Dead Duck Day 2019: ‘May we continue to welcome and honor the unexpected’

Knowing the 1st Dead Duck Day in 1996 had only two participants (me and the duck), the record number of 75 people attending the 24th Dead Duck Day ceremony, 5 June 2019, was heartwarming. Sixteen of them showed-up wearing the official Dead Duck Day t-shirt – also a milestone.

With me, the audience was very pleased with the ‘Special Dead Duck Day Message’, send in by corvid researcher dr Kaeli Swift, first-author of the 2018 paper ‘Occurrence and variability of tactile interactions between wild American crows and dead conspecifics’. I had the honor to read it aloud:

Greetings to the participants of the 2019 annual Dead Duck Day! It is with great delight and a strong sense of surrealism that I address you here today. I can still remember when I first learned of the original event over a decade ago while I was an undergraduate dreaming of a career in animal behavior. Today, my work is the latest contribution to the growing list of non-human animals whose occasional behaviors with their dead rattle our puritan instincts. Writing the words “putting the crow in necrophilia” is perhaps one of the most delightful and unexpected outcomes of my life and I’m not sure what else to say about it other than “yes kids, sometimes you grow up to be even more strange than you already are and it’s more wonderful than you can imagine.” May we continue to welcome and honor the unexpected. Happy Dead Duck Day!

We also paid tribute to the 60th anniversary of Bob Dickerman’s observation of ‘Davian Behavior Complex in Ground Squirrels‘ (in 1959).

Images (also by Maarten Laupman) of other things that happened, including O.C. Hooymeijer’s performance, are here.


The 20th Dead Duck Day: a report

crowd_Dead-Duck-Day-3208-Anjes_Gesink-2015On June 5th, 2015, the 20th Dead Duck Day attracted a crowd of about 50 people. They gathered at the spot where it all began, right below the all glass facade of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. At exactly 17:55h Kees Moeliker, in company of the stuffed duck (NMR 9989-00232), welcomed everybody. As all people more or less understood Dutch, he proceeded in that language. After a minute of silence on behalf of the duck and the btribute-cropped_Dead-Duck-Day-3236-Anjes_Gesink-2015_edited-1illions of other birds that have died in collision with glas building, Kees Moeliker payed a tribute to the recently deceased Robert W. Dickerman, the
ornithologist who first described (homosexual) necrophilia in a ground squirrel (in 1960) and coined the term ‘Davian Behavior’ for that – distinguishing it from necrophiliac behavior in humans. Bob Dickerman should be remembered as the man who gave necrophilia a good name.


Professor Menno Schilthuizen.

Then professor Menno Schilthuizen read the pages from is recent book ‘Nature’s Nether Regions‘ that are devoted to ‘the first case of homosexual necrophilia in de mallard’ – the reason of this annual gathering. He also presented his insights in the functional anatomy of duck genitals. Then there was an equally joyful announcement: the performance of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival in Londen, 8/9 August 2015.

A thunderstorm, the first ever experienced in 20 years of Dead Duck Day, forced the crowd to take shelter in the Natural History Museum where ceremony proceeded smoothly, with the presentation of the new Dead Duck Day logo and the accompanying fashion line, designed by Mark Prinsen.


Mark Prinsen (left) shows the DDD fashion line.

This years necrophilia news originated from Azerbaijan. It concerns a free-ranging Central Asian Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) that tried to mate with the smelly empty shell of a male congener. Stephen Butler witnessed this in his back yard and donated the shell to the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, where it bears catalogue number NMR 9988-00702. The carapax was shown to the audience, and so was the old shirt in which it was wrapped when the specimen reached the museum.

The special Dead Duck Day Message was written and send in by Anil Aggrawal, professor of forensic medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, and foremost expert on human necrophilia. It was read aloud, by Kees Moeliker:

Anil_Aggrawal_2015Necrophilia is a behaviour which reveals its unlimited curiosities almost regularly. Kees discovered a curiosity 20 years back. About a decade later as we were studying necrophiles from around the world, we discovered that it could be classified in 10 different types, starting from most innocuous “Role players” to the most dangerous “Exclusive necrophiles”. Gradually as we studied other paraphilias, it dawned upon us, that the very same classification could be extended to zoophiles too. Both studies were published in reputed journals. Were we on to something big? Do all paraphilic behaviors show same 10 gradations? Does a so-called “law of paraphilic equivalence” exist, which might state something to the effect that “all paraphilias are similar to one another, in as far as all of them exist on a continuum of increasing severity ranging from the most innocuous to the most dangerous?” Curiously as we studied more and more paraphilias with this objective in mind, we discovered that the law indeed was true. Most recently we have proved this in relation to even non-contact paraphilias, eg exhibitionism. For quite some time now, we had been thinking to bring together on one platform the necro-academics [my own term for scientists exploring this behavior] from around the world and publish their findings together in one book. Three academicians from around the world, including me got together a year back and were able to do exactly that. We got about 40 necro-academics from around the world and asked them to contribute their own experiences in the field of necrophilia in an anthology called ‘Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Approach’. Kees, to our honor, agreed and wrote an excellent chapter on necrophilia in the animal kingdom. I hope one day he discovers the 10 different kinds of necrophilia in the animal kingdom too, just as we have discovered it in humans. Necrophilia, thus, not only is a curious behavior, it is leading us on to new vistas in the study of paraphilic behavior.

The 20th Dead Duck Day ended with the traditional Dead Duck Day Dinner at the famous Tai Wu Restaurant, where about 35 people enjoyed each others company and good food. [all pictures, courtesy of Anjes Geesinkfood_Dead-Duck-Day-3314-Anjes_Gesink-2015


The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera, now at Tête à Tête – The Opera Festival, London 8 and 9 August 2015

“The two male singers will also be portraying the mallard ducks in question, through the medium of contemporary dance. A tasteful re-enactment of the duck display, mixing flowing, poetic body movements and extreme sexual violence.”
Daniel Gillingwater, composer

My duck call (book not related).

My duck call (book not related).

This weekend, August 8th and 9th, 2015 ‘Tête à Tête:The Opera Festival‘, King’s Cross, London (also known as The World’s Largest Festival of New Opera) will feature two live performances of probably the first-ever scientific paper that has been converted into an opera – The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera. The actual words of my classic Ig Nobel winning paper (on that subject) will be sung and the duck’s display re-enacted! For those lovers of opera who are not familiar with homosexual necrophilia in mallards or in any other organism, I will briefly introduce it (using classic images) and then join the ochestra to play a sometimes dominating instrument, the duck call. While I blow the flute(s), soprano Sarah Richmond will take over my role by singing the exact words of my 2001 paper, including ‘Rather startled, I watched …’ which is the final vivace section of a pseudo Mozartian aria.

Here is a bit of history of the try-out in 2014 and the deeper thoughts of the wonderful musicians who composed and sung the opera. Here’s a preview, in The Times (see PDF)

Seats are still available. The performances will take place on 8th and 9th August 2015 at Kings Place, London. Here’s how to get TICKETS.


Dead Duck Day 2014, an illustrated report

Dead_Duck_Day-Anjes_Gesink-2014Thursday June 5th 2014 was the date of the 19th Dead Duck Day. After a rainy day, the late afternoon brought a clear sky and at 17.55h when about 40 people gathered right below the Dead Duck Memorial Plaque of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, the sun was shining. Everything went as planned.

First, Kees Moeliker brought back memories of June 5th 1995 and reminded the audience that the duck (the first documented victim of homosexual necrophilia in Anas platyrhynchos) is part of the special exhibit ‘Dode dieren met een verhaal‘ (Dead animals that tell a tale) inside the museum. He then told that, on Dead Duck Day 2012, he failed to report a then recent case of necrophilia from Brazil: ‘Necrophiliac behavior in the “cururu” toad, Rhinella jimi Steuvax, 2002, (Anura, Bufonidae) from Northeastern Brazil’ (Britto et al., 2012 in North-Western Journal of Zoology 8[2]: 365-366).

In honor of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera‘ Kees Moeliker blew a duck call, and announced that he would search for funding to have a performance of this mini-opera on site, at the 20th Dead Duck Day in 2015.

Dead_Duck_Day-Anjes_Gesink-2014As a recent relevant paper of interest to Dead Duck Day, Moeliker recommended ‘Bird–building collisions in the United States: Estimates of annual mortality and species vulnerability‘ by Scott R. Loss, Tom Will, Sara S. Loss & Peter P. Marra in The Condor 116 (1): 8-23 [2014].  Then he showed and recommended the new book of Menno Schilthuizen Nature’s Nether Regions that devotes almost two full pages to ‘The Duck’ and even to Dead Duck Day.

Linda_Lombardi_devilduckhuntThis year’s special Dead Duck Day Message was send in by Linda Lombardi, (pictured here) author of the book (and blog) Animals Behaving Badly. Kees Moeliker read it aloud:

Human beings have the strange idea that no other animal has sex solely for pleasure. But if our fellow creatures only care about the perpetuation of the species, why do they do it in so many ways that don’t result in babies? From manatees to manakins, all kinds of animals get it on with members of the same sex, and many have figured out that if you’ve got a stick, a rock, or a prehensile tail, who needs a partner?

As I collected material like this for my book Animals Behaving Badly from the comfort of my office, I came to admire the people who observe and report the sordid truth about the sex lives of the animal kingdom. When I read about a black-winged stilt pleasuring itself with a piece of driftwood, twenty or thirty times at a go, every thirty seconds, I thought about the researcher who carefully recorded this data. Were her feet wet? Was she regretting her decision not to go to medical school instead?

But no one inspired me more than the man who had the fortitude to observe for a full seventy-five minutes the spectacle of the homosexual rape of a dead duck – and then, because it was time for dinner, said, Enough is enough, collected his specimen, and went home. Kees Moeliker knows that if we all waited to eat till animals stopped behaving badly, we’d starve to death. And if that’s their wicked plan to drive the human race to extinction, he won’t let them get away with it. [Linda Lombardi, June 5th 2014]

Jacob_van_Gijs_Dead_Duck_Day-Anjes_Gesink-2014Then, for the first time in history of Dead Duck Day, there was an invited speaker: Jacob van Gijs, architect at MVRDV (pictured above). He spoke about the use of glass in modern architecture and showed the surprised audience what might well become a novelty in constructing buildings: a brick completely made of glass.

a_glass_brick_DDD_2014About 20 people, including the invited speaker, joined the traditional Dead Duck Day Dinner at the Tai Wu Restaurant.

Pictures that illustrate this post are by Anjès Gesink.

Join the 19th Dead Duck Day, on June 5th 2014

the official Dead Duck Day LogoThursday June 5th 2014 it is Dead Duck Day again. At exactly 17:55h we will honour the mallard duck that became 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 (the Netherlands), right below the Dead Duck Memorial Plaque, where that duck (now museum specimen NMR 9989-00232) has met his dramatic end.

Here is what we plan to do during the 19th Dead Duck Day

  • Commemorate the life and death of NMR 9989-00232, the mallard-duck that now has a special exhibit in the museum.
  • Review (maybe even play part of) ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ composed and conducted by Daniel Gillingwater and performed by soprano Sarah Redmond and the Egde Ensemble. The world-premiere of this mini-opera was 14 March 2014 at Impericover Nature's Nether Regionsal College, London, as part of the Ig Nobel Tour of the UK. (click here for a report)
  • Communicate recent observations of or publications relating to remarkable animal behaviour and/or birds colliding with glass buildings.
  • Honour the new book by Menno Schilthuizen ‘Nature’s Nether Regions‘ and its Dutch translation Darwins Peepshow (that will be launched ‘as we speak’ in Naturalis Biodiversity Centrer, Leiden). This book devoted almost two pages to ‘The duck’ and Dead Duck Day.
  • Read the special Dead Duck Day Message, this year written by Linda Lombardi, author of the book ‘Animals Behaving Badly’.
  • Linda Lombardi.

    Linda Lombardi.

    Hear about the use of glass in modern architecture from Jacob van Rijs (MVRDV), and discuss ways to prevent birds from colliding with glass (buildings).

  • After all this, everybody is invited to the traditional six-course (dead) duck dinner at the famous Tai Wu Restaurant.

Practical information

Dead Duck Day is open to the public and free of charge. The ceremony is in the open air on the lawn next to the north wing of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, right below the Dead Duck Memorial Plaque [pictured below], in the Museumpark (address: Westzeedijk 345, 3015 AA  Rotterdam). We start at exactly 17:55h. Kees Moeliker will do most of the talking, in Dutch and in English (almost simultaneously). Usually, at about 18:25h we walk to the restaurant for the six-course duck dinner. Arrival at the Tai Wu restaurant (address: Mauritsweg 24-26, 3012 JR Rotterdam) at about 18:45h. If you want to join the dinner, please make your own reservations (telephone +31 [0]10 4330818; code Dead Duck Day 死鸭日]. Dinner and beverages are at your own expense.

Dead Duck Memorial Sign, 2013

Dead Duck Day is organized by the European Bureau of Improbable Research and the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, this year in cooperation with the 6th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR 2014 – Urban by Nature –).


The Homosexsual Necrophiliac Duck Opera

Composer Daniel Gillingwater, in 'The Betsey Trotwood', London, March 2006.

Composer Daniel Gillingwater, in ‘The Betsey Trotwood’, London, March 2006.

A couple of weeks ago composer Daniel Gillingwater, who I know from some 2006 Ig Nobel adventures in the UK, brought me thrilling news by e-mail:

“We are having the premiere of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ at the Ig Nobel Show, Imperial College, London next March.”

I knew vaguely about his plan and then thought he was joking. But now it seemed real. I have to admit, the dead duck (paper) changed my life, did inspire some people, and I even made a few laugh-and-think (see my 2013 TED-talk), but the performing arts – even an opera – are new grounds to me.

So I asked Daniel about the creation and message of his work. Here is his response:

Sarah Remond will play (and sing) me.

Sarah Remond will play (and sing) me.

“Kees, I have long admired your Ig Nobel Prize winning paper ‘The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard (duck)’ (PDF). Last summer, under the influence of too many espressos in the Welcome Trust cafe with Ig Nobel founder Marc Abrahams, I put forward the suggestion that your Dead Duck Paper would make a fine mini opera. At which point Marc sprayed his coffee across the table and implored me to go home and begin work. Eight months later I did. By February 2014 it was all but finished.”

“I have set it for solo high voice, in this premiere performed by Sarah Redmond (playing your role, as  witness and first [and only author]). The gender difference need not be an issue as you are an elegant and willowy specimen, much like Sarah. The scoring also includes clarinet quintet, the Edge Ensemble with Shaun Thompson on clarinet. We have a vocal chorus of four – soprano, alto, tenor and bass punctuating the section beginning ‘Rather startled, I watched …’ which is the final vivace section of a pseudo Mozartian aria.”

“The two male singers will also be portraying the mallard ducks in question, through the medium of contemporary dance. A tasteful re-enactment of the duck display, mixing flowing, poetic body movements and extreme sexual violence.”

My excitement grew. The actual words of my classic 2001 paper would be sung and the duck’s display re-enacted! I had to find a way to participate. So I convinced Daniel that I am a virtuoso at playing the ‘Duck Call’. He agreed immediately:

“Now this rarely used orchestral instrument will be in the heart of the whole work and serves to comment sardonically on the comparisons of this act of homosexual necrophilia and the state of western civilisation today.”

My duck call (book not related).

My duck call (book not related).

Although I do not read a note of music, I am extremely confident in my role.

Come, see and listen: Ig Nobel Tour of the UK, 14 March 2014, 18:00-20:00h: Imperial College, London (South Kensington Campus, The Great Hall, Sherfield Building), with Marc Abrahams, including the world premiere of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ composed by Daniel Gillingwater, performed by Sarah Redmond, the Edge Ensemble with Shaun Thompson, and me, and more improbable stuff. [tickets]

Dead Duck Day 2013, an illustrated report

Dead Duck Day 2013, a general view. (photo Garry Bakker)Wednesday, June 5th 2013 was the 18th Dead Duck Day. At exactly 17:55h about 50 people gathered just outside the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam. Kees Moeliker revealed two signs, attached to the museum building, that explain why people come together there since 1996. There is a sign in Dutch, and one in English:

De barst in de ruit hierboven markeert de plek waar een wilde eend (Anas platyrhynchos) zich op 5 juni 1995 om 17:55 uur doodvloog. Op de grond werd de dode mannetjeseend direct bestegen door een (levende) soortgenoot van hetzelfde geslacht. De paring die volgde, duurde 75 minuten. Dit voorval is bekend geworden als ‘het eerste geval van homoseksuele necrofilie bij de wilde eend’. Het slachtoffer is in het museum te bezichtigen.

Elk jaar op 5 juni om 17:55 uur komen we hier samen om ‘Dead Duck Day’ te vieren. Iedereen is welkom! Deze korte ceremonie herdenkt de dramatische dood van de eend en vraagt aandacht voor de miljarden andere vogels die tegen glazen gebouwen om het leven komen.

The crack in the window (above) marks the spot where, on June 5th 1995 at 17:55h, a mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) died after colliding with the building. Immediately after falling to the ground, the dead duck was mounted by a (live) duck — also of the male sex. The copulation took 75 minutes, and became known in the scientific community as ‘the first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard’. The victim is on display in the museum.

Each year on June 5th at 17:55h, on this spot, we gather to celebrate ‘Dead Duck Day’. Please join us! This short ceremony commemorates the dramatic death of the duck — and the tragedy of billions of other birds that die from colliding with glass buildings.

The crack mentioned above (and pictured right below) is not a real crack. It is an artist impression [thanks to Erik Sandifort] of a crack caused by a duck that flew in to the window, with great speed.

Kees Moeliker points at the artificial crack. (photo Garry Bakker)

Then two recent papers about remarkable animal behaviour were highlited: Russell et al. 2012 [Dr. George Marray Levick (1876-1956): unpublished notes on the sexual habits of the Adélie penguin] and Izzo et al. 2012 [Functional necrophilia: a profitable anuran reproductive strategy]. Both papers were praised for their (graphic) content.Dead Duck Day 2013: introducing Carin Bondar. (photo Garry Bakker)

With great pleasure Kees Moeliker introduced Dr Carin Anne Bondar, who had send in the Dead Duck Day 2013 Message. Her contribution, best characterised as a poem, was read in the original English language and in a bad Dutch translation (that won’t be reproduced here).

Ode to the dead duck

It’s an unfortunate way to die – yet, perhaps it’s one of the least painless. Oh poor duck, your brain is not large. Your last thoughts were likely of the simple sort, you had no idea of your imminent doom. Did you deserve to be repeatedly raped as you lay lifeless on the cold ground? No. However, the animal kingdom can be a dark and scary place. As the many female ducks that you undoubtedly raped during your life will attest, sex is not always consensual.

What should we interpret from your uniquely horrifying demise? Your sexual practices are so very sordid and unfair, is this the energy of the universe sending a message to male ducks everywhere? Despite the anthropomorphisms that I want to put upon you, the biologist in me will not allow it. Yes, you raped females, repeatedly. But no, you shouldn’t be punished for it. Unfortunately, that’s just what ducks do. There is no room for romance and love in the world of the duck.

So you died. A prospecting (albeit confused) male came along and took a shot. Actually, he took several. I take comfort in knowing that your life (and death) experiences were not in vain. The kinky rituals of the animal kingdom deserve a great deal more study than they currently receive, and your story has paved the way for an increased awareness of animal necrophilia across the globe. We salute you.

Carin Anne Bondar

The short ceremony ended with a presentation of two products that prevent bird-window strikes: Ornilux and Feather Friendly. Both products are now Dead Duck Day Approved. In company of the duck, the attendees walked over to the famous Tai Wu Restaurant, were a six-course duck dinner was waiting. The next day, June 6th, some leftovers of the meal (debilled, roasted duck heads) were preserved.

[All pictures by official Dead Duck Day Photographer Garry Bakker] Dead Duck day 2013, a general view . (photo Garry Bakker)Dead Duck Day 2013: revealing of the plaque. (photo GarryBakker)Dead DuckDay Dinner 2013. (photo Kees Moeliker)