Lek Mating Systems

As mentioned in my last post, leks are a type of mating system that kakapos exhibit, that isn’t limited to birds. Copadichromis eucinostomus [a type of fish], hammerhead bats, etc. exhibit lekking too. It involves male-male competition for status and the right to mate with females. There are no resources at stake for the male to protect so the female’s decision is based heavily on the male’s display techniques and the territory on which he displays. Because of this, one male is usually getting a vast majority of the mating opportunities. Since the male is so busy courting as many females as possible, the female must care for her own offspring. To make her load slightly easier, lekking birds usually have precocial young or are frugivorous or nectivorous.

There are also different kinds of leks:

Classical Leks – individuals gather in sight of each other to compete. The video below shows the Greater Sage Grouse who has a very interesting mating display (one of my favorites):

Exploded Leks – males are dispersed. The Kakapo is a great example using its fantastic “boom” noise:

– Cooperative Leks – males are usually closely related. The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock uses an element of synchrony during display:

Manakins are also a great example of a cooperative lek with a pretty fancy display:

Another lekking bird (not sure which type of lek) is the Screaming Piha. At the Baltimore Aquarium one day, for a friend’s niece’s birthday, we were wandering around when we heard the call featured in the video below. Super attractive if you’re a female Screaming Piha, eh?

:: Some of the information included is from Dr. Hawley’s Ornithology class at Virginia Tech ::


en: Pura, a 1-year-old Kakapo (Strigops habrop...

Image via Wikipedia

Most of you are probably thinking, “What in the world is a kakapo?”.

– Scientific Classification –

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Psittaciformes
  • Family: Strigopidae
  • Tribe: Strigopini
  • Genus: Strigops
  • Species: S. habroptila

Kakapos are a flightless, nocturnal species of parrot, endemic to New Zealand, that can weigh up to 8 lbs. They are critically endangered, due in part to the influx of humans and predators in a region that previously had none, leaving the birds no time to adapt defenses. (Kakapo decline). They also have the odd habit of staying completely still, hoping to blend in to the environment when they sense a disturbance. (Kakapo Behavior). In their recovery efforts, the Kakapo Recovery Programme has found rats to be an issue in chick survival rates (Turning the Tide).

This visibly sexually dimorphic bird has a polygynous (1 male, multiple females) lek as a

Postures of male kakapo during booming. 1. normal stance; 2. alert static pose between booming sequences; 3. commencement of booming – inflation of thorax while giving preliminary booms; 4. maximum thoracic inflation during loud booming (from Figure 4, Merton et al. 1984.)

breeding system which ultimately results in no male parental care. Kakapos are the only parrot to display lek-ing. They are not annual breeders (dependent upon the availability of rimu fruit and others) making recovery efforts even more difficult. Males use two sounds to attract females during breeding (which usually starts in December), the “boom” and “ching“. The “boom” is a low sound that can travel large distances, whereas the “ching” is high-pitched so the female can pinpoint the male’s location. The “ching” occurs after about 20-30 “booms”. (Kakapo Breeding). Females incubate up to 4 eggs for about 30 days and chicks fledge at around 10 weeks, though they may be fed by the mother up to 6 months. Males start breeding around 4 years of age and females around 6 years old. It isn’t known how long the birds can live but some have reached over 90. (Kakapo Life Cycle)

Their herbivorous diet most likely plays a part in their low basal metabolic rate. When key food items are abundant, kakapos will feed on them almost exclusively. Due to their extremely low population, kakapo diets are supplemented with a pellet food to help boost egg production and reproductive health. (Kakapo Feeding).

If you’d like to help save this rare parrot whose numbers are currently at 131, you can click here!

Here’s a funny video featuring a kakapo who seems to be infatuated with a zoologist: