Amazing Facts About Wildlife

Courtship in Birds

By Prashant Mahajan, BNHS

The ways by which birds find partners and mate is one of the most fascinating and colourful features of all animal life. Although divorce may be rare in birds, almost every other conceivable matrimonial arrangement exists somewhere in the bird world.

Having fought off other males, often by establishing a territory. Some males attract a single mate and remain faithful to her life, like the tallest Indian bird, Sarus Crane. At the other extreme, some males use their brilliant courtship plumage to attract a whole series of mates, deserting each one in favour of the next as soon as mating has taken place e.g. Weaver bird. Birds attract their mates by a combination of visible signals, which range from special plumage to brightly coloured legs and inflatable pouches, and by ritual movement. These signals vary from something as simple as a gull’s nod of the head to the bizarre display in the male Great Indian Bustard. The bustard throwback his wings and head, apparently turning his head inside out while the Lesser Bengal Florican continuously jump at one place, to make himself visible to the female among the tall grasses.

Peacocks are members of the pheasant family, a group of birds, which show some of the most spectacular and elaborate courtship plumage in the bird world. While the peacocks spread its tail feather, from the back, the upright feathers of peacock’s “true” tail can be seen. These brace the much longer and more brilliant tail coverts. Great crested grebes perform sequence bizarre dances during their courtship. The sequence often begins with a head-shaking dance, in which the birds face each other, jerking their heads from side to side, as if trying to avoid each other glance. Suddenly, they dive and reappear at the surface with beakful of waterweed. During the “penguin dance” both birds rear up out of the water, paddling furiously as they present the weed to each other. After several more set pieces, the birds mate.

It was only in the last century that naturalists penetrated the forests of New Guinea and saw how male birds used plumes of the Count Raggi’s bird of paradise. In displays, during which they hang upside down, the birds throw their plumes open. During display, the tail feathers are thrown open to produce a fountain of colour as the male bird swings upside down from a branch. The feathers being without barbules do not interlock, so appear lacy.

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