Join the 21st Dead Duck Day, on June 5th

DDD20 logo DEF DT (1)Sunday June 5th, 2016 is the 21th edition of Dead Duck Day. At exactly 17:55 h we will honor the mallard duck that became known to science as the first (documented) ‘victim’ of homosexual necrophilia in that species, and earned its discoverer (me) the 2003 Ig Nobel Biology Prize.

Dead Duck Day also commemorates the billions of other birds that die(d) from colliding with glass buildings, and challenges people to find solutions to this global problem.

Please join the free, short open-air ceremony next to the new wing of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam (the Netherlands), right below the new Dead Duck Memorial Plaque— the very spot where that duck (now museum specimen NMR 9989-00232) met his dramatic end.

This is what will happen:


Sarah Forbes

  • The traditional Ten Seconds of Silence.
  • Review of this year’s necrophilia news: two new clear cases in birds became known to science, and the first case in a Dutch mammal (!) will be revealed.
  • The reading of the special ‘Dead Duck Day Message’. This years message is send in by Sarah Forbes, former curator of the Museum of Sex (MoS) in New York and author of the book ‘Sex in the Museum’.
  • The announcement of the second performance of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ in London, on sacred grounds, June 24th, 2016.
  • The first-ever Dead Duck Day Fashion Show. The first batch of t-shirts, designed by Mark Prinsen, will be for sale.
  • A six-course duck dinner, after the ceremony.

The traditional six-course (dead) duck dinner at the famous Tai Wu Restaurant is also open to the public (at your own expense). Reserve you seat by e-mailing to: info [at]

More on (the history of) Dead Duck Day: here. And for our Dutch readers: here.


Here is our new Dead Duck Day logo

The new Dead Duck Day logo

The new Dead Duck Day logo. (Mark Prinsen, 2015)

Today, exactly one month to go before the 20th Dead Duck Day, we proudly present our new logo. Still based on the classic Figure 2a of the Ig Nobel winning paper ‘The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos (Aves: Anatidae)‘, graphic designer Mark Prinsen has given the logo a new and more powerful look. He used the same sign-language he developed for the Natural History Museum Rotterdam.

This year’s Dead Duck Day is the 20th. As usual, the short open air ceremony will be at June 5th, starting at exactly at 17:55h just outside the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, right below the Dead Duck Day Memorial Plaque.

It is on a Friday. Save the date: June 5th. We will keep you posted, and – please – do follow us on twitter: @Dead_Duck_Day


The north wing of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, with the Dead Duck Day Memorial Plaque, just left of the museum logo. (Photo Garry Bakker)


Rapid decapitation, followed by homosexual necrophilia

Rackelhahn_in_copula_2004Here is a gem that I found in the depths of the Internet. It adds to my ‘Animal Necrophilia Files’ and documents one of the most dramatic cases of avian homosexual necrophilia, and the first case I know of in Galliformes.

The three-minute video was first posted on the Internet on 7 April 2007 and titled ‘Der Rackelhahn – Ein unfruchtbarer Bastard’. It is dated 2004 and was taken and edited by Herbert Rödder *. ‘Professional hunter’ Hilmar Wichmann acted as biological consultant and producer (Rödder 2004). The location where the video was taped is unclear, but it was probably somewhere in northern Germany. Spoken comments are in the German language. Main character is a ‘Racklehahn’ – a male hybrid between a Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and a Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix). Both species occur across much of northern Eurasia and yield this hybrid throughout the zones of overlap within their respective distribution ranges and habits, especially in Scandinavia (Cramp & Simmons 1980; McCarthy 2006).

The video shows a snowy, forested landscape. It is a Black Grouse lek – an aggregation of males that gather to engage in competitive displays that may entice visiting females who are surveying prospective partners (for copulation). Two male Black Grouses are displaying. They do not attract females, but a Racklehahn. This cock quickly and vigorously attacks one of the Black Grouses. The much bigger bird tramples the grouse, hits him with his wings and forcefully pecks his head, with special attention for the bright red combs. After a mere 40 seconds the Racklehahn ends the fight by ripping off the head and throwing it away. Then he immediately mounts the lifeless mess and copulates for 20 seconds. After dismounting, the cock keeps pecking into the decapitated body.

The wording of the voice-over is carefully chosen, and spoken with appropriate diction:

‘Seine Kampf entsteigt er so weit das er den Kopf abreißt und weg schmeißt. Es ist kaum zu glauben das ein Vogel zu solch eine grausame Tat fähig ist. Was vor und hinten ist an dem zerfetztem Birkhahn ist kaum erkennbar. Trotzdem kopuliert der Rackelhahn mehrere Male auf dem leblosen Körper [ … ] Die Natur kann schön sein, aber auch grausam.’

[As he loses himself in the fight, he tears off the head and throws it away. It is hard to believe that a bird is capable of doing such a cruel act. What’s the front or rear of the tattered Black Grouse is barely visible. Nevertheless, the Rackelhahn copulates the lifeless body several times. Nature can be beautiful, but also cruel.]

Hybrids between male Black Grouse and female Capercaillie are the most common grouse hybrids (Porkert et al. 1997). They mostly turn out to be males (McCarthy 2006), and are known to occur solitary on black grouse leks where they display aggressively towards male black grouse (Hjorth 1970; Porkert et al. 1997). What this video documents – a fight that ends with the violent death (by decapitation) of a black grouse, immediately followed by a (homosexual necrophiliac) copulation – was not documented before. It is a unique case in animals. Homosexual necrophilia after non-violent death is known, in ducks and other vertebrates.

male hybrid 'Rackelhahn' mating with female capercaillie. [from: Porkert et al. (1997)]

Male hybrid ‘Rackelhahn’ mating with female capercaillie. [from: Porkert et al. (1997)]

Although the decapitated grouse was a complete mess, the Racklehahn did mount the rear end, and mated while holding the neck (as the head was missing) with the drooped position of the partly spread wings (the classic copulatory position of Capercaillie – contrary to beating the wings during copulation by black grouse [Porkert et al. 1997]). The shivering body of the copulating Racklehahn clearly indicates penetration and ejaculation.

* I tried to trace and contact the people who took and produced this video, but failed. Should any know them, please let me know as I am interested to see the uncut footage.


McCarthy, E.M. 2006 – Handbook of Avian Hybrids – Oxford University Press [PDF]

Hjorth, I. 1970 – Reproductive behaviour in Tetraonidae with special reference to males – Viltrevy 7(4): 181-596

Porkert, J., Solheim, R. & Flor. A. 1997 – Behaviour of hybrid male Tetrao tetrix (male) x T. urogallus (female) on black grouse leks – Wildlife Biology 3(3/4): 169-176

Rödder, H. 2004 – ‘Der Rackelhahn – Ein unfruchtbarer Bastard’ –  HR-Studio,

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]

Join the 18th Dead Duck Day, on June 5th

dead duck day logoWednesday June 5th it is Dead Duck Day again. At exactly 17:55h we will honor 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) where the duck (now museum specimen NMR 9989-00232) has met his dramatic end.

Here is what we plan to do during the 18th Dead Duck Day:

  • Commemorating the life and death of NMR 9989-00232, and [new!] announcing exiting news about the duck specimen.
  • [new!] Reveal (1) a ‘plaque’ that marks the spot where the duck hit the building and died on June 5th 1995, and (2) expose a bilingual sign that tells what happened right after the duck had died.
  • Communicate recent observations of / publications on remarkable animal behavior, relating to the duck.

    Dr Carin Bondar will send in the Dead Duck Day Message.

    Dr Bondar will send in the DDD-Message.

  • Read the special Dead Duck Day Message, this year written by dr Carin Anne Bondar.
  • Discuss ways to prevent birds from colliding with glass (buildings).
  • After all this, everybody is invited to the traditional six-course 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 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 dinDead Duck Day 2009ner. 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. [We still try to find a sponsor].

Here is the announcement of Dead Duck Day om the TED blog.

Dead Duck Day is organised by the European Bureau of Improbable Research and the Natural History Museum Rotterdam.