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Birds have a number of different types of courtship behaviours to attract mates such as songs, display and dances. Courtship behaviour can help birds distinguish between species to help them choose compatible mates and it can also reduce the aggression normally displayed when defending territory. Courtship rituals are also used to show strength and health and their ability to produce offspring.

Robin Courtship Feeding
Image used with kind permission from Maurice Baker

One of the most common ways to attract a mate is by singing. The intricacy and variety of song will show a bird’s maturity and intelligence, desirable qualities in a potential mate. Singing is also territorial and will warn off any competition. Usually only the male will sing as part of the courtship ritual although in some species both birds may sing a duet to bond.

Dives, wing flaps, head nods and intricate steps are used by birds to show off their experience and suitability as a mate. Generally males will dance for females while she watches but in some species birds will interact with each other during a courtship dance. Preening and close contact during a dance show each other they are not going to harm their partner as well as erasing territorial boundaries.

Bright plumage and flamboyant displays of colourful feathers will show how strong and healthy a bird is. Peafowl are probably the best known example for displaying plumage as part of the mating ritual and again in most bird species it is generally the males who have the most elaborate display.

Peacock Displaying Tail Feathers

Some male birds will bring food to a female as part of courtship to show he can provide for any chicks she may produce. He may simply bring the food for her to eat or in some cases actually transfer it directly to her mouth just as he would to hungry nestlings. Courtship feeding can provide a valuable source of nutrients for females and robins are a great species too watch for observing this behaviour.


David Attenborough - Animal behaviour of the Australian bowerbird

Bowerbirds are famous for their complex courtship behaviour of building an elaborate structure known as a bower to attract mates. They will use a variety of objects such as shells, flowers, feathers, stones, berries and even discarded rubbish such as coins and pieces of glass. Many other birds will construct nests to claim territory and show suitable nesting areas they are able to defend. The female may then choose the nest she prefers or still build her own after choosing her mate.

Bowerbird


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