Female Bird Day: Celebrating the Roles & Contributions of Female Birds

Bird feeder with female Painted Bunting and Northern Cardinal

It's almost time for Female Bird Day! During Memorial Day Weekend (May 25-27, 2024), birders and bird lovers celebrate the remarkable and often overlooked world of female birds. While their colors may be more subtle, and their songs more muted, female birds are obviously integral to the avian world. Whether you're an avid birdwatcher or simply a nature enthusiast, understanding the unique behaviors of our feathered female friends enriches our appreciation of biodiversity.

Female Mallard with ducklings

Mate Selection

Female birds play a crucial role in mate selection, significantly impacting species survival and evolution. They often choose mates based on physical attributes, such as bright plumage and size, which indicate a male's health and genetic quality. Courtship displays, like dances and songs, are other ways to signal a male's fitness. Additionally, females prefer males that control high-quality territories with abundant food and nesting sites, ensuring better resources for raising offspring. In species where males help with parental duties, females select mates based on their ability to provide care and protection.

This selective process is vital for species survival as it enhances survivability rates, making populations more adaptable and resilient to changing environments and emerging threats. By choosing mates with superior genetics and good health, females increase the likelihood of producing healthy offspring, who are more likely to survive and reproduce. Female preferences drive the evolution of specific traits in males, leading to the development of more pronounced and specialized characteristics that help species adapt and thrive. Overall, female mate selection ensures the health and viability of bird populations, contributing to their long-term survival and success.

Females Sing

Contrary to popular belief that male birds are the primary vocalizers, in many species, female birds sing as well, sometimes as loudly and as often as males. Reasons for singing are similar to those for males. Females may sing in duet with males as a part of courtship or pair-bonding, they may vocalize to help defend territory, or for other communication reasons.

American Robin with brood patch by VSPYCC (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Nest Building

In many bird species, females take the lead in nest building. This task involves selecting the nest site and gathering materials such as twigs, leaves, grass, feathers, and mud. Female birds often have specialized skills and instincts for constructing secure and comfortable nests that provide protection and optimal conditions for their eggs and chicks.

Raising Young

Once the eggs are laid, female birds typically assume a significant role in incubation and caring for the young. In many species, the female incubates the eggs alone, using her body heat to keep them at the proper temperature for development. Many also develop a brood patch, an area of bare skin on the underbody, to better maintain egg temperature during incubation. This period can last from several days to a few weeks, depending on the species.  After the chicks hatch, females often take the primary role in feeding and caring for the young.

Female Birdorable Birds

Female Belted Kingfisher by Russ (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Differential Migration

In many bird species, females and males migrate at different times, distances, or routes, a phenomenon known as differential migration. The physiological and ecological demands on female birds, particularly related to reproduction, heavily influence their migratory behavior.

Females and males may travel different distances during migration. In some species, females undertake longer migrations than males. This can be due to differences in body size, with females sometimes being larger and better able to endure longer journeys. Additionally, different nutritional needs or environmental pressures can lead to varied migratory routes. 

Females often migrate later than males in the spring and earlier in the fall. For example, in some songbird species, males arrive at breeding grounds earlier to establish and defend territories, ensuring they have prime nesting sites when females arrive. Conversely, females may migrate earlier in the fall to reach wintering grounds sooner, securing the best feeding areas.

In some species, males and females tend to spend the off-season in completely different habitats, or at different elevations. Studying these differences can be important in understanding population trends. For example, if the wintering grounds of female birds is threatened by habitat destruction, the entire species may be in peril, even when the population may seem abundant due to the health of the winter habitat of male birds. So if we focus only on males, important species conservation data may be lost.

Female Birdorable Birds

Female birds not only fascinate with their behaviors and roles but also inspire with their resilience and importance to ecological balance. They pollinate plants, disperse seeds, control pests, and their nesting materials can even aid in the growth of plants, which in turn supports a larger biodiversity.

Celebrating Female Bird Day isn't just about giving these avian heroines their due recognition. It's about understanding the vital roles they play in nature and encouraging conservation efforts to see them, and protect them and their habitats. Their survival and well-being are crucial not only for their species but for ecosystems around the world.

To learn more about female birds, follow the hashtag #FemaleBirdDay during Memorial Day weekend to see how others are celebrating or visit the Female Bird Day website. You can participate in the weekend by focusing on female birds when you go out birding this weekend. If you use eBird, fill in the sex data for your list to indicate female birds you found.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird


Woodpiecer on May 24, 2024 at 6:05 PM wrote:
Birdorable, can you please add (all female) Mandarin Duck, Wood Duck, California Quail, Indian Peafowl, Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Tufted Coquette, Marvelous Spatuletail, Rufous Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Resplendent Quetzal, Elegant Trogon, Andean Condor, Some Hornbill species (Great Hornbill and Rhinoceros Hornbill with white eyes), Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Blyth's Hornbill (Also known as the Papuan Hornbill which is not in the 'Meet the Birds' page) (Also add the male), Australian King-Parrot, Alexandrine Parakeet, Rose-ringed Parakeet, All species of Bluebirds, Some/All species of Birds-of-paradise, and so on.
Woodpiecer on May 26, 2024 at 8:25 AM wrote:
Birdorable, can you please add all the female birds to the 'Meet the Birds' page?

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