Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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An orphaned Greater Flamingo chick is carefully placed into a used eggshell in preparation to hatch a second time — in its foster parents’ nest.

A pair of flamingos have become proud foster parents after they took an abandoned chick under their wings at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, Great Britain. But this probably doesn’t sound unusual, until you know that the birds, Carlos and Fernando, are two male Greater Flamingos. Despite both being male, they had resorted to stealing eggs from other pairs as they sought to fulfil their desperate desire to start a family of their own.

The facility’s staff were so impressed with the pair’s incubating abilities that when a Greater Flamingo nest was recently abandoned shortly before the egg hatched, Carlos and Fernando were the number one choice to “adopt” the resulting chick.

“Fernando and Carlos are a same sex couple who have been known to steal other Flamingos’ eggs by chasing them off their nest because they wanted to rear them themselves,” said WWT spokeswoman Jane Waghorn. “They were rather good at sitting on eggs and hatching them so last week, when a nest was abandoned, it seemed like a good idea to make them surrogate parents.”

Even though a healthy chick hatched, staff were concerned that the foster pair would not bond with this hatchling because the process normally begins when the chick begins calling to its parents from inside the egg. So the staff relied on a little deception: the chick was carefully placed in an old eggshell, which was taped up and placed in the unsuspecting pair’s empty nest. The pair were soon seen talking to the chick inside the egg and a little while later it hatched for a second time. It was then greeted by its loving new foster parents.

So-called “gay” flamingos are not rare and seem to enjoy an elevated status based on their choice of partner. Carlos and Fernando have been together for about six years, and are capable of feeding their foster chick by producing milk in their throat, without any female help. The chick, who is currently nameless, is being brought up in a “creche” with 15 other hatchlings under its foster parents’ watchful eyes.

Greater Flamingos are the most widely dispersed of the six flamingo species, being found in Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America. Their average lifespan is about 30 years.

Cited story.

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Vause
    May 21, 2007

    Hey, you shouldn’t be reading that ghastly rag!! Bad, bad, bad!

  2. #2 Chris' Wills
    May 22, 2007

    Hey, you shouldn’t be reading that ghastly rag!! Bad, bad, bad!
    Posted by: Jonathan Vause | May 21, 2007

    Jonathan,
    Well obviously not so ghastly as it once was :o)
    I was a bit suprised (and pleased) at seeing that the Sun had posted a positive story about a homosexual couple.
    Does it still have page 3?

    Grrlscientist:
    The producing of “milk” in the throat, is this something that all flamingos can do? Is it normally a female only action or do males in hetrosexual relationships also produce “milk”?

  3. #3 cbutterb
    May 22, 2007

    Mightn’t there be issues when a gay couple adopts a born-again kid?

  4. #4 Chris' Wills
    May 22, 2007

    Mightn’t there be issues when a gay couple adopts a born-again kid?
    Posted by: cbutterb

    It’s Ok it’s a born again chick not a goat child.

  5. #5 The Ridger
    May 22, 2007

    Not just flamingos – doves and pigeons also produce what’s called “crop milk”. Both sexes of all these birds produce the substance and feed the chicks with it. Flamingo chicks need to feed on this for about two months until their bills are developed enough to filter feed.

  6. #6 Azkyroth
    May 23, 2007

    This reminds me of something. A week or two ago I was at a local kids’ park with my wife and daughter and the latter spent quite some time observing a pair of mallards that were swimming together, with no other ducks around, and generally acting in a fashion I would normally associate with mated pairs, though they stopped short of mounting one another. Are ducks one of the species known to exhibit homosexuality, and/or is there a likelier explanation for their behavior?

  7. #7 Diane in Ohio
    May 23, 2007

    Here is an older article about several bird species which have same sex couples. 1500 species have same sex couples…: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/columns/article/8970/the-ugly-duckling-has-two-daddies/

  8. #8 Martin R
    May 24, 2007

    If you’re gonna be a gay avian, of course you must be a flamingo and look FABULOUS!!!

  9. #9 Coin
    May 24, 2007

    On a related note, let us observe the birth yesterday of Shark Jesus.

  10. #10 Chris' Wills
    May 24, 2007

    On a related note, let us observe the birth yesterday of Shark Jesus.
    Posted by: Coin | May 24

    Why do you call it shark jesus?
    It isn’t in any article I read about the shark.
    You do realise that Jesus is a male name and that the baby shark is female?
    I haven’t checked, but I would guess that sharks are XX = Female XY = male unlike Komodo dragons.

    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/23/1451208&threshold=-1

    Parthogenesis and mosaics are interesting events and may become more common as species become rarer.

  11. #11 Monado
    May 24, 2007

    According to Konrad Lorenz, with geese, males sometimes make up mated pairs but they’re not gay – each of them thinks the other is the female. Other animals (I don’t know about birds) are actually attracted to members of the same sex. Do you know which is the case here?

  12. #12 Rosemary Davis
    May 25, 2007

    There is a rather famous story of a male penguin couple who raised a chick. I can’t remember where but there was a children’s book about it.

  13. #13 Diane in Ohio
    May 26, 2007

    Just released 10 hours ago a video of Carlos and Fernando:
    enjoy,

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ec4_1180143702

  14. #14 Boojum
    May 29, 2007

    “but they’re not gay – each of them thinks the other is the female.” ???
    How exactly do we know that such confusion exists? Did you ask them or do you ‘just know’ that is what they think? Seems that the parsimonious explanation is that they are just attracted to males not females, making them gay.