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The Dating Game: During spring, finding a mate is a priority for birds

Although some bird species began searching for a mate months ago--and some birds mate for life--springtime is reserved for birds with more prominent courtship rituals.

A male ruffed grouse is drumming from his log perch. The drumming sound, which can be heard up to a half mile away, is made as the bird strikes the air with its wings vigorously enough to create a brief vacuum, causing in effect, a sonic boom.
A male ruffed grouse is drumming from his log perch. The drumming sound, which can be heard up to a half mile away, is made as the bird strikes the air with its wings vigorously enough to create a brief vacuum, causing in effect, a sonic boom.

Although some bird species began searching for a mate months ago-and some birds mate for life-springtime is reserved for birds with more prominent courtship rituals.

For example, what better signifies the arrival of spring than the gobble of mature tom turkey as he struts among the oaks? He is both an audio and visual delight to us, and apparently to hen turkeys, too.

Or how about the dull thump, thump, thump of a drumming ruffed grouse vigorously beating his wings against the air from a log nestled among the aspen trees?

In farm country, a spring dawn would be incomplete without the crowing of a rooster pheasant, his swollen red wattles ablaze with color and iridescent plumage glowing in the morning sun. And on the prairie, male sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens gather for a good old fashioned hoedown as they dance and yodel under the discerning eye of females.

Observe a marsh or lake during spring and one will see "flocks" of ducks that contain only one hen surrounded by numerous drakes. Close scrutiny will show the drakes gathered tightly about the hen as she leads the flock aimlessly around the marsh. The group will often dive, dart and suddenly change directions, even nearly stopping in flight, all while the drakes are grunting, clucking and otherwise carrying on. These activities are uncharacteristic for waterfowl except during the breeding season.

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These noisy midair chases are called courtship flights. It is thought the drake that stays nearest the hen during these flights will be her mate.

Other harbingers of spring are the songbirds. From atop a puffy cattail a male red-winged blackbird will flash its bright red shoulder patches as its sings to attract a mate, and to ward off other males. Mourning doves will coo from power lines, robins will warble from backyards and song sparrows will chant from willow perches.

Its spring, and among birds, love is in the air.

BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com . You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.

Related Topics: BIRDS
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