Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, male displaying, Abernethy

How do birds attract their mates?

A beautiful song is not the only way to impress. Birds have plenty of other tricks for attracting a mate. Many show off gorgeous plumage or perform dramatic dances.

Spring finery

Most male birds, such as robins or chaffinches, are at their brightest and most colourful at the start of spring. They hope their fresh new plumage will attract a female. Many female birds are less colourful - they don’t want to attract attention when sitting on the nest.

Fancy gear

Some birds have taken things a step further, by developing special feathers just for showing off. Male pheasants have some spectacular feathers. The tail feathers of the male argus pheasant (from south-east Asia) can reach 1.75 metres in length.

But fancy feathers can also get in the way. The African long-tailed widowbird sheds his gorgeous tail plumes at the end of the breeding season. They make him too slow to escape from predators. For the rest of the year, he is just streaky brown, like the females.

Showing off

Some male birds perform special displays to attract a partner. Birds of paradise, from Papua New Guinea, dangle from a branch, shaking their dazzling feathers. Peregrines tumble acrobatically through the sky. Other birds display together in pairs to prepare for breeding. Great crested grebes run together over the water, shaking their heads and dangling waterweed. Cranes make dancing leaps into the air, calling loudly and tossing up pieces of earth.

Building for success

Some male birds try to impress females with their skill and hard work. Male wrens build many different nests in the hope that a female will like one of them and move in. Bowerbirds, from Australia, build an amazing house of grass, called a bower. They even create a front garden, which the male bird sweeps clean with a twig and decorates with flowers and pebbles.