May 29, 2019 | Featured Web Article

Backyard Bird Courtship

Male (left) and female (right) American goldfinches.
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American Goldfinch

Female American goldfinches select mates only after spring migration, and mate-switching prevails throughout the breeding season. Because of this, male American goldfinches have to work at attracting and keeping their mates. Males will engage in a "butterfly" courtship flight, in which two or more males will sing as they fly at the same level in slow-moving, interlocking circles. This courtship display lasts for 10 to 30 seconds, and takes place about 75 to 100 feet above the birds’ nesting grounds. The “moth” courtship flight involves a pair that has already been mated, with brief, rapid hovering displays near dense cover. After that, the pair engages in courtship feeding, in which the male provides food to the female, which crouches while fluttering her wings and making small begging calls.

Black-capped Chickadee

Depending on the region, black-capped chickadees can become a mated pair any time of year. Their bond may last for years, but some populations see a divorce rate of about 15 percent. During courtship, both males and females are mostly silent in the early stages, and little or no display behavior is performed. Some males may make a complex gargling sound, while females may include a broken-sounding dee with their famous chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. Females also quiver their wings for a few seconds after copulation. Otherwise, not much is known about black-capped chickadee courtship behavior.

Downy Woodpecker

Male downy woodpeckers attract mates by drumming in steady but rapid bursts for one second, with nine to 15 bursts performed in one minute. Males may also tap four times per second, for nine to 10 rounds. Once his drumming and tapping has attracted a potential mate, a male downy woodpecker initiates an impressive courtship, in which the male and female elegantly chase each other through the trees while slowly raising and lifting their wings in a butterfly-like display. These flights may be level, or they may involve deeply looping movements.

House Finch

Diet and appearance seem to be two deciding traits that female houses look for when choosing a mate. In both lab tests and field experiments, females have been shown to choose the most brightly colored males available. To achieve a bright red plumage, male house finches have to consume an abundance of carotenoids, which are pigments found in certain plant foods. So, the redder a male's plumage, the more well-fed he likely is. In choosing more colorful males, female house finches may be selecting mates that can be more attentive to the home nest and pass on their food-finding qualities.



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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020