Mating Behaviors in Birds

By Dave Hanks

The most common system for most birds is to control and defend a large TERRITORY where all needs (mating, nesting, and feeding) are met, and territories are vigorously defended. Another type is found among highly social birds such as herons, cormorants, and pelicans. Birds that nest in a ROOKERY do their mating and nesting in a space immediately around the nest. Aggression is confined to a much smaller area.

Perhaps the most unusual of all is LEK (arena) behavior. Lek is a Swedish word that means to play or in other words a playground. Males do not involve themselves in the raising of their offspring. They gather to an established arena where they show off their attributes by displaying them. Prairie Chickens, Sharp-Tailed Grouse, and Sage Grouse are some species that perform in a Lek. All aggression and mating takes place there, as outside the arena there is no sex drive or aggression exhibited. Probably the competition stimulates the production of testosterone. Males will establish a hierarchy with the preferred positions in the center of the lek lesser males will be found around the periphery. Females will then arrive to witness all the strutting and male interaction and then make a selection of a mate that fits her choice for specific traits; such as vigor, color, dominance, etc.

A modification of arena behavior is the group display of Wild Turkeys and Great-Tailed Grackles. By displaying in a group, the attraction stimulus to females is greater. Perhaps its like a choir where individual choir members would make poor soloists, but their deficiencies are masked by the group effort. However, there is dominance within a group display as only the dominant male will actually do the mating. Lesser males evidently receive stimulation through the display itself.

(Wild Turkeys displaying cooperatively)