When it comes to mating season, the male bird pulls out all stops to get the attention of the female. While one would imagine spectacular battles for a female’s attention from the likes of a large species such as a hawk, amazing things come in small packages. The hummingbird’s courtship dance is just that—amazing. Often referred to as the ‘insect bird’ because of the speed of their beating wings and skill at hovering, these are the very traits that help the hummingbird pull off one of the most dazzling courtship dances in the bird world.
A Show of Strength and Skill
The hummingbird male will mate with more than one female, making them a polygynous bird. While they are very territorial and will chase away another male, they are more than happy to show off their territory to a female visitor. For the male hummingbird it’s all about showing her that he is the best. But it is up to the female to decide whether she will mate with him or move on to another. The female oversees selecting and building the nesting site. Upon its completion she is ready for suitors.
The male hummingbird puts on an aerial show like no other species. It’s all about showmanship and these petite birds have an abundance of energy to pull it off. The male will fly back and forth, often incorporating looping maneuvers and zig zag motions to catch the eye of the female. It’s not unusual for the male to fly from fifty to one hundred fifty feet up into the air, then pulling a death-defying feat by hurtling straight toward the ground only to right themselves just before impact. These maneuvers, called dive bombs, are just part of the stunning aerial dance the male will do to win over a potential mate. If impressed with his acrobatic strength and skill, the female will then join the male in a flight pattern of up and downs, a sign the couple will soon mate.
Female Hummingbirds Choose Their Mates
The female hummingbird is picky in choosing a mate and if the male’s aerial skills don’t win her over, all hope is not lost. The male also turns to singing in order to impress an intended mate. Research has discovered that the male Costa’s hummingbird will serenade potential mates in a most unusual way – using their tail feathers. This unique tactic is done when the male dives down at the sides of the female, minimizing the Doppler effect. As air flows across the tail feathers, vibrations are created that produce something of a song. Called a musical dive, it’s the male’s way of showing off his stuff in front of the females.
See also: A Guide to North American Hummingbirds
The male hummingbird will also display his feathers, taking care to show them in the sunlight to accentuate the glimmer of iridescent feathers. If this isn’t enough to win their intended, the male takes to flapping its wings rapidly in order to create the loudest possible humming sound it can, a maneuver demonstrating both strength and skill.
Sometimes it takes a little help from friends and some species of male hummingbirds will band together to attract a mate, a ritual referred to as a lek. This band of males helping one another, sometimes as many as one hundred, will sing for the females. Should a female show an interest in a male, the male then begins to dance for her. If impressed by his dance, the couple will then proceed to mate.
A Brief Courtship
It might surprise you to find out that mating for the hummingbirds, like their very brief courtship, takes all of four minutes. After the intense and strategic effort put into winning a mate over, after mating both take leave of one another and move on to other interests. As the female begins to raise the young, the male has already begun his quest for a new female mate.
Like a firework show that began with a burst of bright color and fizzles with time, the hummingbird’s mating ritual begins with dazzling aerial antics and ends quickly, leaving both hummingbirds ready to move on to the next show. Or shall we say the next dance.