Sexual union can be a highly complicated process. Across most animal species, elaborate preparations and often very sophisticated behavioral patterns are necessary before the actual stage of copulation.


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Finding a strong, compatible mate to reproduce with are one of the key essentials to species survival. Females are often very fussy in regards to choosing which male deposits his sperm and the results of this harsh sexual selective pressure has formed glorious, attractive, breathtaking and beautiful attempts of males proving their worth.

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Significance in Colors

Flaring, glowing and emphasising prominent colours and patterns during breeding seasons are a highly important role in gaining the females attention. A male King penguin has orange – yellow patches on the sides of his neck which are essential for attracting the desires of a female. But why is this so important? Studies have been carried out replacing these bright patches with black or white paint and the result is a bad one – the female holds no intention of breeding with the male. This is just one small example of how displaying specific colours signifies the compatibility for reproduction between males and females.

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Colourful Courtships by Birds of Paradise

The most dazzling inhabitants of New Guinea’s rain forests are highly promiscuous male Birds of paradise who display their vivid feathers against the dark green forest canopy. And just like expected, the brilliant orange plumes of male raggianas are seen at their best during courtship dances.

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Groups of male raggianas gather at traditional courting sites in trees, each, defending its on perch. On the arrival of the brown females the males begin a frenzied song and dance. This incredible sight includes hopping from foot to foot, flapping of the wings and shaking their vibrant orange tail feathers. After this, an unexpected body freeze into a head-down posture allows a further show of these bright orange tail feathers, allowing the females to inspect the male competition. Unfortunately, these brown females are very harsh judges and if they do like what they see, they simply move along to another display area.

Those males that are chosen, the female perches beside him and here the male performs another dazzling pre-copulatory dance. The male throws his dazzling feathers into her face whilst she plucks at them. Once mated the female flies off to lay her eggs and spends all energy raising the young on her own. The male bird meanwhile, sits handsomely waiting for their next female visitor and embraces the whole procedure again.

The Stylish Water Ballet in Courting Grebes

In the months of spring, the brown and white winter plumage of the great crested grebe is enlivened as its head feathers grow to form a black double crest, and remarkable reddish brown ear tufts sprout across its face. The breeding ritual for these grebes holds a singular establishment between pairing by one of the most elaborated water ballets.

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One bird dives beneath the water and swims just below the surface towards the other. The male adopts a position like a crouching cat as it watches the approaching ripples.  When it reaches its prospective partner, the first bird raises vertically out of the water. Head shaking begins between the pair from side to side and preening of each others wings. This is just one sequence of the diverse series of displays held within the grebes.

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The best time to see the most intricate displays is during the weed ceremony, just before nesting. The Birds dive together and surface carrying bunches of waterweeds in their beaks. Swimming quickly towards one another they spring up, treading water in a rapturous vertical dance in which their crested heads sway from side to side.

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These complex ceremonies are crucial in species like grebes – those partners that mate for life and both play important roles in raising developing offspring. These partners must be chosen cautiously so dancing such ceremonies allows the fitness and quality of one another to be tested.

Song and Dance Partners of the Rainforests

In order for some male species to become noticed by females, crafty team work between males is applied in order to multiply their presence. Brightly coloured long tailed manakin males form as a pair and spend their hours during the long breeding season singing in unison a beautiful song. The trick is to sound like a single bird, and if it attracts a female they swoop down to a perch and sitting within a short distance apart they being their co-ordinated dance display.

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The manakin nearest the female flies into the air and returns to land where the previous male was sitting. Meanwhile, the second bird has shuffled towards the female taking off just before the other male lands. After several minutes of this repeated business the males hover over the female who after inspecting both birds, invites the dominate male to mate. The other one, unfortunately discreetly retires. Hopefully through consistent practice the retired manakin inherits dominants over its ten year life span. Despite such a long wait, in terms of producing offspring and passing on his genes the long winded ritual is well worth it.

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Here we can see that dancing is a very significant role of the many mating activities that take place as either an advertisement to signal intentions or to attract a suitable mate. Ballets on water, combined singing and the showing off of features are just some of the superbly evolved adaptations to defeat sexual selection.

  • Luke Fender

    I heard about birds dancing together on water but was not sure if this was actually real or not. so its good that you have answered my questions. Nicely illustrated with photo’s too! Looking forward to more, thanks for recommending me this site Emma :)

  • Elise Gerber

    I am currently writting an essay on bird courting, i found the information easy to process, pictures very helpful to put in my assignment and i love the way Emma wrote this article, if there are anymore you have written i would love to know about them.

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