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 am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021