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.
Considering how it is so different from the cloacas other birds use to make eggs, researchers have been fascinated and wanted to know more. And if you have to have a graduate project, why not make it on explosive penises?
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.