Mallards (Anasplatyrhynchos) are common ducks in the northern hemisphere so their courtship behavior is easy to observe. Here are tips on what you’ll see in March as they prepare for nesting next month.
Did you know that mallards are already paired up by now? They start forming pair bonds in September and most have a mate by the end of the year. This leaves some unattached bachelors however because their sex ratio is usually skewed — 1.33 males for every female.
Now that they’re paired up they get down to the serious business of making baby mallards. The video above shows several characteristic moves and sounds of a paired couple:
Head bobbing: a pre-copulatory action that gets them in tune with each other.
Inciting: The female (all brown) incites the male by dipping her bill in the water over her shoulder.
Leading: He turns back his head, then swims away from her to lead her away from the crowd; she follows.
Vocalizations: He whistles. She quacks loudly (only the females make the loud quacking sound).
The excitement went out of the pair shown above, but the video below shows head bobbing and copulation. Notice that the male always grabs the female by the back of the neck as he mounts her. After mating the pair bridles (rears up) and steams (swims with head low). Sometimes the male turns back his head and leads again.
Mallards are monogamous but Cornell Lab’s Birds of North America says that “paired males actively pursue forced extra pair copulations” — a polite name for what looks like gang rape. Knowing this, the paired males stay close to their females to protect them during the egg laying period.
After egg laying their match falls apart. Male mallards desert their mates during incubation and won’t pair up again until autumn. They can afford to do this because the females incubate alone and the ducklings are precocious.
So it’s only once a year that wild mallards make ducklings.
(videos from YouTube. Click on the YouTube links to see the originals)
SW and Boomer fly upside down in courtship flight, Cleveland, Ohio (photo by Chad + Chris Saladin)
Peregrine falcon courtship is underway in Pittsburgh but you’re missing a lot if you only see it on camera.
Peregrines have many courtship rituals that get them in tune for the breeding season. Here’s what you’ll see at any one of Pittsburgh’s seven peregrine territories. Click on the links below for additional descriptions and photos.
Prominent perching: Peregrines perch in prominent locations to show they own the place. Established pairs perch near each other.
Cooperative hunting: The pair goes out hunting together. He kicks up a flock while she stoops on likely prey.
Ledge Displays: Peregrines display on the nest ledge over the scrape, at first alone then as a pair. These are the only displays you’ll see on the falconcams.
Courtship Flights: Peregrines court in the air with speed and precision. They even fly upside down (shown above).
If you’ve been watching the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning falconcams this month, you’ve seen the peregrines bowing and “chirping” to each other in courtship display. Their rituals cement their pair bond and get them in tune with each other for the breeding season.
Some birds have fancier courtship displays. Pairs of waved albatrosses (Phoebastria irrorata) get reacquainted after six months at sea by doing a courtship dance.
The video above shows their elaborate ritualized moves: bill clacking, rapid bill circling, bowing, touching the ground and their sides with their beaks, raising their bills, and making a whoo sound. You have to visit the Galápagos to see them as it’s the only place where they breed.
The pairs do their dance in time for the female to lay her single egg in April to June. Nestlings reach adult size in December and leave the colony by January to forage at sea until they reach maturity at 5-6 years old.
Sadly, this species is critically endangered. The waved albatross’ range is confined to the Galápagos and the Humboldt current off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador. Though long-lived, these birds are slow to reproduce and their population is declining, especially at the hands of longline fishing.
Dori arrives to join Louie in courtship at the Gulf Tower nest (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower). Click on the photo for a bigger view.
Pittsburgh Peregrine Fans are pleased as punch that Dori and Louie have taken a new and intensive interest in the Gulf Tower nest.
For the past four years they’ve flipped from site to site instead of choosing the Gulf Tower that peregrines had used continuously since 1991. In 2012 and 2013 they left Gulf for a nook at 322 Fourth Avenue. In 2014 they returned, but last year (2015) they left for Macy’s Annex.
Anhinga with young in nest (photo by shell game via Flicker Creative Commons license)
Last Sunday at Wakodahatchee Wetlands I was pleased to see anhinga nestlings up close even though the small ones are rather ugly.
Anhingas (Anhingaanhinga) nest colonially in woody shrubs above water during south Florida’s dry season (November to May) because low water levels concentrate the fish and make them easier to catch.
Newly hatched anhingas are pale, naked and reptile-like though their eyes are open*. The females lay eggs up to four days apart and begin incubation immediately so the young in recently hatched nests range in size and appearance from small naked hatchlings to large downy first-born.
The nestlings beg with their mouths closed and their gular pouches extended (the skin beneath their beaks), asking their parents to dole out food by regurgitation.
Below, an older nestling has his head inside his mother’s mouth to get food from her gular pouch while the younger one on the left looks angular because he’s begging with extended gular skin. His throat looks bigger than the top of his head!
Anhinga feeding nestling while second nestling begs (photo by shell game via Flicker Creative Commons license)
Eventually the youngest catch up to the oldest … still with faces that only a mother (and father) could love.
Anhinga nestlings (photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr Creative Commons license)
(photos by shell game and Jimmy Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons Atrribution Share-Alike Non-Commercial License)
(Pittsburgh, PA – February 13, 2016) It’s not yet Valentine’s Day, but love is in the air at the Hays Bald Eagle nest. This morning, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania confirmed that the Hays eagles have one egg in the nest. The egg was laid overnight, when the Bald Eagle web camera was turned off. The egg was noticed at 7:30 am when the cam came back up, clearly showing one of the eagles sitting on an egg.
Watch two Pittsburgh-area bald eagle nests — both Hays and Harmar — on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website at eagles.aswp.org. Read more on their Facebook page.
Harmar bald eagle carrying nesting material in March 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)
For one of Pittsburgh’s three bald eagle pairs, this year started off with a bang.
Since late 2013 the Harmar pair that nests along the Allegheny River have been hard to observe because PennDOT blocked off the nearest viewing area while building a replacement for the 107-year-old Hulton Bridge. Steve Gosser took the photo above from that viewing location in March 2013. It’s been hard to get good photos for years.
Last October the new bridge was completed and dedicated but the eagle viewing area was still closed while PennDOT began to deconstruct the old bridge. However …
Staff from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania were on hand to monitor the eagles just in case. As ASWP reports below, the eagles weren’t affected at all. They were 3.4 miles away as the crow flies. (The eagles would have flown along the river, which is even longer.)
The Harmar eagles were down river near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club at the time. Our staff member monitoring the eagles said that the birds “didn’t even flinch” at the sound of the implosion.
The eagle viewing zone at Harmar will be closed a while longer but you can watch this pair easily now on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website. ASWP has both the Hays and Harmar eagles’ nests streaming live at eagles.aswp.org. Click here to watch.