Monday, February 13, 2012

The Avian Mating Ritual

As a rule, when I carry along my camera gear with me, it is usually because I am set on photographing some specific subject at a specific location. Contrary to what people believe, I do not carry around the excess baggage because I hope that I will stumble onto something interesting to photograph. However, it does happen that there are times when I do stumble onto something quite unexpected, that which I had not planned on. So it was for me, last May, 2011.

During end April and early May of 2011, I was camped at Yongkala in Mongar Dzongkhang - photographing birds. Early morning of May 1, 2011, I drove out of my camp and started a slow drive towards Lemithang - looking for birds to photograph. My beanbag was placed on the seat to my left; the Wimberly was mounted on my Gitzo tripod and was laid across my car's back seat. The Canon EOS 50D was firmly attached to my latest acquisition - the Canon 800mm super telephoto lens.

Precisely at 5:47:54 AM, I noticed a male Scarlet Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus) perched on the pinnacle of a tree crown about 200 ft. away from me. As I prepared to photograph it, it began to send out a series of calls. I waited and watched. I wondered if he was calling out to a prospective mate in the vicinity. I was right - the fella’s hormones were at a boil.

After few minutes, a female appeared and perched on a branch of another tree close by.

The next few minutes were spent in the ritualistic game of the male chasing after the female and, she making a show of running away from him. The mating game had started in real earnest!

After about 20 minutes of fleeting from tree top to tree top, they returned to the same tree from where they originally started off with their mating game. I cannot be sure but after a while, the male seems to have sensed that the female was now ready to accept his advances.

At this point, the male selected and bit off a small piece of delicate and tender leaf from a nearby tree and, bearing it in between his beaks, landed on the same branch the female was perched on. He did not land very close to the female - but made sure that he kept a safe distance from her.

The female seemed calm and so he began a series of mating dances to entice the female.

He moved from side to side, he spread and flapped his wings and he broke into a rhythmic jig - still bearing the piece of leaf in between his beaks. After a while, the female lowered her body slightly which seemed to indicate to the male that she was now ready to mate with him.

Still bearing the piece of leaf in between his beaks, he mounted her and, in a flurry of motions, the act of mating was over.

He dismounted her and placed the piece of leaf to the left of her and flew off.

The female picked up the leaf and began to peck at it until it was fully consumed.

My camera records show that the entire act of courtship and mating lasted a full 47 minutes - it started at: Sunday, May 01, 2011, 5:47:52 AM and the last frame of the photo was shot at: Sunday, May 01, 2011, 6:34:02 AM.

Did you know?
Like in the human world, it is most often the male birds that make the first move in the game of courtship. True to character, the female birds begin by acting coy and giving a hard time to their male suitors. The male birds entice the females in a variety of ways: some build nests, some offer food and others sing and dance to attract the females.

New technology of DNA fingerprinting has revealed that the female birds are as monogamous as their human counterparts - it has been proven that some of the eggs produced by a female bird have been sired by someone other than her regular partner. DNA evidences have proven that chicks from single nests had been fathered by different males. This means that two-timing exists in the avian world as well.

Scientists have discovered that avian divorces are pretty common; necessitated, most often, by failure to rear offsprings. 

Musings: I was intrigued that the male did not part with his tofa (gift) of green leaf until after he got what he was after – clearly proving the veracity of my late boss’ dictum that; “No deal is confirmed until the cash is firmly in the pocket.”


  1. How utterly charming! Such freedom. What brilliant coloured birds, or is that your ingenious photography? Was this a Valentine's Day message to your readers? Anyways, Happy Vs. Anon.

  2. much to know :) looking forward to your next post.

  3. What you've captured is so rare in this world today.

    Loved the accompanying story too. Well written.