I have previously written about Rwanda’s great variation in bird colours. Anyone who can find a moment of calm in a garden or café - perhaps with a lovely cup of Rwandan tea or coffee - will be able to spot birds of yellow, green, blue and red. One reason for such variation is that some birds adopt bright plumage to find a mate, and in Rwanda due to low seasonal variation some birds can do this all year round, whilst others will wait for the start of the rainy seasons to trigger their breeding season. This is not the case everywhere. The further away from the equator you get, the worse the winter months can be - harsh weather, temperatures that drop well below freezing with shorter days and longer nights. The arrival of such weather leads some birds to migrate to warmer places (including Rwanda and the wider region), whilst others will remain and see the winter out. The arrival of warmer weather at the end of the winter will see the return of these migratory birds and the start of their breeding season. Finding and choosing a mate is a selective process, and for the majority of species, that decision is made by the female. Courtship displays are used by males to attract potential mates, which can include visual displays, vocalisations, or a combination of the two. The dawn chorus that starts our day here in Rwanda is one way how males will advertise their presence and find out who else is in the area. Migratory birds will often arrive at night so the dawn chorus is also used to avoid confrontation – the lack of response to calls signal that the area is open to occupation. For some species like the Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Red-billed Firefinch, adult males maintain the same plumage throughout the year, yet for others they will look like the females for most of the year and then prior to the start of the season they moult and transform into their breeding plumage. This transformation can include more brightly coloured plumage or longer tail feathers. The male will then use these new adornments in display flights across their territory to impress any potential mates that pass by during the breeding season. Great examples of this transformation seen here in Rwanda include the Southern Red Bishop and the Black Coucal for moulting, and the African Paradise Flycatcher and the Pin-tailed Whydah for longer tail feathers. On the eastern edge of Kigali, around Masaka Wetland, I have watched breeding male Southern Red Bishops puff up their bright orange/red and black plumage and fly across their territory all whilst making a ‘fizz’ call to attract any passing females. In Nyandungu Eco-Park I have observed many male breeding Pin-tailed Whydahs – with their long black tail feathers and bright red bills doing ‘bouncy’ display flights to females perched in nearby bushes and trees. The brightness of plumage and length of new feathers signals the level of health and fitness of the potential mate to the female – the brighter and longer the better! Whilst this transformation is definitely advantageous for attracting a mate, the bright plumage can also attract predators and the longer tail feathers can impede the male’s ability to fly. These observations help explain why these transformations only last throughout breeding season. Afterwards the males will moult again, losing their breeding plumage and return to their pre-season self. For some species, the males will come together and display at a collective breeding site, which is called a lek (a Scandinavian word meaning ‘play’). Each male will have his own small space which he defends from the other males. When females visit the lek, the males will display to impress them. The more dominant males will usually be found in the centre of the lek and are normally the most successful. The Narina Trogon and Bar-tailed Trogon, both of which be found in Nyungwe National Park use a ‘floating’ or ‘aerial’ lek, where between 3 and 7 males gather and aerially chase each other, the females perch below and look for potential mates. Instead of altering their appearance, the males of other species will offer gifts to try and impress their potential mates. Male Bronze Mannikins offer grass to their mates, whilst the various Bee-eaters and Woodpeckers offer gifts of food to females, most of the male Weavers build nests to try and impress their females. Umusambi Village, Nyandungu Eco-Park and Akagera National Park all provide great opportunities to observe this behaviour. The gifts are to show the female the male is able to give her with all the help she needs. Once a mate has been chosen a pair bond is formed – for some species the bond lasts only as long as the act of copulation itself. For others it is a long-term partnership that lasts for years. The amount of support a female receives also varies drastically between species, some will get none at all, whilst others are supported with all nesting duties, which includes incubating the egg, provision of security as well as finding food for the female and chicks. For a few species, like the African Jacana, Black Coucal and Greater Painted Snipe, the roles are reversed and it is the male that takes on the all the parental responsibilities whilst the female leaves to look for other mates, often laying several clutches in a season. Some species are cooperative breeders and will also receive support from other birds. Often the group will include previous year’s hatchlings as well as other family members which help with the parental duties. Cooperative breeders are usually sociable birds, often seen in small groups. Examples found here in Rwanda include the Speckled Mousebird and Grey-backed Fiscal. One pair becomes the dominant pair and breeds whilst the remainder of the group help with nest building, defence of the territory, finding food, and feeding the hatchlings and incubating parent. This divergence and variation of behaviour across the different species is just one of the reasons why I love birds - and can be easily observed across Rwanda. However, you don’t have to go far from Kigali - just grab a coffee at Nyandungu Eco-Park or visit the stunning Umusambi Village and see for yourself! The Writer is a wildlife photographer. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.