Birds too can be Homosexual

Homosexual behavior is not the exclusive right of humans. It occurs in other living creatures too and has been observed particularly in social species, especially in marine birds and mammals – monkeys, and the great apes. Bruce Bagemihl, a Canadian biologist, who wrote the book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, described and documented in 1999 more than 450 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, exhibiting same-sex sexual behaviors. According to another zoologist Petter Bøckman, homosexuality has been observed in over 1,500 species.

Scientists say this behavior exists in numerous species, and may or may not involve penetration. In addition to sexual activity, the behavior refers to homosexual parenting, same-sex pair-bonding and homosexual acts of affection. This kind of behavior is not without purpose, it may allow species to obtain benefits such as gaining practice, relieving tension, and experiencing pleasure.

Pair-bonding in homosexuality

Same-sex pair-bonding can be established in many ways, main two are as partners or as companions. In the first situation, both animals will engage in sexual activities with each other. In the case of companions, sexual engagement is not necessary; it is more of a partnership and friendship; both individuals spend all their time together. More than 70 species of birds have been found engaging in one of these two forms.

Homosexual parenting

This is very common, especially in birds. It has been observed that same-sex pairs have better skills and larger nests compared to heterosexual pairs. This kind of pairing can occur in different ways, one example would be two bird females with offspring coming together and helping each other raise their offspring.

A new study published in the journal Nature (9 July 2010) mark the end of the theory that homosexuality only has evolutionary disadvantages. Based on observations of 93 bird species that are known to engage in homosexual behaviour, the findings revealed that the amount of time males or females put toward parental care was proportional to how often they engage in homosexual activity.

The then at least 60-year-old female named Wisdom with her chick, in March 2011

The then at least 60-year-old female Laysan albatross named Wisdom with her chick, in March 2011

In the past, experts struggled to explain how homosexuality could have evolved since it distracts animals from sexual activity that produces offspring. The fact that it had evolved was difficult to deny as more than 130 avian species participate in homosexual activity. Among Laysan albatrosses, as many as 31 percent of all pairings are female-female. Among graylag geese, one in five pairings are male-male.

It was also found that male homosexuality is more common among those species in which females are more heavily devoted to parenting tasks. Similarly, in the cases where females had more free time, they were found to be indulging more frequently in homosexual activity.

Overall, the researchers found that 38% of the species studied displayed female–female sexuality, while 82% participated in male homosexuality. In all, 5% sexual encounters among all the species was homosexual in nature.

Although the study dispels of the theory that homosexuality is evolutionarily disadvantageous or unnatural, it cannot determine what the ultimate explanation for homosexuality is. As evolutionary geneticist Allen Moore points out, “this study suggests that when there’s no cost, homosexuality can persist, which isn’t the same as saying it’s adaptive. It may be that when there’s no parental care involved, it’s like having a hobby.”

“The next logical step is to see if similar patterns occur across other vertebrate species,” said MacFarlane. His team has already reached some preliminary results that suggest the patterns are similar for primates.

There are documented evidences of homosexual or transgender behavior among birds. They are one or more of the following kinds: parenting, pair bonding, sex, courtship or affection. In one such example, two New York Central Park Zoo’s male chinstrap penguins became internationally known when they started behaving like a couple. They were offered an egg that needed hatching and parental care, which they did successfully.

Guianan cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola)

Males of this species of cotinga, a passerine bird from South America, are “delight in homosexuality” with about 40% engaging in a form of homosexual activity and a small percentage never copulating with females.

Adelie Pinguin

Adelie Pinguin

Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Penguins have been observed to engage in homosexual behaviour since at least as early as 1911. Young of these birds that have no experience in social dealings may react to false cues when the penguins gather to breed. During breeding season when Testosterone rushes in the blood young chicks become so excited that they often attempt to mate with other males, with young chicks and even with dead females.

Dr George Murray Levick was the first to record such behaviour in 1911 and 1912 and published them in his book Antarctic Penguins. His notes about Adélie penguin were deemed too indecent for publication at that time. Later on they were rediscovered and published in the journal Polar Record in 2012. Dr. Levick, who was a British Antarctic explorer, naval surgeon and founder of the Public Schools Exploring Society (now the British Exploring Society) observed these birds at Cape Adare, the site of the largest Adélie penguin rookery in the world.

King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

Some penguins in New York zoos were reported to have formed same-sex pairs. A pair of male king penguins in Odense Zoo in Denmark adopted an abandoned egg and proceeded on to incubate and raise the chick. Zoos in Germany and Japan have also documented homosexual behavior in male penguins. Such couples have been found building nests together and use a stone as a substitute for an egg. Researchers at Rikkyo University in Tokyo found 20 homosexual pairs at 16 major aquariums and zoos in Japan.

African penguin, also known as  Jackass or Black-footed penguin

African penguin, also known as Jackass or Black-footed penguin  (pix SShukla)

African penguins (Spheniscus demersus)

Buddy and Pedro, a pair of male African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), were separated by the Toronto Zoo staff to mate with female penguins. Buddy has since paired off with a female. Suki and Chupchikoni are two female African penguins that pair bonded at the Ramat Gan Safari in Israel. Chupchikoni was assumed to be male until her blood was tested. They are also known as jackass penguin and black-footed penguin.

Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)

A pair of male Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus), a South American bird, who had shared a burrow for six years at the San Francisco Zoo and raised a surrogate chick, split when the male of a pair in the next burrow died and the female sought a new mate.

Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti)

In Germany, management of Bremerhaven Zoo in an attempt to encourage reproduction of endangered Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) imported some females from Sweden and tried to separate three male pairs, but they couldn’t succeed. The director of the zoo admitted that the relationships were “too strong” between the homosexual pairs. In 2014 Jumbs and Hurricane, a male pair of the same species at Wingham Wildlife Park became the center of international media attention as they, pair bonded a number of years earlier, successfully hatched and reared an egg given to them as surrogate parents after the mother abandoned it halfway through incubation.

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus)

In 1998, zoo keepers of New York City’s Central Park Zoo observed a same-sex male pair – Roy and Silo – of chinstrap penguins performing mating rituals, although no actual sexual acts were witnessed. The pair attempted to hatch a rock as if it were an egg. Seeing this zoo staff gave them an egg from another pair that couldn’t hatch it. From this egg Roy and Silo successfully raised a female chick, named Tango.

After becoming an adult Tango herself formed a same-sex relationship with another female penguin. Thus Roy and Silo inspired the practice of giving eggs to same-sex pairings around the world.

Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)

Same-sex pairs among these gull-like albatrosses are usually consists of two females. This is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million individuals, and is still expanding its range to new islands.

During the study of a Laysan albatross colony on Oahu Island of Hawaii it was found that the sex ratio of male to female was 2 to 3 and 31 per cent of all pairs were between females.

Paired females can successfully breed when their eggs are fertilized by males. This phenomenon has been found useful for the purpose of conservation on the various Hawaiian Islands, where research teams have successfully swapped unfertilized eggs from female-female pairs with fertile eggs taken from pairs nesting on military airfields and in other unsafe nesting areas. The female-female pairs then hatch and raise the foster-chicks.

Black Swan - 5; pix SShukla; Chandigarh; January 2011 (Small File)Black swans (Cygnus atratus)

Black swans, a large waterbird that breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia, are mostly monogamous birds that pair for life, but they also have divorce rate of about 6%. The paternity tests conducted on these birds in recent studies have shown that around a third of all broods had extra-pair paternity.

It is estimated that one-quarter of all pairs in these birds are homosexual and that too mostly between males. To obtain eggs such pairs usually steal nests or form temporary threesomes with females; after the eggs are laid they drive her away and take full control of the nest and the eggs.

It was observed that more of their cygnets reached adulthood compared to those of different-sex pairs, possibly due to their superior ability to defend large portions of the territory.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax)

It’s a medium-sized wading bird that breeds in marshes and wet meadows across northern Eurasia. There are three male forms among these birds: the typical territorial males constitute about 83 per cent of the total population and have strongly coloured black or chestnut ruffs; they are highly hostile towards other resident males. Satellite males are those that do not occupy any territory come on the second place with a population of 16 per cent; they have white or mottled neck ruff. About 1 per cent are permanent female mimics; they do not possess any elaborate breeding plumage. It is believed that these cryptic males or “faeders” mimic females so that they can gain access to mating territories and “steal” matings.

These female mimics are sometimes mounted by independent or satellite males, but are as often “on top” in homosexual mountings as the ruffed males, suggesting that their true identity is known by the other males. Females have never been observed mounting males; they often seem to prefer mating with faeders to copulation with normal males who also copulate with faeders (and vice versa) relatively more often than with females. The homosexual copulations may attract females to the lek, like the presence of satellite males.

chilean flamingo

chilean flamingo

Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis)

Chilean flamingos sometimes form committed same-sex pairs that can involve sex, traveling and living together, and also raising young together.

In one recorded case, in Edinburgh Zoo a parenting couple accidently knocked off one of its own egg — their natural instinct was then to abandon it. The staff of the zoo carefully picked it up and placed it on one of the nest. One of the same sex male couple immediately adopted it and fostered the egg and raised it as their own.

In another example, a pair of male flamingos – Carlos and Fernando – surprised the staff at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Gloucestershire after they began to engage in a series of complex mating rituals. They were inseparable and have even raised chicks together after they stole eggs from neighbouring straight couples. According to the staff they are “very good parents and behaved just as the heterosexual birds do when rearing their young.” The pair has together raised three chicks.

American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

Research has proved that the environmental pollutant methylmercury can boost the occurrence of homosexual behavior in male American white ibis. During the study chicks were exposed to varying dosages of the chemical and when they grew up the degree of homosexual behavior was measured. Results showed as the dosage was increased the probability of homosexuality also increased. Mercury’s endocrine blocking feature has been suggested as a possible cause of sexual disruption in other bird species.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard pair (Attribution -  Richard Bartz & CC BY - SA 2.5)

Mallard pair (Attribution – Richard Bartz & CC BY – SA 2.5)

Mallard, a medium-sized dabbling duck, form male-female pairs only until the female lays eggs, at which time the male leaves his partner and joins other males who have also left their females. During the brief time before this, however, the males are still sexually effective and they are always on a look out for females to sire replacement clutches (for those females who have lost or abandoned their previous clutches). These males are so much sexually potent that they even forcibly mate with females that appear to be isolated or unattached regardless of their species and whether or not they have a brood of ducklings.

Mallards have rates of male-male sexual activity that are unusually high for birds, in some cases, as high as 19% of all pairs in a population. Males of these ducks occasionally chase males of different species and even of their own in the same way.

Vultures

In 1998 at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, two male griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) named Dashik and Yehuda were found indulging in “open and energetic sex” and also built a nest. After noticing this, zoo staff provided them with an artificial egg, which both birds took turns incubating; after 45 days artificial egg was replaced with a baby vulture. Both males raised the chick together.

A few years after this incident Yehuda became interested in a female vulture that was brought into the aviary. This was a rude shock for Dashik who became depressed, and was ultimately shifted to the Tel Aviv University’s zoological research garden where after sometime he too found his soul mate, a female vulture, and both set up a nest.

Pigeons (Family Columbidae)

Among pigeons both male and female sometimes display homosexual behavior. In addition to sexual behavior, same-sex pigeon pairs also build nests, and females lay (infertile) eggs and attempt to incubate them.

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