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9 Bizarre Bird Mating Rituals

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Bees do it, and birds definitely do it—in all kinds of crazy ways. Here are nine birds and their mating rituals.

1. Frigatebird

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Male frigatebirds have red kidney-shaped pouches on their chests that they inflate like balloons to attract girls. During mating season, the male sits on a nest and gyrates his puffed-up chest at the females flying overhead. When a female sees a male she likes, she lands beside him. However, copulation is often interrupted when other jealous males jump on the chosen partner and try to puncture his red balloon.

2. Flamingo

When choosing a mate, flamingos dance in a big group. They stretch their necks and flip their heads back and forth while taking tiny, mincing steps. Then they break off in pairs to breed. It’s pretty much the greatest thing ever.

3. Duck

Wild with Pants

Ducks have a reputation for being monogamous, but the reality is more gruesome, as the females are often gang raped by the males. This behavior is so ingrained in ducks that the female's oviduct (vagina) has sacs and dead ends that can hold and expel unwanted sperm. Scientists theorize that she can unblock her oviduct if so inclined, meaning that she usually ends up with the desired drake's ducklings.

Incidentally, the Argentine Lake Duck has the longest bird penis, which is corkscrew shaped and 17 inches long.

4. Emperor Penguin

This mating ritual of the Emperor Penguin starts miles apart. The males and females walk 30 to 70 miles to inland Antarctica and meet at a breeding site. Then they stand in a crowd and the males “bugle” for the females, who recognize their mates’ voices. They take a waddle around the group, bow deeply to one another, nuzzle, and make loving noises before mating.

5. White-Fronted Parrot

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White-Fronted Parrots kiss by putting their beaks together and touching each other’s tongues. Then the male vomits into the female’s mouth. To the female, this is a tasty treat that gets her in the mood.

6. Hedge Sparrow

Science isn't Everything

The Hedge Sparrow is monogamous—mostly. The female will sometimes keep a second male on hand, who lurks in the bushes waiting for her mate to turn his back. When he does, she lets him copulate with her, a process that’s more like a bumping of genitals. Then things get weird: When the first mate comes back, she displays herself to him and he pokes at her genitals until the other male’s sperm spurts out. Then the two birds have sex, ensuring that it’s (probably) her mate’s egg in the nest. Why do this? Both the mate and the misinformed adulterer will help the female feed the chicks.

7. Albatross

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Albatrosses start out with mutual grooming, each tenderly preening the other bird's feathers. Then they launch into a mating dance where they alternate between tapping their beaks, opening their mouths, and looking at the ground. To a casual observer, it looks like the birds are jousting, their beaks rattling together like castanets.

8. Blue Manakin

Not all males compete against each other for mates. In the case of the Blue Manakin, an alpha male forms a team of birds to help him attract females. When an interested female appears, the team begins flying around her, flapping their wings and making a buzzing noise while she looks on in awe. The alpha bird stops the acrobatics with a commanding call and, if the female liked the show, she’ll mate with him. The other males don’t get much out of this arrangement, except to compete for the alpha’s place if something happens to him.

9. Grebe

Grebes, a kind of water bird, perform a bird version of ballet before mating. They start out mimicking each other’s movements and then rise out of the water and run along its surface, flapping their short wings and tripping along in perfect unison. At the end, they dive under the water and come up with grass from the bottom as if to say, "Here is what we will use to make our nest."

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats 'Blep'?
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As pet owners are well aware, cats are inscrutable creatures. They hiss at bare walls. They invite petting and then answer with scratching ingratitude. Their eyes are wandering globes of murky motivations.

Sometimes, you may catch your cat staring off into the abyss with his or her tongue lolling out of their mouth. This cartoonish expression, which is atypical of a cat’s normally regal air, has been identified as a “blep” by internet cat photo connoisseurs. An example:

Cunning as they are, cats probably don’t have the self-awareness to realize how charming this is. So why do cats really blep?

In a piece for Inverse, cat consultant Amy Shojai expressed the belief that a blep could be associated with the Flehmen response, which describes the act of a cat “smelling” their environment with their tongue. As a cat pants with his or her mouth open, pheromones are collected and passed along to the vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth. This typically happens when cats want to learn more about other cats or intriguing scents, like your dirty socks.

While the Flehmen response might precede a blep, it is not precisely a blep. That involves the cat’s mouth being closed while the tongue hangs out listlessly.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the owner of Fundamentally Feline, tells Mental Floss that cat bleps may have several other plausible explanations. “It’s likely they don’t feel it or even realize they’re doing it,” she says. “One reason for that might be that they’re on medication that causes relaxation. Something for anxiety or stress or a muscle relaxer would do it.”

A photo of a cat sticking its tongue out
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If the cat isn’t sedated and unfurling their tongue because they’re high, then it’s possible that an anatomic cause is behind a blep: Johnson says she’s seen several cats display their tongues after having teeth extracted for health reasons. “Canine teeth help keep the tongue in place, so this would be a more common behavior for cats missing teeth, particularly on the bottom.”

A blep might even be breed-specific. Persians, which have been bred to have flat faces, might dangle their tongues because they lack the real estate to store it. “I see it a lot with Persians because there’s just no room to tuck it back in,” Johnson says. A cat may also simply have a Gene Simmons-sized tongue that gets caught on their incisors during a grooming session, leading to repeated bleps.

Whatever the origin, bleps are generally no cause for concern unless they’re doing it on a regular basis. That could be sign of an oral problem with their gums or teeth, prompting an evaluation by a veterinarian. Otherwise, a blep can either be admired—or retracted with a gentle prod of the tongue (provided your cat puts up with that kind of nonsense). “They might put up with touching their tongue, or they may bite or swipe at you,” Johnson says. “It depends on the temperament of the cat.” Considering the possible wrath involved, it may be best to let them blep in peace.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Why Crows Hold Noisy Funerals for Their Fallen Friends
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The next time you hear a murder of crows cackling for no apparent reason, show a little respect: You may have stumbled onto a crow funeral. Crows are among the few animals that exhibit a social response to a dead member of their species. Though their caws may sound like heartbroken cries, such funerals aren't so much about mourning their fallen friends as they are about learning from their mistakes.

In the video below from the PBS series Deep Look, Kaeli Swift, a researcher at the University of Washington's Avian Conservation Lab, investigates this unusual phenomenon firsthand. She familiarized herself with a group of crows in a Seattle park by feeding them peanuts in the same spot for a few days. After the crows got used to her visits, she returned to the site holding a dead, taxidermied crow and wearing a mask and wig to hide her identity. The crows immediately started their ritual by gathering in the trees and crying in her direction. According to Swift, this behavior is a way for crows to observe whatever might have killed the dead bird and learn to avoid the same fate. Flocking into a large, noisy group provides them protection from the threat if it's still around.

She tested her theory by returning to the same spot the next week without her mask or the stuffed crow. She offered the crows peanuts just as she had done before, only this time the birds were skittish and hesitant to take them from her. The idea that crows remember and learn from their funerals was further supported when she returned wearing the mask and wig. Though she didn't have the dead bird with her this time, the crows were still able to recognize her and squawked at her presence. Even birds that weren't at the funeral learned from the other birds' reactions and joined in the ruckus.

Swift was lucky this group of crows wasn't particularly vengeful. Crows have been known to nurse and spread grudges, sometimes dive-bombing people that have harmed one of their own.

[h/t Deep Look]

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