How to Find Out if Birds Are Mating

How to Find Out if Birds Are Mating
The mating of birds brings out their flashiest behavior. Many species are in their finest, most aesthetic plumage, their fullest and most intricate song and their most energetic activity during the breeding season. In the case of a lot of birds, as prospective mates work their hardest to come together and attract one another, they give off signals readily discerned by human observers.


Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Binoculars
  • Binoculars
Step 1
Listen for bird calls. Some of the primary motivations for birdsong are the attraction of mates and the defense of territories, both related to breeding. In many bird species, the female selects a desirable male to initiate mating. Often, as with the red-winged blackbird, the appeal seems to be males with the best territories. "Female Red-winged Blackbirds consistently choose high-quality territories rather than particular males," writes Frank B. Gill in Ornithology (1995); a high-quality territory means one blessed with good cover, plentiful food and other factors. Across much of North America, the melodic, rasping call of the male red-winged blackbird over freshwater marshes reveals their territorial season, the mating summons and the onset of spring.
Step 2
Look at plumage. Binoculars are helpful. Some birds develop special plumage during the breeding season, molting from drabber hues to flashier ones for the purpose of advertisement. Adult black-bellied plovers, for example, fulfill the plumage pattern of their name only during the breeding season and are otherwise pale and less distinctive.
Step 3
Watch for breeding behavior. This can include striking physical displays. The male woodcock of eastern North America, for example, makes acrobatic twilight flights over field and prairie during the spring mating season, the air passing over his outer tail feathers making a distinctive whistle. It might involve food: Male common terns present their mates with fresh-caught fish during courtship and into the nesting period.
Step 4
Consider the season. Birds tend to mate soon before or during the period of richest food availability, so that they might raise their broods in the most productive environment. In North America, this is generally spring and early summer.

Tips & Warnings

Check a bird field guide to look for the breeding plumage of particular species.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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