In many species of bird, the male has more flamboyant plumage. The male bird is generally considered to display 'show-off' behavior - singing, for example - designed to attractive the attention of the female, whose role it is to select a suitable mate.
Do all birds fit into these roles and how do different species share the responsibility of nest building?
Recent research says that both male and female birds sing, depending on their species and geographical location.
Historically there is less documentation about female vocal behavior so it was thought that male birds did all the singing. More recent studies show that both genders are vocal.
Scientists are calling for more investigation into this area to address the deficit of information about female birdsong.
Why do male birds sing?
Usually a bird’s purpose in singing is to communicate the location of its territory and to attract a mate. Males are trying to attract the females in the area, who will be seeking a strong mate that can defend its territory against rivals.
Birdsong depends a lot on the species and where the bird lives in the world.
In the temperate climates of Europe and North America, where many studies were done, the males are often the ones who are more eye-catching and easy to observe. So for a long time ornithologists focussed on male birds’ behaviour.
Do female birds sing?
The males have brighter plumage and more obvious behavioral displays. These are intended to impress the female birds. The female bird listens, observes and makes the decision of which male to choose as their mate.
Ornithologists also think that female birds in temperate areas have evolved to be less vocal than the males.
Another reason for migratory birds in temperate areas to sing is seasonal. They need to lay claim to territory in the spring or summer.
Why do female birds sing?
In the less-studied tropical countries, though, it is a different story. In these areas, the breeding pairs are together for a larger proportionate of the year because they don’t migrate.
Since they are in the same habitat year-round, and often with the same mate for years, the females sing as much as the males do. They do so with the aim of staking their claim to territory. Both genders in a pair will sing to defend it against competitors.
Which female birds sing?
Researchers with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology show that almost 150 species of songbird in North America have females that sing. The list of female singers includes cardinals, northern mockingbirds, house finches, song sparrows, white-crowned sparrows and house finches.
Do female cardinals sing?
An example of a North American bird whose female sings is the cardinal. Like tropical birds, many pairs of cardinals will also stay in the same area all year. In these cases both genders sing to make their warning doubly effective.
Is it a male or a female bird singing?
One of the difficulties is the lack of data about how to determine whether a song is coming from a male or a female, if the singer is unseen.
Furthermore, in some species it is simple to differentiate the gender of a bird by its appearance. But in other species, the female and male look very similar, making it easy to confuse them.
This is especially the case if a bird is doing activities traditionally interpreted as the role of the female bird, such as nesting or looking after the eggs. In theory, female birds do not sing for fear of attracting attention - and therefore predators - to their nest.
Bird watchers might like to pay attention to the particular jobs performed by the females and males that they observe - and who is doing the singing!
If you would like to find out more about this topic, and contribute to the study of female birdsong, take a look at this link to the project Female Songbirds Sing!:
Is it the male or female bird that builds the nest?
For some species, the male bird’s skill in nest building is an important factor in whether he gets chosen as a mate. Other birds only build their nests after they have mated. Many species build their nest together, but in some cases, it is mainly the job of the female.
Nests are crucial to birds because a nest is where they raise their young. They must be in a stable, safe place and of a sound enough construction to protect its contents in all sorts of weather conditions.
There are some interesting differences in how birds go about choosing the best place to put their nest and whether the female or the male bird has the job of building the nest itself.
Do female birds build nests?
In many bird species, the female is the primary nest builder. Male eagles and ospreys, for instance, help in the construction by fetching materials like twigs and grasses for her, but they don’t do any of the actual building.
If he is not directly involved in building, the male will support the female by fetching food for her so that she can remain focussed only on her task of finishing the nest.
Do male birds build nests?
It is not always the job of the female to build the nest, though. For some birds, the task is an important step in their courtship ritual.
The male house wren has to be an excellent nest builder if he is to attract a mate. To maximize his chances of making one that meets requirements, he builds a few at once.
It is then up to the female to inspect the nest to choose whether she will have him as a mate, and if so which nest she prefers. If she doesn’t approve of any of his designs, the male will just discard the nest.
The male wren has been known to build up to a dozen before a female is happy with him and his efforts. Only then will they put the finishing touches to it together.
Which other male birds build nests?
Similarly, male oven birds take great care over the building of the nests for their potential mate. Their creations are elaborate and of very varied constructions, using all sorts of materials from twigs to earth. Sometimes they will try their luck and mix things up with an underground den.
Weaver birds have the same mating ritual, where the male builds intricate prospective nests. However well he does though, when it is time to build the real nest, the female takes over.
Male bower birds get to show off their construction skills with a trial run. Their nest-like effort doesn’t get used as the actual nest though. The female builds the real one herself near to where the male built his version.
Which birds build their nest together?
Robins share the responsibility of building the nest, as do downy woodpeckers. The male and female woodpeckers take turns carving a hole in a dead tree.
Red-shouldered hawks construct their nest together. Once the eggs arrive, though, it is the female who stays at the nest to incubate them.
Male and female birds: singing and nesting
Whether it is both female and male birds building separately or sharing the responsibility, it is amazing to think about how every species knows how to make a solid, balanced nest.
Somehow their constructions need to withstand the weather and be firmly enough fixed to the foundation to support the weight of the young, plus the parents landing on the edge of the nest to feed them.
Make the most of any occasion when you get the chance to watch this marvel in action!
To learn more about what birds spend their time doing at different hours, feel free to check out this article: A typical day in the life of a bird: what do birds do all day?
- 1 Why do male birds sing?
- 2 Do female birds sing?
- 3 Is it a male or a female bird singing?
- 4 Is it the male or female bird that builds the nest?
- 5 Male and female birds: singing and nesting