Photo of Female Northern Cardinal

Photographing Northern Cardinals Engaged In Courtship Feeding

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Capturing the Moment

I’ve seen courtship feeding among cardinals and other bird species often, but I have never been quick enough to photograph this behavior. Last week, I was finally able to capture this group of images in our wooded yard, near the feeders. It happened so quickly – I was lucky to have the lens focused on the female cardinal when the male flew into range with his offering to her.

Photo of 2 Cardinals Mate Feeding
The Female Cardinal Quivered her Feathers and Called to Her Mate
Right Before He Gave her Food. The Quivering is Not Unlike The Behavior
Displayed by the Chicks Trying To Get Food From The Parents.
ISO 1250; f/7.1; 1/800 Second

Photo of Cardinals - Mate Feeding
Two Mated Cardinals – Male Bringing Food and Feeding Female.
ISO 1250; f/7.1; 1/800 Second

Courtship Feeding in Northern Cardinals

This is another one of those times that I can’t help but make comparisons between the behavior of humans and birds. Courtship feeding in northern cardinals appears to be such a tender, selfless act, delicate and sweet. The beak-to-beak offering looks like they are nuzzling, having a moment– something special.

This food sharing ritual between northern cardinals happens mostly after the courtship behaviors are finished and egg laying has commenced. According to researchers, mate feeding is not what we humans perceive it to be. It is not a consequence of loyalty or affection or even strengthening the pair bond. It’s about making sure the female has a steady supply of nutrition during times of reproduction and chick rearing in order to help ensure the production of larger clutches and healthier chicks.

Healthy Females Make for Strong Breeders

The practice of mate feeding is widespread among birds. This behavior probably evolved as a way for the male bird to hedge his reproductive success by making sure his female is strong and healthy enough to mate, lay many eggs, incubate the eggs on the nest, aggressively defend the nest, and feed the chicks. Cardinals have 2-4 broods of chicks each season, so the females do need intense and regular nutrition to stay strong and up to the task of chick rearing.

A great practice for perpetuating the species. Not so much for finding romance.

Photo of Courtship Feeding - Two Cardinals
Male Feeding Female Cardinal.
ISO 3200; f/7.1; 1/1000 Second

 

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