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Mating systems birds

Birds > Only the Birds
Red winged Blackbird
Red winged Blackbird

The majority of bird species are at least socially monog-amous, that is, a pair of birds cooperates to raise young. They may stay together for the breeding attempt or mate for life.

However, many other arrangements exist. Some birds have a polygynous mating system, particularly species that use rich resources that are clumped, so that a male can support more than one female (e.g., New World blackbirds, some harriers).

Successive polygyny is less common, mainly practiced by species in which the female alone raises the chicks and visits a lek where males display. The female may mate with several (e.g., black grouse and some birds of paradise) males.

King Penguin
King Penguin

Less frequent again is polyandry, where the females mate with various males and leave them to care for the eggs and chicks (e.g., emus, buttonquail, and jacanas).

Within these systems, there is also scope for cheating, and the ad-vent of DNA fingerprinting has revealed that in many monogamous species, there are broods of mixed paternity. At its extreme are species such as the superb fairy-wren in which about three-quarters of the chicks are raised by males that are not the biological father.

Most birds nest as solitary pairs, but some 13% of species are colonial, particularly seabirds. Colonies may be a few pairs (e.g., king penguin) or millions (e.g., queleas).

In between are species that nest in loose colonies, either regularly or when conditions are favorable. Nest spacing varies enormously from a few inches/centimeters in some colonies to several miles/kilometers in species that have large territories. Spac-ing is linked to food and nest sites; nests are closer together where resources are plentiful.

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