7 Sweet Photos Show How Birds Flirt and Attract Mates

Discover the adorable ways how birds attract mates and flirt with each other, including elaborate dances, preening and feeding rituals.

cardinals sharing seeds
Courtesy Anne Sipe

Northern Cardinals

A male northern cardinal feeds a female to prove that he’s able to feed a family. Courtship feeding behaviors are more than kind gestures; they help birds attract mates. Look for this common ritual in your yard among Northern cardinals, cedar waxwings and tufted titmice. We asked the experts: Do cardinals mate for life?

Two bald eagles locking talons in mating ritual.
Bob Kothenbeutel

Bald Eagles

This photo does not show fighting, but rather how the birds attract mates. In a ritual called cartwheeling, mated bald eagles lock their talons in flight and free-fall through the air together. Bald eagles, laysan albatrosses, California condors, whooping cranes, black vultures, Atlantic puffin, mute swan and osprey are all examples of birds that typically mate for life. Learn more about bird courtship rituals.

Sandhill Cranes Mating Dance At Sunset, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, Usa, December.
Nature Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

Sandhill Cranes

This photo shows a pair of sandhill cranes in the midst of their famous mating dance. Check out three hotspots for sandhill crane migration—there may be one near you!

A male sharp-tailed grouse dancing on the lek to attract a female for mating.
Neal Mishler/Getty Images

Sharp-Tailed Grouse

In an effort to attract a mate, sharp-tailed grouses stick their pointed tails up, aim their wings down and inflate the purple air sacs along their necks. Feeling the love? Check out the best Valentine’s Day cards for bird lovers.

A pair of western grebes perform a courtship dance called rushing.
Bob Kothenbeutel

Western Grebes

Both male and female western grebes participate in courtship rituals. The pairs—or possibly two males trying to wow females—participate in an extremely elaborate walk-on-water display called rushing. Perfectly in sync, the grebes run as far as 66 feet across the water with their necks curved and wings up and back. Check out these adorable spring bird photos to see more sweet moments — or laugh at these funny bird photos.

A pair of dunlin
Shutterstock / Ian Dyball


A dunlin pair may reconnect at their breeding grounds after separating for migration season. Studies prove that individuals recognize each other when they return to the breeding grounds. This is true for migratory birds like dunlin and osprey and for various species of gulls, terns and seabirds.

Ready to put your bird ID skills to the test? Take our shorebirds quiz.

how birds attract mates, American avocets pair during their post-mating strut, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah, USA
Marie Read

American Avocets

Courting American avocets execute a graceful ritual of bowing, posturing and preening. Check out romantic and fascinating swan facts.

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines as a time and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds, and attended various festivals, including Sedona Hummingbird Festival, Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival and Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.