It is easy to imagine that to achieve his goal of copulation, a male simply has
to follow three easy steps. First, make your presence felt; second shoo off all
competitors; and third, persuade your female or females to submit to your
blandishments. This is basically what happens in birds, but mammals, as we shall
see, are slightly different.
Male birds attract the attention of females by beautiful, and sometimes not so
beautiful, love songs. When, after this, a female comes into the male's space,
he shows off with magnificent crests and tails. Just picture some of the birds
of paradise, the humming birds, lyre birds and other birds of Asia, the
Antipodes and the Americas, displaying the exquisite hues of their plumage.
Perhaps best known is that giant of show-offs, the peacock, with his psychedelic
tail feathers glittering in the sunlight. Oh yes, he can hardly help but catch
the female eye.
Surprisingly, perhaps, in view of such displays, we see in a number of bird
species several males mating at different times with a single female
(polyandry). A famously polyandrous male bird is the bower
bird of Australia, who invites his females to visit his den (or bower) by
adorning it with bright and often gaudy colours. He does so by stealing anything
around that shines, such as pieces of rock, silver paper or even buttons.
Nevertheless, a female bird can be quite particular about whom she accepts. The
male pheasant, who typically mates with a number of different females,
resplendent in his rich and contrasting coloured feathers, stalks his less
prepossessing female, but it is she who does the choosing. This is probably true
also of birds such as robins and some of the penguins, who are supposed to have
a single mate if they play it by the book (but it doesn’t always work out that
way!). One cannot help but wonder though, just how choosy those female birds are
that copulate with several males!