For Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), courtship starts with the male arriving at the nesting area. He collects nesting materials, either for a new nest or to repair an old one (above left). While defending his site from other males, he tries to attract a female. Once a female responds, bonding will begin with courtship. There will be stretching of necks and bill pointing skywards (above right). Nuptial plumes and brightly coloured bare parts will be displayed. Mutual preening also occurs, so will bill clapping and loud squawking. Another common display is when one lifts up its wings, draws back its neck and pecks at the other bird.
Following courtship, the herons will proceed to nest building. The male brings nesting materials while the female does the construction. Copulation usually follows when the male mounts the female and precariously balances on her back, using his outstretched wings for balance (above).
According to Mike Tan, “The Grey Herons here started looking ready to mate around July this year (2009) when their legs and bills turn reddish. By August the birds have completed bonding.
“It is also comical to see Grey Herons landing at the wrong nest only to chased off. Apparently there is some authentication. Some password, if you will?”
John Vickerman adds, “Another great series of pictures from you recording your observations of nest behaviour. The mutual preening behaviour consolidates the pair bond, and probably the landing at another pair’s nest may well have had more sinister intentions such as stealing a few twigs for their own nest building – easy pickings if you can get away with it!”
“When seeing a tree full of nests, I was naive to think that all will mate, hatch, fledge at the same time. Well, it doesn’t quite happen that way. Some will be mating, others sitting on their eggs, yet others raising their chicks. All under one roof, so to speak,” adds Mike.
This post is a cooperative effort between NaturePixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.