Pornithology

Birds do it, bees do it … And some birds so it really weirdly. Here are some of the more bizarre courting, mating, and breeding rituals of our feathered friends. 

Emperor Penguins With Egg

Once a female Emperor penguin has laid an egg she transfers it to the male who keeps it warm by tucking it under a fold of skin until it hatches. If the egg touches the ice during the process the chick could freeze and die.

The female then returns to the sea leaving the male without food for two months. When she returns, she finds her mate (and chick) by listening for one particular call over thousands of others.

Bounce your boobies! The elaborate courtship ritual of the greater sage-grouse.

Zebra Finches

Same-sex pairs of monogamous birds are just as attached and faithful to each other as those paired with a member of the opposite sex. 

The insight comes from a study of zebra finches – highly vocal, colourful birds that sing to their mates, a performance thought to strengthen the pair’s bond.

Penguins Buddy And Pedro

A number of gay penguin couples in zoos have been given eggs so they can hatch and rear their own chicks.

The bromance for one of the most famous of these pairs, Buddy and Pedro in Toronto zoo, had to end when they were split up and encouraged to breed with female penguins. Zoo officials said they needed to reproduce because African penguins are an endangered species.

White Fronted Parrot

During courtship white-fronted parrots will lock beaks and appear to kiss. All very romantic until the male vomits in his mate’s mouth to seal the deal.

Magnificent Frigatebird

It can take up to 20 minutes for the male magnificent frigatebird to inflate his red throat sac into a big heart-shaped balloon. During sex, the male bird will put his wings over the female’s eyes to make sure she doesn’t get distracted by other males with better balloons.

Perverted Penguins

It’s penguins again! Dr George Murray Levick, a scientist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition, was so shocked by the depraved acts, including rape, child abuse and necrophilia, he witnessed when observing Adelie penguins that his findings remained hidden for decades.

Levick blamed this “astonishing depravity” on “hooligan males” and recorded observations in Greek so that only an educated gentleman would understand the horrors he had witnessed. Back in Britain he wrote a paper, titled Natural History of the Adélie Penguin. However, the section about the animal’s sexual proclivities was deemed to be so shocking it was removed to preserve decency. Levick later used this material as the basis for a separate short paper, Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguin, which was privately circulated among a handful of experts.

Many birds are socially monogamous but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re faithful. Studies of songbirds found that on average 10% of chicks in a nest are fathered by a different male from the one the female is partnered with. The infidelity is discreet and yes, they get STDs too.

Birds in your inbox

Sign up for the latest news and updates

Hi! We would love to get your feedback.