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Getting comfortable with bird sex

I’m watching a pair of birds chase and tangle with one another.

Oh, look. They’re fighting.

No, they’re not fighting … they’re playing.

No, they’re … uh … Oh, my!

Now I’m not a birdwatcher anymore; I’m a voyeur. And since I’m taking photos … even worse. I’m filming an episode of “Birds Gone Wild”.

It’s hard to keep looking – or to stop. I’m intensely curious but feel as if I’m invading their privacy. (Then again, I tell myself, they’re the ones who decided to have sex in a public park.)


On Bolivar Flats, I once watched a couple of Laughing Gulls get romantic in an adorable way – nuzzling up to one another, laughing, touching their bills and pointing them skyward in unison. So far, so good. Then he jumped up on her back, spread his wings and dug his feet into her feathers.


At Brazos Bend State Park this spring, a pair of Blue-winged Teal swam together in an intimate dance. At one point she seemed to be trying to get away, but coyly slowed to let him catch up. So far, so good. Then he climbed on her back and bit into the feathers on her neck like a rider grabbing the mane of a horse.

It gets worse.

Last week, while I was strolling around the lake in Herman Park, watching the ducks, a group of feisty drakes relentlessly chased a hen through the bushes, down the path and into the water. All she wanted was a little peace. But one caught up to her, grabbed her neck from behind and forced her under the water for what seemed like an eternity. When he briefly let her go, another drake stepped into his place, forcing her back under. I felt an intense a moral obligation to intervene in what seemed like a violent crime against the beleaguered hen.

I suppose my discomfort with all of this is just part of our tendency to foist human thoughts, emotions and motivations on the wildlife we see. We feel their embarrassment in our own. It’s probably not a coincidence that when we try to explain sex to our young, we start by talking about the birds and the bees.

A few weeks later, looking out on a flock of White Ibises, I suddenly realized. They’re all naked.

About Scott Clark

I’m a digital journalist who’s worked as a photographer, reporter, producer and editor. My interest in the natural history of my surroundings reaches back to my early days beachcombing on the Jersey coast, rowing my boat on a quiet lake in Missouri and, more recently, discovering the mountains and backwoods of Montana, where I was born.

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