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Birds of Australia: Bonding rituals

The most common form of bonding between pairs of birds is "allopreening", i.e. preening the partner.

In many bird species the nest duties are shared between female and male. However, in others one partner in a mated pair, usually the female, performs most, if not all, nest duties, i.e. after laying the eggs the female incubates them and then feeds the young in the nest until they fledge. Birds spending all their time in the nest, tending to the eggs and later the chicks, do not have sufficient time to find food for themselves. If they leave the nest too often or for too long, the brood will fail. They rely entirely on their partner to keep them fed. To optimize their chances of success, females that are entirely dependent on their partners will test the males' ability and willingness to provide them with food. They will use the begging calls usually made by dependent young to make him give up food. This behaviour can usually be seen in the middle of winter to early spring, at the start of the new breeding season. Thus forging a bond, a pair will then mate, build and later move into the nest, and thus start the reproductive cycle.

There are other instances in which bonding rituals are performed, for example when males and females migrate separately, but meet again at their old nest site upon their return to the breeding grounds, or just to reinforce their claim for a nest and territory.

Other types of bonding rituals include, e.g., pairs dancing together, singing in a duet, or performing nuptial flights. Entire families/clans can engage in bonding behaviour, for example when huddling (not only to keep each other warm).

Amongst Australian bird species such behaviour is displayed most prominently by hollow-nesting species, such as all parrots and cockatoos, but also by raptors and other predatory birds, such as e.g. owls, kingfishers as well as Australian Magpies and butcherbirds.

There is a similar page describing bonding rituals in European species.

Below we show the species in which we have observed and also recorded such behaviour. This list is not complete! More species will be added here as details become available.

Hover your cursor above the thumbnail to see the name of the species.
Click on thumbnail image to go to the page describing the species.

Example: Male Little Lorikeet feeding its partner
[Near Coonabarabran, NSW, October 2013]

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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