Photo Essay: Mating Games

Courtship Flights are an amazing display of color and acrobatic flying
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. (photo by David Stimac)

Handfuls of gaudy drakes, cloaked in vivid breeding plumage, jockey for position near sought-after hens. (photo by Tom Martineau)

Male suitors outnumber females by a wide margin, so courtship competition is intense. (photo by Jim Thompson)

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. (photo by Jim Thompson)

While courtship flights appear playful, this is serious business for all involved. (photo by Scott Fink)

In the never-ending process of natural selection, only the strongest, most experienced male breeders may prevail in winning mates. (photo by Scott Fink)

The strong bond forged between a paired hen and drake is vital to the hen's nesting success. (photo by DU member)

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. (photo by Mike Khansa)

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. (photo by Michael Peters)

Once pair bonds have been formed, some males, particularly wood ducks, take an active role in seeking out suitable nest sites. (photo by Randy Hunn)