How Do Hummingbirds Mate? Enter The Mating Dance

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Hummingbird mating rituals are unique natural events unlike any other. Every year, male hummingbirds put on an elaborate aerial show in their quest to attract females.

The hummingbird mating process is a short but dramatic affair. The process varies from species to species, but it always involves some sort of display from the male hummingbird in order to impress the female.

Some of the most well-known hummingbird mating rituals are swooping displays performed by hummingbirds like Anna’s and ruby-throated hummingbirds. The perched female hummingbird sits on a branch waiting for the male to impress her with courtship dives. The male makes a series of impressive deep arcing swoops to catch her attention. Male hummingbirds, which can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour according to Encyclopedia Britannica, dash through the air, soaring high and speeding back down within inches of the female before repeating this U-shaped display of aerial acrobatics.

This ritual varies from species to species. In addition to fast, swooping motions, Costa’s hummingbirds look to impress mates with a more horizontal dance, swaying their bodies from side to side while flexing their brightly colored throat patches.

It’s up to the male hummingbird to impress the female. Female hummingbirds choose their mates based on a couple of factors, including the speed of a potential mate’s displays, according to research from the University of California, Riverside.

Researchers from the university found that Costa’s hummingbirds will even go as far as to manipulate how female birds perceive their speed by minimizing their doppler sounds. With many birds, it’s all about things like color, but the male hummingbird’s display is an important factor. That doesn’t mean color isn’t important, however.

Costa’s hummingbirds have a vibrant purple throat patch, called a gorget, used to impress females. Male Costa’s hummingbirds have one of the most extreme gorgets, which they flex as they rock their bodies back and forth in an aerial show.

 

Why is a gorget important in hummingbird mating?

The visual courtship display of the male is accentuated by the flashing colors of his gorget. The gorget is the brightly colored patch on a male hummingbird’s throat. If you think about a black-chinned or ruby-throated hummingbird male you’ve seen in your backyard, the bright purple or ruby throat patches are their gorgets.

The gorget was historically a metal plate worn by soldiers to protect their throat in the 17th and 18th centuries. For hummingbirds, it’s less about physical protection and more for display, both in mating and in territorial disputes.

While speed is an important factor in these aerodynamic birds’ mating displays, color is important as well. During its acrobatic mating ritual, a colorful display will increase a bird’s chances of catching the attention of the female.

Gorgets, which are different for each hummingbird, are also used in defending a bird’s mating territory. They are used to make a statement in territorial disputes, reminding other males that this male with this particular pattern is the “lord” of this area.

Sometimes, people will have male ruby-throated hummingbirds at their feeders without even realizing it because the bird presents itself in a non-aggressive posture, according to the U.S. Forest Service. When the bird turns and the light reflects off the birds, it shows off their radiant colors.

What do Hummingbird Mating Songs Sound Like?

Hummingbirds aren’t all about visuals, either. There is an audio element to their mating show. As he swoops about displaying the rich colors of his gorget, he chirps, buzzes, and “zees”.

Some of these sounds do not come from a voice box, but rather, they are made with the bird’s feathers. Research from Yale University showed that during courtship flights, some hummingbird species will produce vibrating, buzzing sounds with their tail feathers. Feathers fluttering at the same frequency increases the loudness of these sounds.

How Do Hummingbirds Mate

What happens after hummingbirds attract a mate?

Once the female has accepted a mate and the courtship ritual is over, the mating process is short, only lasting a few seconds. Then, the two go their separate ways. Males may reproduce with multiple females over the course of a year, and a mating pair doesn’t raise young together.

Once a female hummingbird lays eggs, she will care for the nest all on her own. From the time she lays eggs to the baby birds fledging, it’s about a five to six-week process for ruby-throated hummingbirds, according to Operation RubyThroat.

Some hummingbirds will have two or three broods, or groups of baby hummingbirds, per year, especially in tropical states. Some research has also shown that Costa’s hummingbirds can tend eggs and young from two nests at the same time.

Once the process is complete, they’ll start it all over again next mating season.

Hummingbird FAQs

How do hummingbirds mate in the air?

While they perform their mating rituals in the air, the actual mating doesn’t occur midair. This occurs while the birds are perched on a branch. Once the female has accepted a mate, she will perch on a branch and wait for the male to mount from behind.

The actual act of sex takes only a few seconds in which the male puts his posterior opening (cloaca) against the female’s. After that’s done, the male moves on to find another female mate and start the process over again.

How do you know when hummingbirds are mating?

Chances are, you’ll probably never see the actual process of hummingbird mating. It happens on a branch and typically lasts for five seconds or less.

What you are more likely to see is the hummingbirds’ mating display. If you see hummingbirds flying 50 feet into the sky before nose diving toward the trees below, there’s probably a female nearby that the male is trying to impress.

Do hummingbirds do a mating dance?

Hummingbird mating displays vary by species, but hummingbirds are known for their acrobatic mating rituals. It’s not always so much a dance as it is aerial acrobatics, however, with hummingbirds flying high into the air and swooping down in front of a potential mate.

What time of year do hummingbirds mate?

When hummingbirds mate depends on the hummingbird species and location. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, the only hummingbird that mates across the eastern United States, starts its mating process in early spring after hummingbirds have returned from their winter grounds.

Some hummingbirds, like the Costa’s Hummingbird, have been found to mate multiple times per year, and even care for multiple nests at once. While their breeding season is typically from February to June, researchers found that the birds may even mate into the fall depending on the availability of supplemental feeders.

Learn how to make your own hummingbird food in minutes, saving yourself time and money.

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Jacob Swanson

Jacob Swanson is a writer and wildlife photographer born and raised in Wisconsin and currently based in Salt Lake City. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his work has appeared in over a dozen different web and print outlets. In his free time, he’s on a personal quest to visit every U.S. national park and see as many wildlife species as possible. His favorite birds are whooping and sandhill cranes.