Courtship Behaviour In Birds

Before they get it on birds will engage in a number of different types of courtship behaviours in order to attract a mate. Courtship behaviours, such as songs, displays, and dances, are a way for birds to show off their strength, health, and ability to produce offspring. Female birds invest a great deal of energy in forming and laying eggs and incubating them so it is important that she chooses a mate who will give her healthy chicks.

Robin Courtship

Courtship behaviour can also help birds distinguish between different species or even sexes, and can reduce the aggression normally displayed when defending territory.


One of the most common ways birds attract a mate is by singing. Although in some avian species both sexes will sing during courtship as a way of bonding, it is usually only the male who sings. Females prefer males with varied and intricate song repertoires, and features such as song structure, amplitude, and frequency have evolved as result of sexual selection.

Studies have shown that a large song repertoire is directly linked to the size of the brain’s song control nucleus or HVC, short for high vocal centre, and birds with large HVCs tend to be in better condition with better immune health. Strong mating calls, therefore, can give female birds an indication of whether a male will be able to prove high-quality parental care and good genes for their offspring.


Dives, wing flaps, head nods and intricate steps are used by birds to show off their experience and suitability as a mate. Generally males will dance for females while she watches but in some species birds will interact with each other during a courtship dance. Preening and close contact during a dance show each other they are not going to harm their partner as well as erasing territorial boundaries.


Bright plumage and flamboyant displays of colourful feathers will show how strong and healthy a bird is. Peafowl are probably the best known example for displaying plumage as part of the mating ritual and again in most bird species it is generally the males who have the most elaborate display.

Peacock Displaying Tail Feathers

Courtship feeding

Some male birds will bring food to a female as part of courtship to show he can provide for any chicks she may produce. He may simply bring the food for her to eat or in some cases actually transfer it directly to her mouth just as he would to hungry nestlings. Courtship feeding can provide a valuable source of nutrients for females and robins are a great species too watch for observing this behaviour.

Nest building

Bowerbirds are famous for their complex courtship behaviour of building an elaborate structure known as a bower to attract mates. They will use a variety of objects such as shells, flowers, feathers, stones, berries and even discarded rubbish such as coins and pieces of glass. Many other birds will construct nests to claim territory and show suitable nesting areas they are able to defend. The female may then choose the nest she prefers or still build her own after choosing her mate.


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