Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora Courtship Behaviour

on 18th September 2023

I have previously watched part of the courtship ritual of Java Sparrows Padda oryzivora (see reference). These birds are from successfully breeding in the wild, of released captives, mostly around limestone caves at Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. During that episode, the courtship was initiated by one bird and took the form of many bowing episodes to the other partner while making calls and some bill clicks. The bird also did many ‘leaps’ and upward-downward stretches while in a bowing posture. During my brief observation the ‘partner’ did not interact with the ‘dancing bird’.

Much of the available data on courtship behaviour is from work on birds in captivity (Soma & Iwama 2017; Islam 2021). However, I am not entirely sure if birds will behave the same way in a captive environment as in the wild.

On 18 September 2023 I had an extended opportunity to watch a number of Java Sparrows involved in courtship behaviour. A summary of the key observations include:

Allopreening. This was a common part of courtship and I observed this as the first part of the ritual in a number of birds. See Plate 1 & 2. It was conducted extensively by the presumed male.

Plate 1: Allopreening
Plate 2: Allopreening

Singing and Swaying Together. This was the behaviour I saw that followed allopreening. See Plate 3. The birds would get close, touching each other’s bodies and then sway together. Occasionally, the presumed male would hold the body erect, with the beak held upward. But generally, both partners would move in different directions as well. There were contact calls made during this period.

Plate 3: Singing and Swaying Together

Billing (also called ‘nebbing’ and ‘mandibulation’). I saw Billing a number of times. The courting pair would touch or clasp each other’s bills. See Plate 4. This appeared to strengthen the pair bonding and occurred later in the courtship ritual. I am uncertain about courtship feeding, and thought I saw it once.

Plate 4: Billing

Conflict/Aggressive Behaviour. I saw conflict between birds for two different courting bird ‘groups’. A pair was engaging in the courtship ritual, or had finished and was looking for a nesting site, when a third bird (presumed male) attempted to make contact with the presumed female. Then a chase or fight took place between the presumed males. See composite image in Plate 5. At times the bills were locked in battle and the physical aggression was significant. This happened quite a number of times.

Plate 5: Conflict/Aggressive Behaviour

Serenading. For the lack of a better term, I have called this serenading. This was the most unusual behaviour which I observed only once. See Plate 6 and the short handheld Video. One bird would sway all around while two or three birds watched raptly. I could not hear any song apart from the contact calls/clicks; but there was much ambient noise all around. It did appear to me that the bird was ‘serenading’ prospective mates as part of the courtship ritual. This behaviour lasted for 90 seconds.

Plate 6: Serenading


  1. Amar-Singh HSS (2015). Java Sparrow – courtship ritual. Bird Ecology Study Group.
  2. Islam, K. (2021). Java Sparrow (Padda oryzivora), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  3. Soma, M. & Iwama, M. (2017) Mating success follows duet dancing in the Java sparrow. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0172655.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

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Amar-Singh HSS

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Cert Theology (Aust, Hons), MBBS (Mal), MRCP (UK), FRCP (Glasg), MSc Community Paediatrics (Ldn, dist), is a Consultant Paediatrician. He served the Malaysian civil service for more than 35 years, led regional Paediatric and Research departments, is an active child advocate and the recipient of a number of international awards. He has been a bird watcher for around 50 years, published two bird books, has a number of international bird publications, contributed to more than 20 international bird books/guides, and contributes to online bird image and audio databases. He is an active contributor to the Bird Ecology Study Group with a large number of detailed posts and write-ups on bird ecology. He is a life member of the Malaysian Nature Society, a member of the BCC-MNS Records Committee, a member of the Oriental Bird Club and supports eBird. He is interested in spending time getting to know bird behaviour and considers himself a bird-friend. Amar is based at Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

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