Banner image: A waxwing gifting a berry

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, here we take a look at some of the tactics employed by our wonderful wild creatures to attract a mate. From shows of physical prowess to dancing, singing and the offering of gifts, our wild species aren’t so different from humans in the search for romance!

Movers and shakers

The ‘dancing’ display of the Great Crested Grebe is one of the most captivating courtship spectacles, and includes a whole series of moves that would rival even the most talented Strictly couple! As in the popular TV show, the birds dress up for the occasion and are easily identifiable by their stunning breeding plumage – a majestic black crest on the top of the head surrounded by an elegant neck ruff of orangey-brown tipped with black.

During the courtship display, the birds will face each other and shake and dip their heads, mirroring each other’s moves. The pair will have already coupled up during the winter season, so the function of this elaborate dance is to cement their partnership and stake out a territory.

If you’re really lucky, you may get to witness a ‘weed dance’, a short display which usually takes place in the run-up to nest building. This involves both birds diving down into the water to collect weed and then rearing up out of the water, flicking their heads from side to side with the weed trailing from their bills. Quite a spectacle!

Great crested grebes aren’t shy in putting on a show and are one of the easiest wildlife sights to track down. Try your nearest large lake between January to March and make sure you take a pair of binoculars so you don’t miss any of the action.

Image: A great crested grebe at the Millennium Country Park, Marston Moretaine, by Martin Rogers

Crooners and callers

When it comes to singing to woo a mate, our feathered friends step into the spotlight once more. From the simple two-note song of the great tit to the melodic chorus of the blackbird, the main purpose of birdsong is to attract attention and make a statement.

Scientific studies have shown that birds with a wider vocal repertoire than their rivals will secure a mate more quickly. A strong, loud song also demonstrates a good level of fitness to females seeking a prospective partner, and serves to deter male competitors.

As the winter days begin to fade and springtime takes hold, early morning birdsong – the ‘dawn chorus’ – starts in earnest. The first to begin are robins, blackbirds and thrushes, who start exercising their vocal chords around an hour before sunrise. Warbers, wrens and wood pigeons join next, followed by tits, sparrows and finches as the sun rises.

Happily, some of our most common garden birds are the finest singers, helping to lift our spirits on those cold February mornings. Listen out for the rich, warm tuneful blackbird and the high-pitched, determined song of the robin.

However, it’s not just birds that use their vocal talents to entice the impress sex. As the weather warms in early spring, male frogs emerge from winter inactivity and congregate in ponds, making a soft croaking noise together to attract nearby females. Male bats of most species also use special calls to attract females, which can include purrs, clicks, and buzzing.


The gift givers

Just as we humans like to offer red roses and chocolates to that special someone, the giving of gifts is popular among some of our wild species too. Male kingfishers will try to win the affections of a female by offering her a fish. If she takes the offering, a bond is created, but if unsuccessful, he will simply feast on the fish himself and try again later with another lady. Waste not want not!

Male waxwings – an occasional and very welcome visitor to the UK during winter – also offers a food gift to win over a prospective partner. A berry is passed to the potential mate, and often the offering is passed back and forth between the pair several times to seal the deal.

Let’s get physical

The prelude to breeding, however, is not always as genteel. When March arrives, male hares, for example, can pursue a female so relentlessly that often she has to put up a fight to get the message across that she is not interested. The sight of hares ‘boxing’ in fields is not, as you might assume, two males trying to impress a female, but rather a female using physical force to ward off unwanted advances.

The best time to witness these boxing matches is in the early morning, on open grassy areas or arable fields, particularly near to the edges of woodland or hedgerows.

Image: A female hare fighting off a male hare

If you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day this year with a loved one, why not wrap up warm and head out to the Millennium Country Park or one of our woodlands for a romantic ramble? As ever, if you see any of these amorous wildlife spectacles while you’re out and about do let us know.


Help us plant and protect more woodland and habitats in the Forest

We're working hard to create habitat that benefits wildlife for now and in the future. To help us plant and maintain more woodlands in the Forest please consider joining with a small monthly donation:

Become a Friend of the Forest