Posted tagged ‘pigeon courtship’

Sex and the City Bird

May 24, 2010
 
 
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Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
– Cole Porter

Birds certainly do “do it.” Everywhere I go over the past month, birds are going at it. I’ve already written about the sex life of the pigeon pair that turned my air conditioner into a trysting place. They’re now raising babies on a hidden ledge between my building and the one next door.  I can’t see the babies, though I can hear their hungry peeping and the low, gentle cooing of the parents.

For paired, bonded pigeons like these, sex is the swift, fairly frequent culmination of ongoing, consensual activity that includes nest-building, companionship, and special courtship rituals. When the male wants to mate, he struts around the female with his chest puffed up, making low cooing noises, like Jim Morrison singing, “Come on, baby, light my fire.” If the female is in the mood, she places her beak inside his beak and the two birds bob their heads up and down in unison.

from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project PigeonWatch (click image to visit website)

I don’t know if he is actually feeding her, as a parent pigeon feeds a baby, or if something else is going on. Maybe it’s her way of finding out just what kind of provider Mr. Sexy Voice/Big Chest is going to be.

In my limited observations, the beak ritual seems to be the penultimate stage in pigeon foreplay, after which the female bends low so that her back is flat and parallel to the ground. The male delicately, lightly, hops aboard and stands on her back for a second.  Then she tilts up her tail, and he, with a flapping of wings, brings his cloaca (the bird’s reproductive, excretory and urinary organ) into contact with hers for a second or two for “the cloacal kiss,” during which sperm passes from his body into hers.

Mating; Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project PigeonWatch (click to visit)

And that’s it. The brief copulation appears to a human onlooker purely mechanistic, while the ritual that precedes it seems to strengthen the pair bond through mutual pleasure.  According to the books, the male flies off for a ritual wing-clapping display. And life goes on.

Watching the pigeon flock in Morningside Park offers a somewhat different view. It’s a little like watching the action at a singles bar.  An apparently unattached male picks out a female, and moves in with pick-up lines and seductions: the strut, the puffed-out chest, the low coos: “Aw, baby, baby.” If pigeon guys wore clothes, you just know their shirts would be open to the waist, exposing hairy chests and gold chains.

"Hey, baby, Let me see those beautiful red eyes."

The males will actually “drive” the female, spreading their tail feathers and moving so close that she has no choice but to move or be bumped by him.

"Aw, baby, don't be like that."

The females generally seem uninterested, which makes me wonder if there are more unattached males in the flock than females. Like many a girl at a bar, the uninterested female keeps her head down, avoids eye contact, and tries to move away.  Once the guy finally takes the hint, he simply turns his charms on the next unattended female. You can almost see some of these girls stifling yawns and giggles.

The unattached males seem pretty desperate for a hook-up. I’ve seen them repeatedly interrupt a bonded pair that are right in the middle of intimate beak foreplay or even when the male is standing on the female’s back. The single guy just butts right in and tries to lure away the female.

Still, despite the pushiness of courting males, pigeon sex seems completely consensual and mutually enjoyable.

Not so sweet is mallard sex.  Ducks like it rough. The male approaches the female and bobs his head, down to the water, then up. If she’s interested, she’ll do a little head-bobbing of her own,

The approach

which progresses to synchronized head-bobbing.

Then suddenly, the male is on top of the female, pushing her head underwater with his beak.

She struggles, but is completely submerged. It looks like he’s trying to drown her. (Oh, and just to complete the picture, male ducks have some kind of strange corkscrew-like penis instead of the cloaca most birds have.)

A few seconds, and it’s over. He releases her and, rising part-way out of the water, flaps his wings in a power display. Then, while she shakes out her feathers, he zooms around her, enclosing her in a circle of rippled water.

Then they swim off. Separately.

Whew. Sometimes this nature-watching thing takes you strange places. You know?

NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window

April 11, 2010

Pigeon of mystery lurks outside my window

My air conditioner, unused since the dog days of last summer, has recently taken on a new function. It’s a pigeon boudoir.

For days, the pigeon of mystery has been landing on the unit every few minutes with a long, slim twig in his beak.

Pigeon with twig

He struts around, goggles at me through the glass and screen, then disappears. Moments later, he’s back, empty-beaked, to coo and strut before swooping down to the trees in the playground below. And in another minute, he’s back again with an almost identical twig sticking out of his beak like a long cigarette.

Pigeon with twig (the thin line to the left) checks me out.

Sometimes the pair hangs out together, billing and cooing, carrying on like teenagers in Riverside Park.  Occasionally a third pigeon tries to land, only to be chased off by one of the pair.

After more twig carrying, the twig-carrier lands on the air conditioner and begins to vibrate.  With wings arched forward and beak open, he moves the area beneath his beak rapidly up and down, his entire plump body shaking. Only the solidly-planted red legs and feet are still.

Vibrating pigeon

After ten minutes of this strange behavior, the pigeon again flies off.  Then with a great scraping of claws, both pigeons land. Cooing and bowing , they seem, well, excited.

Pigeon courtship: male bowing. Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project PigeonWatch; click image to visit website

And suddenly, wait a minute, what are they … what’s all that flapping … oh, oh, all right,  yeah… my pigeons are going at it, they’re copulating, right there on my air conditioner, just inches from my desk.  It’s over in seconds, too fast for me to grab my iPhone and take a picture.

Apparently, after mating, male pigeons clap their wings audibly in a display flight. If my male clapped, I missed it. But it probably looked something like this:

Post coital clap. Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project Pigeon Watch; click image to visit website.

Later, the pair rests amiably on a nearby fire escape.

How was it for you?

The next day, with more twig gathering going on, a friend visiting from Los Angeles makes a bold suggestion: open the window, stick your head out and look for the nest that is clearly under construction.  A brilliant idea. I angle my head out, look to the right, and find two birds staring curiously back at me from barely six feet away.

Pigeons on nest between two buildings

I’ll be tracking the pair and their nest as closely as I can, given the uncomfortable viewing arrangement. (The picture above is taken by holding my iPhone way out, while hoping I don’t drop it to the ground six floors below.)

My friend suggests a periscope.

What are those pigeons up to?

I’ll keep you posted.


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