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Bird Bro-mance Behavior in Zebra Finches Trumps Mating

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on August 20, 2011
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Discovery.com: “Zebra Finch Bro-mance Trumps Mating

Many bird species establish monogamous life-long relationships, but is it boy-meets-girl or boy-meets-buddy? Zebra finches normally pair bond, so Dr. Julie Elie’s team at UC Berkeley raised sixteen male finches together to see what would happen.

The birds paired up in eight affectionate nuzzling, preening pairs. After the boy-bonds were established, the team introduced the birds to female finches. Five of the eight pairs ignored the females. Elie says the results reveal “Relationships in animals can be more complicated than just a male and a female who meet and reproduce.”

There was no experimental female group, so whether females would pair-bond is unknown. But, “Female [albatross] partners copulate with a paired male then rear the young together,” Elie said. Elie’s study did not report that these finches mimicked any sexual behavior.

Despite many headlines suggesting a homosexual hurrah—“gay finches,” “homosexual alliances,” “gay birds as faithful as straight pairs,” and “bro-mance”—several journalists have honestly acknowledged the folly of leaping to conclusions about the sexuality of birds or anthropomorphizing them. After the hubbub over male-male penguin pairs—many of whom later went on to have heterosexual relationships—these remarks are refreshing.

“Though the authors mention the types of activities the bird engage in once they form bonds, no mention is made of whether the male birds attempt to mate with one another, a rather critical factor it would seem, in labeling the birds as homosexual, rather than as just life-long pals.”

Journalist Bob Yirka, for instance, commented, “Though the authors mention the types of activities the bird engage in once they form bonds, no mention is made of whether the male birds attempt to mate with one another, a rather critical factor it would seem, in labeling the birds as homosexual, rather than as just life-long pals.”1 Tim Wall’s assessment warns against applying our cultural stereotypes to animals, saying, “In situations like these, humans are quick to put their own sexual definitions on animals.”

“A pair-bond in socially monogamous species represents a cooperative partnership that may give advantages for survival,” said Elie. “Finding a social partner, whatever its sex, could be a priority.”

Raising these social birds without access to female partners pushed them to form some kind of bond. Having a buddy could provide a survival advantage as evolutionary thinking demands, or it could just be an instinctive need for that species. But boy bird bonding should not suggest that latent homosexual tendencies are somehow a natural form of behavior that should be accepted as normal in humans.

The existence of gender diversity and apparent homosexuality in nature has become a hot topic for some who argue that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable. Yet human beings are not animals. We are created by God, in the image of God, and are subject to the moral standards He created. We don’t condone theft and murder because animals rob and kill each other; neither should we adopt our sexual standards from the animal kingdom.


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Footnotes

  1. www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-finches-homosexual-alliances.html

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