Bittern, feeding in reeds

The love life of wildlife

You don't have to go far to find fascinating mating behaviour in animals. Here are 10 of the remarkable, and often amusing, ways our UK wildlife finds a mate and passes its its genes onto the next generation...

Bitterns

The Barry White of the bird world, the bittern is all about the bass.

Their call is described as 'booming' and in order to produce this extraordinary noise, the males draw their heads into their bodies and inflate their necks rather like a balloon.

This makes their vocal cords wider and allows for a deep sound that can carry far through their waterlogged reedbed habitat to attract a mate. 

Find out more about bitterns in our birdguide.

Listen to a bittern's call

Niels Krabbe, Xeno-canto

Brown hare eating foliage, Norfolk.

Brown hares

You might reasonably assume that the sight of hares boxing in the early spring is an example of two males competing for territory or females.

However, studies have shown that the 'mad March hare' phenomenon is more often than not a female hare batting off amorous males as they make their unwanted advances.

Dragonflies and damselflies

Love really is in air for the beautiful demoiselle damselfly. Males will court females with a distinctive fluttering flight over a river, stream or channel. 

Like other dragonflies and damselflies, the male links the end of his abdomen with the back of the female's head when mating. To complete this most romantic of scenes, the bodies of the male and female damselfly even curve to form the shape of a heart.

Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, male displaying, Abernethy

Capercaillies

The males of this massive woodland grouse are an impressive sight. They're the size of a turkey!

In the spring they come together in the forest in what are known as 'leks' to compete for mating opportunities with a harem of females. Most of the competition is done through display and calls which carry for many miles through the forest and sound thoroughly weird to the human ear (you can listen below).

More physical confrontations may ensue to decide who will be 'alpha male'. 

Find out more about the capercaillie in our birdguide.

Listen to a capercaillie

Patrik Aberg, Xeno-canto

Great crested newt

In early spring, the crest of the male great crested newt grows in readiness for a once a year shindig at the local pond.

Suspended in the clear water, the resplendent males 'dance' for the females, holding small territories while they swish their white-striped tails.

Common toad sitting under street light next to car tyre, Hertfordshire

Common toad

In the run up to the breeding season the male common toad develops special 'nuptial pads' on its first three fingers.

As is often the case with reptiles and amphibians, the female is generally larger and the male uses his newly-formed pads to cling to the female's back, mating with her over a number of days. 

The loud calls that may be heard from toad-filled ponds at this time of year are emitted by male toads as they are grabbed by other males to let them know they've made a mistake.

Hen harrier

The courtship display of the male hen harrier has been dubbed 'skyancing'. In this spectacular performance, the male - grey and smaller than the brown female - flies steeply upwards, somersaulting at the peak of the climb before falling rapidly with wings closed. 

While the female is brooding the eggs and chicks, the male will supply her with prey from the surrounding area which are exchanged in mid-air.

Find out more about the hen harrier in our birdguide.

 Nightjar, Caprimulgus europaeus. Adult roosting during daylight hours, perched on a log, relying on camouflage and immobility for disguise. The Lodge RSPB reserve, Bedfordshire, England.

Nightjar

These weird-looking nocturnal birds attract a mate with an unmistakable 'churring' call as they sing through the night.

When courting, a male will fly towards a female in a rising spiral, clapping his wings. If she lands, he will continue bobbing and fluttering until the female spreads her wings and tail to let him know he's pulled. 

Find out more about the nightjar in our birdguide.

You can listen to the strange, 1,900 note-a-minute, call of the male below.

Listen to a nightjar

Niels Krabbe, Xeno-canto

Pine marten

Pine martens are normally solitary and fiercely territorial, which isn't conducive to romance. To make things worse, the females are only receptive to mating once a year for a few days in February.

Even after successfully mating, pregnancy doesn't begin until the spring (when it only lasts for a month). If the female is stressed, ill or doesn't find enough food in between mating and springtime, the embryos are aborted and they have to wait the rest of the year to have another go.

Stag beetle Lucanus cervus, two males fighting, Suffolk

Stag beetle

The impressive mandibles (jaws) of the stag beetle are sometimes called 'antlers' for obvious reasons, and relative to their bodies they're huge. 

Competition for females is fierce and if the warning of the raised mandibles isn't enough to deter an aggressor male, a wrestling match will ensue. 

The males are even able to stand on their hind legs in their attempts to chuck opponents from a branch, log or wall, and win a mating opportunity with the female that caused all the fuss.