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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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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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