Bird Bonanza

During the spring time, migratory birds and non-migratory birds are looking to start a family. Before choosing a mate, birds go through a period of courtship, which is similar to dating in humans. It is the male’s responsibility to attract the female. Have you every noticed that sometimes female and male birds of the same species look quite different, often the male has bright and colourful feathers, while the female has dull coloured feathers. This is how the male attract the female, along with song, dance and nest building. They must display to the female that they would be a good mate and produce strong offspring. In this module courtship, mating and nesting will be discussed about various birds that are found in PEI during the spring.

Forms of Courtship:

1. Singing - most common; complexity and variety show maturity and intelligence level; can show    territory; in some species the male and female will sing together; bonding ritual 

2. Displays - colour of plumage and elaborate displays show strength and health

3. Dancing - physical movements, such as dives, wing flaps and head dips; males usually dance; sometimes male and female dance together; mistakes show inexperience

4. Preening - close contact between male and female; show they care, not trying to hurt them; gently look after the other; lean against each other

5. Feeding - males bring food to female; show they care and are able to find food; provide for a family

6. Building - males construct a nest before the females arrive; try to make it eye-catching; claim territory; female chooses male, but might build another nest

Choose different species of birds to research and discuss their mating behaviours. Below are the descriptions for 7 common PEI birds, use these birds or select your own.

Click here for an excellent source of bird information.

Bird 1- Non-migratory - American Crow

American Crows mate in late winter. During the courtship ritual the male will fluff his feathers, spread his wings and tail and bow to the female while singing a short song. The pair will work together to build their nest using medium-sized twigs for the outside. The inner cup is lined with pine needles, weeds, soft bark or animal hair. The nest varies in size. The crows hide their nest in a crotch near the trunk of the tree or on a horizontal branch toward the top third of the tree. They prefer to nest in coniferous trees. Next year their young will help build the nest. After the pair mate, they preen each others feather while touching bills. This pair is monogamous for life.

There are 3-9 eggs in an American Crow clutch. They will brood one or two times. Their eggs are often 3.6 to 4.7cm in length and 2.6 to 3.1cm in width. The incubation periods may last 16 to 18 days, while the nestling period ranges from 20 to 40 days. The eggs are pale bluish-green to olive green with blotches of brown and gray towards the end. When the eggs hatch, the hatchling is naked except sparse tufts of grayish down, its eyes are closed and it is quite clumsy.

Bird 2 - Non-migratory - Blue Jay

Courtship begins in February for Blue Jays. A group of three to ten individuals, one being female, forms. The group follows the female’s actions. Eventually the group size will dwindle down till only one male and the female remain. This is the mating pair. The pair will display quiet feather fluffing and ritualistic feeding away from the others. Together the pair gathers material and builds their nests, although the male tend to do more gather, while the female builds. They nest is an open cup of twigs, grass and sometime mud lined with rootlets. The twigs used are often from live trees, which as difficult to break off and they will fly great distances for rootlets. The nest is in crotch or thick outer branches of trees, usually 3 to 8m from the ground. If there is a predator nearby the blue jays will abandon their nest. 

Breeding season goes from March to July. There are 2-7 eggs in a blue jay clutch; they usually only brood once.  The 2.5 to 3.3 cm eggs are bluish or light brown with brownish spots. The incubation period usually lasts 17 or 18 days, while the nesting period may be 17-21 days. The hatchlings are naked and helpless; their eyes are closed and have a red mouth lining. 

Bird 3 - Non-migratory - Black-capped Chickadee

Courtship for Black-capped Chickadees begins in February. The flock will break into pairs. The male follows the female. It is the female who selects the site for nesting. Together they excavate a cavity in a tree, usually in a dead snag or rotten branch of an alder or birch. The cavity will be anywhere from the ground to 20m high, although 1.5 to 7m is the average. Once the chamber is hollowed out (21cm deep) the female will build a cup-shaped nest inside. She uses moss and coarse materials for the foundation and lines it with softer material, such as rabbit fur.

When the female is preparing to lay her eggs, the male collects food. The average clutch for black-capped chickadees is 1 to 13 eggs and only brooding once. The white eggs with reddish brown dots are 1.5cm in length and 1.2 in width. Incubation last 12 to 13 days and the nestling period is 12 to 16 days. The hatchlings' eyes are closed. They are naked except for 6 small patches of mouse-gray downy feathers on their back and head. 

Bird 4 - Non-migratory - Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles are fairly common in PEI all year-round. Their mating season usually takes place in late winter to early spring. Eagles sexually mature at the age of four or five. They often return to their birthplace to have their young. The mating pair often mates for life, unless they are having trouble reproducing young. The pair become bonded after courtship which includes elaborate calls and flight displays, such as swoops, chases and cartwheels where they locked talons and fall to the ground, releasing each other before hitting the ground. 

Both the male and female will contribute in building a huge nest by collecting materials. The female decides the placement of the items, which includes woven sticks, grasses, moss and cornstalk. The nest is usually 4m deep and 2.5m wide. It may take up to three months to complete the nest. The nests are usually found at the very tops of trees, but are sometimes built on the ground. The nest is used repeatedly and added to each year. 

Once the nest is prepared the mating pair will mate. About 10 days later 1-3 dull, white eggs are laid. Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs and collecting food. It takes 34-26 days for the eggs to hatch. The nestlings emerge with light gray down, pink skin and brown eyes, gape and legs. The young eagles are able to leave the nest after 56 to 98 days.

Bird 5 - Migratory - American Robin 

American Robins return to PEI in late February, early March. Usually the males return before the females so they can find a nesting site. The mating pair is monogamous for the breeding season, but the female will find a new mate if she has to. Courtship feeding occurs with robins, as the males display their ability to obtain food to the female. Once the female has chosen a mate, she will build a nest from the inside out in the lower half of a tree. The female presses dead grass and twigs into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. Once she is finished forming the cup, she reinforces it with soft mud; to finish, she lines the nest with fine dry grass. 

American robins will ay 3-5 eggs per clutch. They will have 1-3 broods. The 3cm long and 2cm wide eggs are sky blue or blue green and unmarked. The incubation period lasts 12 to 14 days, will the nestling period is 13 days. The hatchlings are helpless and mostly naked, with sparse white down. Both the male and female feed and protect the nestlings. 

Bird 6 - Migratory - Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireos return to PEI in early spring. The male performs a courtship display where he flicks his legs with his white feathers and fan-shaped tail. The female will build the nest in five days, without the males help. They nest is an open cup suspended from a forked tree branch. It is made out of twigs, bark strips, grasses, pine needles, and lichen held together with spider web. The inner lining is often made of grasses, plant fibers, and hair.

During the incubation period, which lasts 11 to 14 days, the male sings 50-60 phrases a minute. Once he is finished the female comes of the nest and he will feed her or they feed together. The pair is monogamous.  After hatching for the dull white egg with reddish brown specks, the young are helpless and their eyes are closed. They remain in the nest for 10 to 12 days and are fed by both parents. 

Bird 7 - Migratory - Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows return to PEI in February or March. The male often returns first to select a nesting place. He defines his territory by singing his song from three or four high perches. When the females arrive, the males select one they would like to partner with and tries to impresses her with his mating ritual. Once the female chooses her mate, they travel the territory together. The female builds the nest which is hidden in grasses or weeds. The nest is sometimes placed on the ground or as high at 5m. She uses loose grasses, weeds and bark on the outside and lines it with grasses, rootlets and animal hair.    

The female will lay 1 to 6 eggs per clutch and may brood up to 7 times a season. The eggs are often blue, blue-green, or gray-green spotted with brown, red-brown, or lilac. They are 1.7 to 2.3cm in length and 1.4 to 1.7cm wide. The incubation period lasts 12 to 15 days. The hatchlings are naked with sparse black down, they are clumsy and their eyes are closed. The nestling period lasts 9 to 12 days.

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