Courtship Variety

by Dave Hanks

You are probably aware of some common bird courtship rituals – such as a male feeding a female, or the male and female preening each other; the cooing of doves, and the singing rituals of many other bird species. Grouse and turkeys display by strutting. Some mammals appear to be fighting, but it is only the male and female rough-housing – which gets their hormones flowing.

Other species have some unique courtship methods. Spiders are especially unique. The Australian Red-Back male is much smaller than the female. The female requires the male to do an elaborate dance for over an hour to two hours. During the dance, the male connects his web to her web. He then taps a drum-like rhythm on her abdomen. If he stops too soon, she will bite his head off – which she does anyway, after mating.

Rhino courtship is called “Bluff and Bluster”. When in estrus, the female urinates on dung piles to lure a male on. The male will scatter these piles in an attempt to keep other males away. The bull then snorts and swings his head side to side and runs from the female. Afterwards, the pair will then snort and spar, with the female working the male over vigorously. The couple will stay together for several days or up to several weeks.

The Leaf-Nosed Bat will find an opening in the rock of a cave that is narrow enough to only allow one other to enter, thus keeping other males out. He will call and flap his wings to entice any available female. If one enters his little abode, he wraps his wings around her and nuzzles her. If she doesn’t fly off, they will mate.

A favorite bird of mine is the COMMON SNIPE (pictured). I like him, not only for his looks, but for his “winnowing” display that can be heard on a spring morning over a meadow. He gains altitude and then descends in a spiral pattern. The air rushing through his wings makes sounds like the bleating of a goat. In many languages he is known as the flying goat. He will, also, make shallow dives to produce a “drumming” sound with his tail. Such a repertoire to go through in order to attract female attention!

Resting after the morning’s aerial displays

Mating Behaviors in Birds

The most common system for most birds is to control and defend a large TERRITORY where all needs (mating, nesting, and feeding) are met, and territories are vigorously defended. Another type is found among highly social birds such as herons, cormorants, and pelicans. Birds that nest in a ROOKERY do their mating and nesting in a space immediately around the nest. Aggression is confined to a much smaller area.

Perhaps the most unusual of all is LEK (arena) behavior. Lek is a Swedish word that means to play – or in other words a playground. Males do not involve themselves in the raising of their offspring. They gather to an established arena where they show off their attributes by displaying them. Prairie Chickens, Sharp-Tailed Grouse, and Sage Grouse are some species that perform in a Lek. All aggression and mating takes place there, as outside the arena there is no sex drive or aggression exhibited. Probably the competition stimulates the production of testosterone. Males will establish a hierarchy with the preferred positions in the center of the lek – lesser males will be found around the periphery. Females will then arrive to witness all the strutting and male interaction and then make a selection of a mate that fits her choice for specific traits; such as vigor, color, dominance, etc.

A modification of arena behavior is the group display of Wild Turkeys and Great-Tailed Grackles. By displaying in a group, the attraction stimulus to females is greater. Perhaps it’s like a choir where individual choir members would make poor soloists, but their deficiencies are masked by the group effort. However, there is dominance within a group display as only the dominant male will actually do the mating. Lesser males evidently receive stimulation through the display itself.

Wild Turkeys displaying cooperatively) in a grassy pasture like enviornment

Wild Turkeys displaying cooperatively)

Courtship and Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves go through a set of steps when courting.The male will “coo” and then the female will “coo.” The male will then alight on the branch next to her. He then bows and “coos” and she reciprocates in the same manner. He then will offer her a drink – a drink of dove’s milk. Dove’s milk is a heavy liquid, made from seeds, and is carried in the gullet. The female must insert her head to drink it. The male then preens the female and she in turn preens him. Mating can then proceed. These actions are called CHAINING – a set of steps that must occur in proper sequence or mating will not occur. If the chain is broken, or any step eliminated, the whole sequence must start over. Doves are often called “Love Birds” because of their tendency to sit close together on a branch.

The male will establish his territory in early spring – thus preparing for courtship and nesting. Territories selected will be in open or semi-open habitats. If your yard fits this description, you may have this species around your home. The resulting nest looks like a “rickety” affair – just a few sticks that light can show through. The eggs sit precariously on the sticks. They are all white, and both parents will incubate them. These birds will lay eggs in other Mourning Dove nests. A community affair, you might say. If the nest is threatened, the parent will perform a distraction (Agonistic) display.

This 11 to 14 inch bird is named for its mournful sounding call. I have heard other people mistake the call for that of an owl.

Our large yard seems to fit their needs, and they are at our place for most of the year. Cassia County has large populations in its dry farm areas where brushy areas border the wheat fields in the gullies that are inaccessible to cultivation.

Mourning Dove

Mostly tan but subtly colored about the neck and head