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Gay Birds

It’s rare that I actually come across bird news accidentally. Usually, I have to go looking for it. The other day, however, I was reading a music blog and learned about a pair of gay vultures.

The author of the blog was very angry about the “homophobia” of the zoo keepers in separating the couple.

It seems like two male vultures by the names of Guido and Detlef paired off in their aviary in Germany. They built a nest and groomed each other. The other birds apparently picked on them, stealing their nesting materials occasionally.

While gay humans are gaining more acceptance (and can now serve in the military and “tell”), gay birds in are not, particularly those in captive breeding programs. They are expected to mate with the opposite sex and hatch some eggs, and there will be consequences if they do not. The male lovebirds were separated and paired off with females in different zoos, although it is unclear as of this writing if they have bonded or mated with their new girlfriends.

Many humans are not happy about the zoo’s decision. Besides the author of the blog mentioned before, other gay rights activists have complained and even protested in front of the zoo.

This is not the first time something like this has happened in a zoo. There are two instances of gay male birds in captivity hatching an adopted egg. One pair was a pair of griffon vultures in Israel, the same species as the German couple. The others were penguins in San Francisco.

In both cases, however, it turned out that one of the partners was actually bisexual. A female bird broke up the same sex couples in both cases. Both of the Israeli vultures later “remarried” female vultures, and became proud papas of new chicks on the same day. In an incredible coincidence, the chicks weighed the same as well.

Birds, of course, do not behave in captivity the way they may in the wild. Are there gay bird couples outside of the zoo? The answer is, “yes.” Fans of the 1990’s cartoon characters “Beavis and Butthead” may remember a song called “Lesbian Seagull” sung by the dumb duo’s politically correct, hippie teacher. Although this was a joke song, lesbianism in seagulls is not a joke. It is believed to be caused by environmental degradation, or more specifically by a type of chemical in the ecosystem called an “estrogen mimic.” The body is fooled into thinking other chemicals are estrogen, leading to various problems in male animals. Male seagulls lose interest in sex, so female gulls pair off with each other. Whether this theory is supported by mainstream science or is in the “crackpot conspiracy theory” category is unknown. (Some blame sunscreen chemicals for the lesbian seagull phenomenon, as well as an increase in skin cancer. Yes, you read that correctly.)

I have my own experience with a same-sex bird couple. Several years ago, ducks used to land on my front lawn during courtship season, in April. Usually, one male and one female mallard would show up. One year, however, we got two males. Were they courting each other? It’s hard to say. Sometimes, if I remember correctly, there would be a female with them, so it’s possible that they were rivals not lovers, though why they would fly around without her was anyone’s guess.

Birds, like people, fall in love and mate in a variety of ways. While I understand why the zoo in Germany did what it did, it seems a little bit harsh to upset the vultures, especially since other zoos showed more tolerance in the past. We should all show compassion to the birds, even those that are a bit different than the rest.

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