The National Aviary will remain closed through at least April 30. Supporting the National Aviary during these uncertain times helps us to continue providing the very best care to the birds and animals of the National Aviary. Please consider donating to our Emergency Care Efforts at this time.

The National Aviary will remain closed through at least April 30. Supporting the National Aviary during these uncertain times helps us to continue providing the very best care to the birds and animals of the National Aviary. Please consider donating to our Emergency Care Efforts at this time.

Seven Interesting and Observable Examples of Avian Courtship


The birds at the National Aviary are getting into the Valentine’s Day spirit! To celebrate, we’re sharing a examples of #LoveAtTheNationalAviary with these interesting and observable examples of avian courtship!


1. American Flamingos

The courtship display of the American Flamingo is infectious—if you’re another flamingo, that is!  And that’s the idea.  When any of the flamingos in a flock begin to display using a set of ritualized movements and calls, it stimulates their hormones and those of the birds around them.  Over time this helps bring all the members of a flamingo flock into breeding condition.  This, in turn, facilitates their nesting communally when environmental conditions are right. Watch in the National Aviary’s Wetlands habitat as the courtship display starts with one or a few birds, and quickly catches on to the rest of the flock. Their signature moves include Head Flagging, Wing Salute, Twist-and-Preen, and sometimes, an “Inverted Wing Salute.”



2. African Penguin

Penguins are monogamous and can even form lifelong pair bonds with one another.  As a result, they have not evolved sexual plumage dimorphism (which is when males and females look different), but they have evolved behaviors that help them to develop and maintain their pair bond.  These behaviors become more evident as the breeding season approaches.  For example, courting penguin pairs engage in vigorous “billing” behavior, in which they rapidly and repeatedly clap their beaks together while standing erect.  This can lead to what is termed an “ecstatic display” in which they stand erect, flap their flippers, and give their characteristic loud braying (“hee-haw!”) calls.  Male penguins will entice their mate to nest by picking up stones or bits of vegetation and carrying these over to their nesting cave.  African Penguins Bette and Sidney have been together since 2010 and have hatched 10 chicks together at the National Aviary! This devoted couple can often be seen preening each other’s feathers and hanging around their favorite nest cave together.

3. Lesser Bird-of-Paradise

Only male birds-of-paradise perform courtship displays, and they do this while gathered together in groups, called leks.  When it is time for nesting, female birds-of-paradise visit a lek, where they can watch and compare several males displaying side-by-side.  Their visits to a lek last only as long as it takes them to mate with the male of their choosing.  Then they each fly off and complete their nesting without any help from the male who fertilized their eggs.   Because the females often tend to choose the same male for their mate, the genetic traits that make him more attractive than the other males are much better represented in the next generation.  As a mating system, lek-based polygyny (one male mating with multiple females), with its pattern of very uneven breeding success across males, has often resulted in the evolution of incredibly elaborate plumages and displays like those seen in the birds-of-paradise. The National Aviary’s Lesser Bird-of-Paradise is not quite of breeding age yet, but he’s practicing his elaborate courtship display for when he gets a bit older.



4. Golden Taveta Weaver

Male Taveta Golden Weavers use their especially strong beaks and feet to weave intricate nests from grass. These woven nests are a way to gain attention – female Taveta Golden Weavers will pick their mate based on the male’s skill at weaving. The male hangs upside down from one of his creations and slowly waves his wings and sings as an invitation to any females who may be looking for a nice nest (and a nice mate to go along with it, of course!)


5. Great Argus Pheasant

Named for the many-eyed giant of Greek mythology, the Great Argus is an extraordinary pheasant-like bird from the forests of Malaysia.  The male possesses an extremely long tail, in fact, his tail feathers are the longest single feathers of any bird in the world, but that is not his biggest claim to fame.  His wing feathers are adorned with dozens of bold eye spots, called ocelli, which he can arrange into a huge fan in order to court the female whose eye he wants to catch.  He uses the fan almost hypnotically, to keep the female’s attention on him. If you've been to visit us, chances are you know Gus and Mrs. Gus, our dynamic Great Argus Pheasant duo. The couple lives in the Tropical Rainforest, and if you're lucky, you may get to see Gus's impressive courtship display.



6. Snowy Egret

Some birds like to get all dressed up for the breeding season!  Snowy Egrets develop specialized nuptial plumes, called aigrettes, which they spread out in an intricate lacy fan while stretching, strutting, and calling to attract their mate.  Egrets also develop bright colors on the bare patches of their facial skin for the nesting season. You can see the beautiful Snowy Egret in our Tropical Rainforest. 


7. Owl Finch

Owl Finches are small songbirds from the grassy scrublands and woodlands of Australia.   In courtship the male hops towards a female, with the feathers of his neck, cheeks, breast, flanks and belly fluffed out, and he switches his body from side to side while singing.  If she accepts him as her mate, then the two birds may perch right next to each other and engage in some extended allopreening (i.e., you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours), which helps to strengthens their pair bond.