Warning, if you can’t tell by the title of the post, it’s going to get a little blue in this post.
Most of us have heard the song, “Birds Do It, Bees Do It” but have you every really thought about how a bird fits tab A into slot B? Let’s look at the equipment.
Most birds do not have a penis. Most birds have a little lump called a cloaca. During the breeding season when hormones are flowing the cloaca swells and birds can get a cloacal protuberance.
Above, a bird bander blows on a Tufted Titmouse belly and note the spot below the bare patch–that’s a cloaca. Both sexes have the cloaca, so for most birds sex literally is about bumping uglies. They do not have lengthy love making periods, but fast 1 to 3 second copulations that can happen hundreds of times a day. With birds, it’s generally not about quality, it’s about quantity.
However, for a few species, things gets…weird. For example, the Red-billed Buffalo Weaver has a pseudo-penis, not quite a cloaca, not quite a penis. He will rub this against the female’s genitalia for 10 to 20 seconds and this is supposed to increase the chances that his sperm will stay.
Cassowary photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikipedia. Beneath that comical exterior lies a super freak of Rick James proportions.
Cassowaries give the Buffalo Weaver a run for his money as both sexes have a penis and clitoris. But the freakiness doesn’t end there. Both male and female birds have a phallus but it’s not connected to reproductive tissue in either bird. When the male Cassowary inserts what looks like a penis into the female, the semen ejaculates from the cloaca from the base, not the tip.
All looks quiet and cute for this the Blue-winged Teal pair, but what kinky escapades could they be capable of?
But the bird that takes genitalia to a whole new level is the duck. Some people get upset when they see several males gang up on one female (or in some cases a young male) but underneath the feathers of both sexes is a sexual arms race of epic proportions that’s been waging for thousands of years. It may look like the males are harming the females but they have their own arsenal of weaponry that James Bond (the spy, not the ornithologist) would envy.
Male ducks have an actual penis, but it’s not an ordinary penis, it’s an explosive spiral penis and in some cases it’s spiny (not necessarily for her pleasure). By bird standards it’s huge and some species go the extra mile like the Argentinian Lake Duck with its over 16 inch long member (when stretched out, is a little longer than the duck itself).
Here’s a high definition, high speed video of a Muscovy penis popping out:
So, why would a male duck need such a crazy appendage that works at lightning speed to mate with a female? Hens can have a vagina that has multiple compartments and dead ends, kind of like a labyrinth only without Muppets and David Bowie. By closing off certain pockets, she can control where the ballistic spiral penis deposits the semen. Some studies even suggest that most of the forced copulation by males results in their deposits going no where. Like any healthy bird, she wants to make sure that she gets the best of the best when that appendage fertilizes her eggs.
A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?
-Drew Barrymore in Ever After (Originally from Fiddler on the Roof)
Bird Love Week is seven days of exploration of avian amore here on 10,000 Birds from April 22-28. We love birds, and the topic of birds loving other birds and in the process making more birds is a fascinating one we know you will enjoy. Mike, Corey, and a bevy of Beat Writers have been working on this one for awhile as the perfect expression of our love of all things avian. To see all of our Bird Love Week posts, just click here. But be warned – Bird Love Week is neither for the faint of heart nor for the permanently prudish – you may end up with images that you never imagined seared onto your brain.
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.
Donna's 2014 Year List - 994
Redgannet's 2014 Year List - 649
Jochen's 2014 Year List - 601
Carlos's 2014 Year List - 574
Corey's 2014 Year List - 558
Clare M's 2014 Year List - 328
Duncan's 2014 Year List - 259
Carrie's 2014 Year List - 148
Carlos's 2013 Year List - 1587
Jochen's 2013 Year List - 553
Corey's 2013 Year List - 511
Donna's 2013 Year List - 438
Duncan's 2013 Year List - 430
Clare M's 2013 Year List - 368
Redgannet's 2013 Year List - 212
Larry's 2013 Year List - 206
Redgannet's 2012 Year List - 660
Jochen's 2012 Year List - 542
Corey's 2012 Year List - 525
Felonious Jive's 2012 Year List - 404
Duncan's 2012 Year List - 402
Clare M's 2012 Year List - 300
Clare K's 2012 Year List - 040
Greg's 2012 Year List - 004