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How Birds Flirt and Mate

Behind the bustle and song of birds this spring, there’s a central activity going on: courtship. Before birds get down to breeding, they go through a bunch of rituals to impress a potential mate. These behaviors—like singing, dancing, and showing off their feathers—help birds show they’re strong, healthy, and ready to have healthy chicks. Since female birds put a lot of effort into protecting eggs, they want to make sure they pick the best possible partner. As you spot birds in your backyard or nearby parks, be sure to watch for these courtship rituals at play. This primer will point out what to look for.


One of the most popular ways birds attract a mate is by singing. Female birds tend to go for males with a wide variety of intricate songs. While in some species both males and females sing to bond, it’s usually the male showing off his vocal skills. A great singer gives female birds a good hint about a male’s ability to provide excellent care and good genes for their offspring.

Plumage and Displays

Bright and flashy feathers are another way birds show off their health and strength. Peafowl are a prime example, with males sporting extravagant plumage to attract females. Birds have some impressive dance moves to catch a mate’s eye—think dives, wing flaps, head nods, and intricate steps. Usually, males dance for females, but in some species, both partners interact during the courtship dance. Preening and close contact during these dances signal that they won’t harm each other.

Nest Building and Feeding during Courtship

Many birds build nests to claim territory and showcase their nesting skills. The female might choose a nest built by a male or build her own after picking her mate. Also, some birds bring food to their potential mates to show they can provide for future chicks. This might involve the male giving her food or even feeding her directly, just like he would with nestlings. This courtship feeding is a great way for females to get extra nutrients.

How Birds Mate

Birds have a unique reproductive system. Instead of a penis and vagina, both male and female birds have an internal chamber called the “cloaca”, which also handles digestion and excretion. During the breeding season, the cloaca swells and sticks out a bit. The male's cloaca stores sperm, while the female’s body stores eggs. When they’re ready to mate, the male balances on top of the female, and they position themselves so their cloacas touch, transferring the sperm to the female. The whole process usually only takes a second or two, though they might do it a few times in a row.


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