Love is in the air
The sun is out, the puawānanga/clematis is blooming, and love is in the air -- amongst toutouwai, or North Island robins, that is.
In the last few weeks, you may have heard toutouwai singing. Only the males sing full song, and while they do sing throughout the year, it is much more frequent during the breeding season. Males sing to indicate to other robins that this territory is occupied, as well as to attract mates, so bachelors spend much more time singing than paired males.
Toutouwai are territorial and in the winter, pairs divide their territory: the male will often chase the female if she comes into his area and snatch food away from her. As spring approaches, he tolerates her being closer and may even allow her to steal his caches of food - food that he stores in tree crevices when he has had enough to eat, to eat later. Toutouwai typically do not cache food when they see another watching, but as breeding season nears males may start caching in front of their partner, as a prelude to actively sharing food with her.
On Monday the first food sharing or courtship feeding was seen. At first the male may offer some food to the female when she is close by and she flutters her wings and begs. Later, he will start to actively initiate sharing events by holding the food in his bill and singing until she approaches and takes the food. This behavior may indicate to the female that he will be a good partner, and it may also help her get in a good enough condition to breed. The food sharing will become more frequent while she is building a nest and then incubating the eggs.
At Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, toutouwai first nests are often built in the second half of September, and the eggs laid towards the end of the month.
Keep an eye out for instances of courtship behaviour amongst toutouwai and other bird species as we get further into the breeding season!
📸 credit: TM Davdison