Mating System in birds is very complex . A bird ( Usually its males) has to go through an elaborate ritual to attract the opposite sex.  For doing this the bird has to go through  anatomical changes, behavioural changes and some times  both. Before getting to know about the rituals let us look at the type of pairing that happens in the Avian species.


Mating is a process by which the male impregnates the female with reproductive cells . The result of this is the birth of next generation of the species. Now for calling mating a success , one might just look at the birth of the chicks. But in actual reality the success is when these chicks grow and they in turn mate and produce the third generation, because then only the DNA of the  first generation has been propagated. So when a bird becomes a ” Grandpa or Grandma” we can consider their mating as a success and so on.

The pairing up of birds can be broken down as  Monogamy and Polygamy ( Polygyny and Polyandry).

Monogamy :

This is where a bird pairs up with only  one partner  and produces a clutch of next generation. This could happen  for one season ( Most common  like Larks, Munia, Prinia )

or for Couple of seasons ( fairly common like Doves, Pigeons)

For life ( very few species like Saras Cranes)


Monogamy is more prevalent in birds than mammals. The monogamous relationship is not only about the mating, it extends to the male doing other duties like helping in incubation, protecting the nest, Feeding the chicks  etc. So the relationship starts with the pairing and can end with the chicks ready to leave the nest.

Monogamy is also fraught with the male getting into “extra marital affairs” , this is called “Extra Pair Copulations”. This happens when the female has eggs in her body and is not ready for the next round of mating, the male will go out and look for females that have had unsuccessful mating and hence are not impregnated yet. These males will come back to their original mates as soon as they have laid the eggs leaving all other affairs they had in the meanwhile. (Example : Great Tit)

The advantage for the male is that he has used the breeding season properly yo propagate his genes, the advantage for the females in  ” Extra pair copulation” is that they get impregnated by a male who was not their first choice. The disadvantage here is that the female is alone to tend for the chicks born out of such  pairing


Polygamy :

When a bird pairs up with Multiple partner in a breeding season  , it has said to have entered polygamy. There are two types of Polygamy

Polygyny : When the male of the species has multiple female partners he has entered Polygyny .The males attract females basis the recourses they control. This is called the ” resource -defence Polygyny”. The different types of polygyny are

Location- Defence Polygyny:  This is exhibited by birds like Baya Weavers who control an area which is rich in food source and safe for nest building  . They defend this territory from other males and this attracts the female to the males. The male’s job ends with nest building and  impregnation and  he doesn’t take care of the female or the chicks. But since the area is well protected from predators and has rich food source that the females do not mind pairing with these males . The females realise that these disadvantages outweigh the advantages of a faithful partner in a poor resources location area.


Female -Defence polygyny :  in this type of Polygyny the male maintains a ” harem ” and will defend the females from approaches of any other male. Here too the females will have very little help from males in looking after the brood but the advantage is that the chicks will  have very strong genetic material, as only a very strong male can defend and maintain a ” Harem”

Another system of polygyny that is different from the resource based one is called lekking

Lekking This is an astonishing behaviour exhibited mainly by many birds and a few mammals and insects…
During the breeding period the male members of the species congregate at a place and attract the females through display, fights or  calls  or a combination of the three..
The females choose the males by picking the most fittest/beautiful/strongest etc…this leads to the most appropriate male members breeding that leads to strong gene pools for the progeny.
It is observed that the males in Lekking system have the most beautiful Ornamentation in terms of plumage, Crest, Colours, Tails , display etc.
Advantages of lekking are that the male and female don’t have to search each other hence saves energy….
The most deserving of males get to breed hence strong genes get passed and weak genes are eliminated
It is also observed that there are different species who form a symbiotic lekking group to offer each other warning and protection from predators
The chicks from the lekking system are fast in growing up and have higher resistance to diseases.
The disadvantages are that  the males who participate in lekking usually only contribute only their genes. .they take no part in raising the chicks or feeding them or nest building
The lekking also leads to injuries in case of fights amongst the males.
The opportunist members form a ring outside the lekking group and are able to woo away females who do not end up with chosen partners…thus defeats the whole lekking concept
Lekking also leads to progeny with similar gene pools and hence removes the possibility of having a variety of genes and ends up wiping out certain traits carried by weaker birds that could be advantageous.


This is the system where the Female of the species has Multiple partners in a breeding season. The females practicing this system are more colourful , aggressive and have better vocal repertoire.  It is also observed that the sex ratio in polyandry practicing species is highly skewed towards number of males in the species , hence the fewer the females more their power.

The females divide and protect territory basis the food sources and number of males they have to maintain. The Polyandry can be of two types

Simultaneous Polyandry : The female will mate with males in the territory and lay eggs in designated nests built by males . The females will also help in defending the nest and relaying any spoilt clutch of eggs. Example : Bronzed winged Jacana

(For knowing more details on this behaviour of Bronzed winged Jacana pls refer

Sometimes the eggs are all laid in a  common nest  by many females and this mixed clutch of eggs is incubated , protected and the chicks are reared by Males and females together . This is called ” Cooperative Simultaneous Polyandry” Example : Egyptian Vultures


Sequential Polyandry :  The female will go around each individual nest of the males and mate with them, lay their eggs and then terminate the relationship. They will move on to the next male and continue the process . Example :Red Phalarope


In either polyandry the male is the principal care taker, incubator and food gatherer for the nest. The females job is only to lay eggs.  Why do males do all these so called  ” Women oriented Jobs”, because there are very few females compared to males , and this skewed sex ratio makes the females more in demand.  Also the females abandon the males holding a nest full of eggs and the male has no choice but to  ensure that the next generation comes out. But nature has been benevolent to the males too, the chicks of these species are Precocial, that is born with open eyes and ready to leave the nest very quickly.

How the mating rituals happens is a chapter by its own, pls refer