Photo Essay: Mating Games

Courtship Flights are an amazing display of color and acrobatic flying

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Photo © Michael Furtman

Across the continent's breeding grounds, waterfowl take part in timeless spring mating rituals. Ducks participate in acrobatic pairing flights, which are an important step in selecting a mate.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

Handfuls of gaudy drakes, cloaked in vivid breeding plumage, jockey for position near sought-after hens.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

Male suitors outnumber females by a wide margin, so courtship competition is intense.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

Courtship consists of signals by male and female birds – such as calls, posture and feather displays – to indicate the condition of their respective sexual interests. Aggressive behavior among competing males is not uncommon.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

While courtship flights appear playful, this is serious business for all involved.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

In the never-ending process of natural selection, only the strongest, most experienced male breeders may prevail in winning mates.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

The strong bond forged between a paired hen and drake is vital to the hen's nesting success.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

The hen will face many hazards on the nesting grounds, where her drake must also vanquish legions of would-be suitors and defend the pair's territory against other pairs.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

It will, after all, be the progeny of the most successful pairs that eventually take to the skies, ensuring a bright future for their species.

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Photo © Michael Furtman

Once pair bonds have been formed, some males, particularly wood ducks, take an active role in seeking out suitable nest sites.