Wednesday June 5th it is Dead Duck Day again. At exactly 17:55h we will honour the mallard that is known to science as the first (documented) ‘victim’ of homosexual necrophilia in that species. Please join for this short open air ceremony next to the new wing of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, where the duck (now museum specimen NMR 9989-00232) has met his dramatic end. We will discuss (new) ways to prevent birds from colliding with glass (buildings) and the special Dead Duck Day Message of a prominent (duck) scientist will be read. [Here is my recent TED-talk, about a.o. Dead Duck Day] [Here is this years programme]
I failed to report about last years Dead Duck Day (the 17th), so to get you into the mood, here is what happened on June 5th 2012. About 45 people attended, including two visitors from London. For the first time in history three live mallards (one female and two males) were present. About an hour before the ceremony started the female appeared on site, and during the event two male mallards joined. At 18:16h, right in front of the audience, the mallards caught full attention: one male mounted the female and started to copulate. It looked like a clear case of heterosexual extra-pair copulation. [video, by Janneke Reedijk]
Then I read the Dead Duck Day 2012 Message, written by ornithologist Tim Birkhead
Science favours the prepared mind, they say and scientists achieve fame, or infamy, in different ways. Kees, your prepared mind allowed you to exploit a chance observation that made you and a homosexual pair of ducks famous. Somewhat less ignoble and less press-worthy, but no less exciting are the heterosexual encounters I’ve spent my career pursuing. The male Red-billed Buffalo Weaver of southern Africa for example, has a permanently erect false penis, the only bird to be so endowed. It also has an extraordinarily protracted copulation – 30 minutes, compared with just a couple seconds for most small birds. On top of all this, the Buffalo Weaver is also the only bird that experiences orgasm as it ejaculates. What’s going on? What indeed! When we first decided to study the Buffalo Weavers, a colleague suggested we might like to study those he had at his zoo. We went to have a look, but zoo population consisted only of males – yes, I know what you are thinking, but no, we decided against it. However, and as we walked through the giant aviary, one of the male Buffalo Weavers was copulating vigorously with a bemused-looking dove whose sex we could not ascertain. Have a wonderful celebration!
Here are two pictures of the copulation that took place during the Dead Duck Day 2012 festivities (click on the picture for moving images).