|Mourning doves display courtship behaviors. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
It may still be winter according to the calendar, but birds are displaying signs that the season is changing.
We often associate nesting with the springtime, but many species start the process earlier.
“Resident species get a jump on migratory birds when it comes to the breeding cycle,” said naturalist and area bird specialist Kurt Miethke. The reason, he said, is that there will be more competition for food and nest sites when migratory birds arrive.
Many songbirds have started to sing to attract mates and establish territory.
One of the most distinguishable sounds comes from male mourning doves, which have recently begun to coo. Unmated males generally puff up their necks and coo from a conspicuous perch in an attempt to attract a female. The call, referred to as an “advertising call,” is a two-syllable coo followed by two or three louder coos.
Mourning doves are prolific nesters, he said. Estimates of their population range from 100 to 475 million in North America.
“The secret to their success is that they have a prolonged breeding season,” Miethke said. “They begin early and can have up to six broods a year.”
Other songbirds including house wrens and Western bluebirds have already been searching for nest sites. Males generally scout for suitable locations with the female making the final choice.
When a male house wren finds a cavity or nest box, he’ll often place a small twig and other nesting materials inside to claim it. “He’s attempting to show females that he’s a good provider, then he sings like crazy and shows off,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a man flexing his muscles.”
Hummingbirds nest throughout the winter in Southern California, starting as early as the end of November. So a female hummingbird currently seen with spider webs in its bill could be building or repairing its nest for the second brood of the season.
Our resident red-tailed hawks can be seen performing aerial displays for courtship and pair bonding. They typically begin laying eggs in late February, he said. Other raptor residents include barn owls and great horned owls, which also begin nesting during the winter months.
Visit some of our local ponds and you may see various species of waterfowl displaying interesting courtship behaviors. Ruddy ducks for example, engage in head bobbing while producing some amusing calls. “They puff and parade around, evidence that they’re coming into the season.”