Nesting Grey Herons: 3. Copulation

“Why do birds build nests? Are nests the homes of birds? When birds are ready to start a family, they will need to build nests before they can reproduce. Hence, in a way, nests are the homes of breeding birds. Nests are where they feel at home to lay their eggs and raise their young. Copulation is a prerequisite before laying of eggs and reproduction of offspring.

“In mid October 2010, a pair of Grey Herons, like many other pairs before them, was ready to start their own family. They had already bonded and their nest was shaping up nicely. This pair was relatively new in the heronry and their nest was one of only a few that could be observed without much obstruction. Just one week back, this spot in the tree was bare and without any indication of a nest. This nest was thus less than a week old. On this sunny afternoon at about fifteen minutes past four, this pair of Grey Herons could be seen taking an afternoon nap in their nest (above left). Perhaps, they were exhausted after a hectic day of nest building.

“At 4:36 pm, movement was detected in this nest and it was realised that the pair was in the act of copulation (above right). Oh! Could they be power napping to conserve energy for this? By the time I had my eyes focused on the pair, the male was already on top of the female. He had full body contact. His underpart was leaning against the upper part of the female. The couple was leaning forward and both their heads were in a gradual slope (downwards), pointing in the same direction. It was a fine balancing act for the pair. The male had to balance on top of the female’s back by gripping delicately onto her wings. The female had to steady herself due to the weight of the male on top of her. Both birds had apparently spread their half-opened wings to maintain their balance. It was a gentle affair for this consenting couple. There was no vigorous movement and no repulsive action. Their bills remained closed throughout.

“After about 15 seconds, the act was obviously completed when the male was seen to dismount. It was only then that the female had her beak slightly open (above). She gave out a soft call just as the male was dismounting. What happens after copulation? Well, life still goes on. The couple continued to build their nest. They were making the nest as comfortable as possible and getting ready for the next stage of their breeding cycle.”

Kwong Wai Chong
Singapore
1st December 2010

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