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Courtship rituals serve one purpose—to signal that the time is right for mating. It’s evident throughout the animal kingdom that courtship rituals are an essential part of the process. For example, male Betta Fish fan out their fins to show off their colors and fend off interlopers, and Black-Capped Chickadees use vocalizations to attract a mate.
Some birds take it to the next level with elaborate displays and dances. Many are so bizarre that they’ll have you scratching your head. Bear in mind that a lot of silent communication is going on that isn’t always apparent to non-avian onlookers. These rituals convey to the females that a particular male is the healthiest to mate with.
The Peacock is probably the first bird that comes to mind when thinking about elaborate courtship dances. This one wrote the book on how to make an entrance and impress a potential mate. While they are wild birds, humans have domesticated them and bred them selectively for their beautiful plumage. Nevertheless, the male will carry on this ancient ritual in spectacular color.
The Red-Necked Grebe is a seasonally monogamous duck. Courtship displays build bonds between potential mates. Since this species spends most of its time on the water, the dances happen in these aquatic settings with incredible results.
The Greater Sage Grouse is unique because its courtship rituals are group affairs. Males gather in leks to put on a show for females in search of a mate. The dancing and vying occur on flat ground to give the birds room to maneuver. This display provides a whole new meaning to puffing out one’s chest.
The Blue-Footed Booby is a tropical island bird with an appearance that can’t help but make you smile— even if it’s standing still. The male uses the feature that gives it its name to the hilt, including a gentlemanly offering of a gift to its potential mate. It ends with a duet between the pair to seal the relationship.
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The Bird of Paradise uses a lek mating system, not unlike the grouse. It includes aerial displays and vocalizations that, hopefully, end with mating. This bird is polygamous, so the ritual might continue with multiple partners.
The Laysan Albatross is another tropical bird you may see if you travel to Hawaii during the breeding season. Even though it’s monogamous, the courtship ritual commences with first-time breeders. Both partners perform in the elaborate display. It’s almost like a choreographed affair that any Broadway director would envy.
It’s all about the dance when it comes to the Western Grebe. This solitary duck has one chance to impress a female during the ritual. It’s a complex affair with displays and special calls for the male to make a case as the best choice for a mate.
The Great Frigatebird is already an odd-looking species without the pomp and circumstance of a courtship dance. It’s an extended ritual that plays out over several days and includes strutting and calling while the females take in the show overhead.
Judging by the simultaneous movements of these birds, the courtship dance of the Pink Flamingo also looks like it’s choreographed. However, it’s just what we’d expect from it with its long, lanky body and dazzling colors.
The courtship ritual of the Victoria’s Riflebird almost plays out like a love story. The male sings and calls to attract a mate and then continues to woo the female with ritualistic displays. It ends with an embrace that will undoubtedly pull on your heartstrings.
The plumage of the Red-Capped Manakin is striking with its black body juxtaposed against its bright red head. You can’t help but laugh when the dance starts. The bird took a page out of Michael Jackson’s book with its take on moonwalking and is a must-see for any bird watcher.
You might not think a bird as big as the Galapagos Albatross would have some killer dance moves, but it does! Both the male and female participate in the dance with a series of calls and displays that will rock the stomping grounds it’s loud shrieks.
The Ostrich makes the best use of what plumage it has with an elaborate dance and chase. It plays out like a romance novel, complete with the uninterested female eventually responding to the male’s efforts to stand out as the best possible mate.
Some courtship rituals don’t take place on the ground. The Bald Eagle takes the show to the air with a seemingly death-defying performance. If dropping through the air at top speeds isn’t a display of trust, we don’t know what is.
The Sandhill Crane’s courtship dance looks almost like a ballet with interwoven displays. Interestingly, the courtship continues even after the birds become a pair. It reinforces the bond between the two, which can help with reproductive success. If they’re successful, both parents participate in raising the brood.
Courtship dances serve a useful purpose even if they look silly to us. They bolster reproductive success by ensuring both birds are ready to mate. It also allows the male to show off as the healthiest, best partner over any competitors. Courtship rituals can maintain the special bond that exists between pairs. Besides, it’s another thing that makes birdwatching such an enjoyable pastime.
Featured Image Credit: leelavernissa0, Pixabay
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Chris has been writing since 2009 on a variety of topics. Her motto with all of her writing is “science-based writing nurtured by education and critical thinking.” Chris specializes in science topics and has a special love for health and environmental topics, and animals of all shapes and sizes.
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