the good provider

It’s springtime, and romance is in the air — males showing off their physical prowess and gaudy colors, females watchful and discerning.  One of the rituals of springtime courtship among some bird species involves the male bringing some delectable, nutritious food to his female.

courtship feeding-lilac-breasted roller

The male Lilac-breasted Roller (on the right) presents his female with a small insect. (Photo shot in Botswana in October 2015)

northern shrike-courtship food

Northern Shrikes impale their prey on a sharp object like thorns or barbed-wire fences. This male shrike is leaving his gift of a fresh vole for his intended mate.  (Photo by Marek Szczepanek)

Why do some male birds do this?  Is it to show what good providers they will be for their offspring?  Is it to further cement the bond between male and female, like human males might gift their sweeties with jewelry, roses, or candy?  Or is it really an important part of their pre-nesting behavior, to increase the food/energy intake of females that will shortly undertake big expenditures of energy laying eggs and incubating them for long periods of time.  Courtship feeding might be important for all of these reasons, but most likely it has evolved in those species for which the energy demands of reproduction are particularly high in the female.

northern cardinal-

Northern Cardinal males keep a close eye on their females, and offer them tidbits of sunflower seeds, even though the female is sitting right there next to or on the feeder.

northern cardinal female-

He’s looking at her (above), and she’s looking at him, wondering what he will bring her next.

I missed the actual feeding because the pair darted behind the leaves, but it looks like this.


Photo by Rudiger Merz

northern cardinal-

Females have the luxury of choice, so this male has to not only be good-looking but savvy at providing food.

7 thoughts on “the good provider

  1. Great photos! But you almost had me with the rollers – what, in Minnesota? – till I read the caption carefully.

    • Haha-that was the only photo I had of courtship feeding. I’ve seen it often in the backyard, but never got to my camera quickly enough.

  2. We get a Great Grey Shrike here in winter that looks like your Northern Shrike. It’s other name is butcher bird because of its feeding behaviour and larder. The other birds are so colourful.

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