How Do Birds Mate?[Courtship To Mating]

How do Birds mate

You may have wondered: how do birds mate? If this question has ever tickled your fancy, you’ve come to the right place. This article will answer this question while delving into different aspects of bird reproduction. 

Let’s start from learning the Bird’s reproductive Anatomy.

Birds’ Reproductive Anatomy

Birds in general lack the same reproductive parts as us mammals. Rather, male and female birds share what’s called a cloaca, which is an opening (or “vent”) that serves as the exit point for multiple systems: digestive, urinary, and reproductive.

Yep, that’s right—the same opening for the excretion of urine and feces also serves as the opening for the laying of eggs. Each breeding season, the cloaca undergoes swelling and may even protrude from the body slightly. The rest of the year, however, it is typically not visible at all.

When spring comes around and birds are ready to mate, their reproductive organs begin producing the sperm and ova necessary for reproduction.

For male birds, the sperm is stored in their cloaca; for female birds, their cloaca receives the sperm, from where it moves deeper into their bodies for the fertilization of the ova. This is how the egg begins its formation.

Bird Courtship

Courtship explained
Illustration: The Spruce / Kaley McKean

First off, let’s start with bird courtship. This process can actually last far longer than the act of mating itself.

There are often multiple stages to the courtship period, including the initial claiming of territory, as well as putting on an entire spectacle for the would-be mate: showing off plumage, aerial feats, complex songs, even, in some cases, sophisticated dances.

The courtship period permits the male bird to show off his virility and persuade the female that he is the best candidate, that is, he will help her produce strong and healthy chicks with a higher rate of survival. 

How Do Birds Mate? 

But how do birds mate exactly? It takes a female bird who is ready to receive a male mate. Sometimes it’s a new partner each breeding season; sometimes it’s a new exchange with a familiar (sometimes lifelong!) partner. 

While it depends on the bird species for the exact positions they take, birds most commonly mate by the male balancing on top of the female.

Facing the same direction, the female might position herself in a way that gives the male better balance, usually by hunching or bowing down. 

Then, the female exposes her cloaca by moving aside her tail. In turn, the male will contort his body so that their cloacas touch.

Sometimes this touch only lasts a second (or even less!) but that’s all it takes for the transference of sperm. This brief moment is known as the “cloacal kiss” and it completes the mating process.

Sometimes, the birds may remain in contact for longer. There is also a period of a week or more where the birds remain stimulated by their sexual hormones, oftentimes attempting to mate again or even several times to have an improved chance of successful fertilization. 

Some species—for example, swans, geese, and ducks—lack cloacas, but have an actual phallus instead, which is inserted during the reproductive process.

Unlike mammals, however, the phallus is formed as an extension of the cloacal wall, and via lymph rather than blood. 

It is speculated that these birds, as waterfowl, have a phallus because it makes successful insemination more likely.

The type of mating done by other birds would result in the sperm getting washed away by water as the cloaca stands exposed.

Following the mating process, the sperm makes its way to the ova so that fertilization may begin. Depending on the bird, eggs may be ready to be laid in a matter of days or it could take months. 

What To Do If You See Birds Mating?

mating sparrows

Now that you know how birds mate, you may be unsure how you should react to the sight of mating birds.

While some birdwatchers may feel funnily voyeuristic while watching birds mate, it can also be a remarkable scene, particularly if preceded by courtship behavior.

Due to how short the mating act is, it’s unlikely that you’ll disturb this process. Nonetheless, it’s important to recognize that this is an exceptional period of time for birds. 

As with most wildlife, it’s important to keep some distance. Approaching too closely could very well scare the birds and interrupt the mating process, possibly ending the courtship or damaging their bond as a pair.

Unfortunately, this could also harm their ability to raise their brood or successfully complete the mating process.

In an absolute worst-case scenario, the birds may choose to depart from the area they’ve chosen for mating and their eventual chicks, resulting in a relocation that might not be as suitable for their needs. 

Once birds mate, they often stay close by to start and raise their brood. While this can be a remarkable opportunity for birdwatchers to follow in the growth of the hatchlings, it is best to take caution. 

As with the mating process, getting too close can cause extreme stress to the parent birds, potentially even causing them to abandon their hatchlings.

The best course of action is to take care not to disturb the birds in anyway. 

Wrapping up

While this article covered the general bird mating process, there are many unique practices to be found.

For example, after hummingbirds mate, the male will find another female to court and mate with, while the female raises the babies alone. (Here are some birds that make mud nests)

Hopefully, your interest has been piqued and you will do more of your own exploring! 

Related Questions

Do birds have penises? Most birds use their cloaca, for digestive excretion and reproduction and even for mating. You can find more than 10,000 species of birds on earth and only 3% of them have functional penises.

Do birds get pregnant? No, birds don’t get pregnant as pregnancy happens in mammals only. Since, they have to be light weight to fly, they lay eggs.

Can a bird lay an egg without mating? Birds can lay eggs without having any male around but those eggs are not fertile. These eggs would not hatch even if it gets incubated.

Sources –

Donald Bergeson

I have always been fascinated by the skill, strength, and beauty of birds.They help in maintaining a balance of ecological environment. At Best Bird Guide, I share all of my experiences and discoveries that I have got so far and inspire more devoted fans.

Recent Posts