towards your target. He takes a few steps away from her, then walks towards her and ends with a subtle serenade in a low voice. Sometimes the female dances and if the rhythm is good, mating occurs quickly. The movements of the Florida jay are even more daring: after jumping in an arc around the object of his desire, the male sometimes gently nibbles her toe.


Wrens that breed in North America generally do not maintain pair bonds year after year, so it is often necessary to form new bonds when the birds return home.

The wren's courtship depends on the female's evaluation of the male's home and nearby property, and not on whether he woos her with a dinner or a dance. When a female arrives in a male's territory, she often takes him directly into her nesting cavity, one of many in a given territory that she may provide with sticks to provide the female with a base for subsequent construction. The female carefully examines one or more burrows, entering and exiting several times and inspecting the immediate vicinity. If they like a nest cavity, construction begins, confirming their commitment for at least the next breeding cycle.

Red-tailed Hawk

Among the first bird species to breed each year in the United States and Canada, the red-tailed hawk is not afraid to advertise its attractiveness for all to see.

Red-tails maintain their pairs year-round, but in late winter and early spring the community needs a warming period. To strengthen the bond, a male and female fly in wide circles at high altitude, with the male often diving and rising sharply while circling. After several series of falls and rises, the male slowly approaches the female from above, extends his legs and briefly touches or grabs her. Pairs sometimes grasp each other's beaks or interlock talons and spiral toward the ground, often flying away while still in the air (although one researcher reported one pair of excited raptors swooping to the ground before they both flew away). , apparently intact). . Piercing screams, harsh murmurs and exchanges of food often accompany the demonstrations.

Mourning dove

Mourning doves show themselves in different ways . Other. careful. During mutual preening or preening, the birds gently nibble the feathers on each other's heads and necks. The male may then perform a ritual preening session during which he passes his hand over her shoulder, dips into his feathers and moves his bill rapidly across her neck and chest. Finally, a sign that mating is imminent: the male offers the female an open beak, she inserts his beak into hers and they briefly move her head up and down, in a dove's interpretation of what might be called a kiss.