Little Terns: Courtship behaviour

posted in: Courtship-Mating | 1

The breeding season of Little Terns (Sterna albifrons) in Singapore starts from May to end in July. The first step involves pairing, after which courtship begins. Typical courtship behaviour involves the male bird bringing fish to his mate. How the birds forage for fish has been posted earlier.

Not all offer of fish by the male is accepted by the female of his choice. The female may turn her back as the male approaches with his gift but suddenly turn around to accept a gift from another male flying in. At the same time a male flying in with a fish in his beak may not offer it to an eager female but to another of his choice.

The offer of fish continues for some time before the pair actually bonds. After all, the female has to be convinced of the male’s ability to provide for her and her brood during the period of egg incubation and after.

The pair may fly off together whereby the male catches the fish. Both then fly back to land where the male offers it to the female. Immediately after handing over the fish to the female, the male cocks his head high and make a loud cry, as if in triumph.

During this period of courtship feeding there are always other birds ready to zoom in for a free meal. Piracy is rampant during this period and a courting male has to be extra vigilant least his gift ends in the beak of another male.

Observations were made by Meng and Melinda Chan in 2005. All images by them.

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