Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and if you are the romantic type you’re probably busy thinking of creative ways to woo your beloved. With spring on the horizon, a number of local species are doing much the same.
Many birds are preparing for the breeding season, including one of our most common birds, the chaffinch. At this time of year the youngest male birds begin to establish and defend their territory, often in woodlands and gardens. Males start their courtship in spring with a melodious song and show off their bright plumage. Females judge from the side-lines, using the quality of the song to help them choose the strongest mate.
Meanwhile on our lakes and wetlands, the magnificent great crested grebe’s beautiful display is incredible to see. One bird will shallow dive, only to surface immediately in front of its intended mate. If all is going well the water ballet begins. With their orange and black head plumes spread wide, an elegant ritual of head shaking, bill-dipping and preening culminates in the famous ‘penguin dance’. The pair rush together, paddling their feet frantically to raise upright from the water, standing chest to chest while flicking a beak-full of water weed at each other. When the weed is dropped, the deal is clinched.
In springtime you can take a ringside seat at the mating ritual of our brown hares. They’re usually solitary creatures but at this time of year you might glimpse two hares boxing one another. The pugilists are actually the females, spurning the advances of amorous males by standing on their hind legs and batting at their prospective partners. Through this she tests the males' strength before deciding whether she will proceed to the next step of courtship.
Turning to our seas, seahorses are often thought to be very romantic – males and females come together every morning to ‘dance’ and reinforce their relationship. During this beautiful ritual, they often entwine their tails and move slowly around each other. Famously, females transfer their eggs into the males’ pouch, and he later gives birth to miniature offspring.
Sea hares, like all sea slugs, are hermaphrodites, meaning that have both male and female reproductive organs. When it comes to mating time they often form love chains, acting as female and male to different partners simultaneously! Both seahorses and sea hares can be found in the lush underwater seagrass meadows in our Solent seas.