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I went to the county park today to look for birds to photograph. After about half an hour, I noticed a pair of grackles (and not purple martins as I wrote previously) in the midst of a courtship ritual. The male, shiny and bluish purple, was placing some food into the open beak of the brown female. This is what some male birds do to convince a potential mate that they are up to the task of taking care of her and their future brood.

Male purple martin feeding female in courtship ritual

Male grackle feeding female in courtship ritual

This may be the same couple a few minutes later.

Purple martin couple

Grackle couple

Last week, I also saw the same behavior with our backyard cardinals. A female cardinal kept fluttering her wings while perched over a bowl of sunflower seeds that I had put out on our deck. At first I thought she was sick or in distress, as she would not eat anything. Then a red male cardinal swooped in, picked a seed and placed it in her beak. He did it twice again. I ran to get my camera, but by the time I came back the pair had flown away.

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