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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  • New to birding...newbie question. We spotted what we thought was a Sapsucker at our patio feeders in December. The folks at our birding supply store told us that Sapsuckers are only here in Summer months and what we saw was a Flicker. I thought I new what a Flicker was and this did not look like a Flicker. It was thinner and more smooth looking but did have the Woodpecker Bill.
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020
  • We just signed up and get your magazine via email. Will we be receiving a printed copy?Ed [email protected]
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020
  • Chickadees are adorable and intelligent. Chickadees have brains that are the most like human brains. Chickadees are personable, lively, and have their own language. Chickadees form lasting pair bonds; and are very good parents. Love.
    by Merl Elton, Tue, 24 Dec 2019
  • I'm still worried about my backyard birds even though myth #3 says they won't starve if I stop feeding in the middle of winter. I'm concerned because I'm moving in a couple of weeks to a new house and the winter's in northern Ohio get pretty challenging. Should I start backing off slowly on there food or just stop when we move?
    by Vince Bove, Sat, 14 Dec 2019
  • Birds make our world a wonderful and beautiful place to live.
    by Mac Eco, Mon, 09 Dec 2019