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Which Bird Nests Without the Father?

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The tiny female hummingbird hovers over the gaping beaks of her chicks as she feeds them nectar and small insects. The male hummingbird is nowhere to be seen -- once mating is complete, his job is done. Hummingbirds are one of several bird families that follow a similar pattern of females nesting and raising their young without the assistance of a male bird.


The Anatidae family includes ducks, geese and swans in 49 genera, divided into 114 species. The nesting and brooding patterns vary between the species. The common eider (Somateria mollissima), hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) and wood duck (Aix sponsa) are among anatids that follow a pattern of the males leaving the nest after the female begins incubating the eggs. While some birds arrive at the breeding grounds as mated pairs, others seek a mate after arriving. Generally, several males court one or two females. Once a female has selected a male and the pair have mated, she builds a nest, lining the nest with down feathers. The mating pair is monogamous, but once the female begins incubating the five to 13 eggs, the male leaves and doesn't return.


The Phasianidae family includes more than 214 species divided into 50 genera. The family includes chickens, grouse, peafowl, pheasants and turkeys. While the mating and nesting patterns vary depending on the species, a number of phasianids follow a polygynous pattern, with the male mating with more than one female and each female brooding and raising her chicks alone. Among the polygynous phasianids are domestic chickens (Gallus domesticus), common pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and Indian blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus). Phasianids are known for brightly colored males and modestly colored females. The female's drab feathers allow her to blend into dry grass and bushes when she's nesting. After mating, she scrapes a hole in the ground and lines it with twigs, leaves and feathers, where she broods her eggs without any assistance from the male.


The bowerbirds are native to Australia and New Guinea. The bowerbird family (Ptilonorhynchidae) is divided into eight genera and 20 species, including the satin bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), Vogelkop bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata) and fire-maned bowerbird (Sericulus bakeri). This family of birds is known for the elaborate bowers that the males build to attract the females, decorating the bowers with blue and yellow feathers, shells, berries and other small items. When a female arrives, the male sings and dashes in and out of the bower to entice her to mate. He repeats this behavior with several females over the breeding season. Once the mating is complete, the female leaves and builds a nest of twigs, leaves and vines in a tree, 3 to 7 1/2 feet above the ground, where she lays her eggs and cares for the chicks.


There are 328 species of hummingbird, all native to the Americas. The hummingbird family (Trochilidae) is divided into two subfamilies, Phaethornithinae and Trochilinae. The familiar ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) and Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) follow the same mating patterns as most hummingbird species. While the courtship is filled with aerobatic displays, after mating the pair separates. The male may search for more females while the female builds a tiny, cozy, cuplike nest for her one to three eggs. The entire responsibility for incubating the eggs, keeping the chicks warm and feeding them remains with the female.