So, fellow bird-lovers, I am reading a book about avian evolution, which addresses the force of sexual selection as opposed to natural selection. Sexual selection means the mate choices female birds make, which tend to be aesthetic in nature, as opposed to natural selection, which means random adaptations to changing environmental pressures (the famous beaks of the famous Galapagos finches for example), where the better-adapted survive and reproduce and the less-adapted die off.
This book, titled “The Evolution of Beauty” by Richard Prum, argues that most lady birds are attracted to and mate with gentleman birds because they can sing and dance, or can build whimsical love-shacks, grow fabulous plumage, and are just all-around charming and cute. I am supplementing my reading with frequent visits to YouTube, where clips of elaborate and totally insane male sexual displays are readily available. They really are awesomely charming and cute.
This female taste for male loveliness has led to a competition in swiftly-evolving, crazily- ramifying forms of wooing antics by those hopeful boybirds, Their sexual displays serve no adaptive purpose at all, and sometimes quite the reverse.
Consider the peacock, the Great Argus pheasant, the birds of paradise, the bower birds and the manakins. These guys aim to ravish the senses, and they do. They do not manfully defend their mates, feed their children or help around the house. The sex lives of these male birds consists of competitive flirting, flaunting, winning and making sweet love to any lady (or ladies) who choses him. A few seconds of intimacy and that’s it. The lady then gets to build a nest, lay the eggs, incubate, feed and guard the babies. But! She got to pick, all by herself, the most gorgeous among all the gorgeous contestants to father her brood. Thus beauty begets more beauty. Ravishing, melodious, iridescent, dancing avian beauty.
And then there are ducks. Like the aforementioned birds, male ducks are often gorgeous. They also court their womenfolk by posturing and flashing dazzling colors and making sexy moves and sounds. After mating with her carefully chosen drake, the female duck takes on all the familial duties, and the male goes about his business, whatever that may be.
But here’s the difference. Gangs of rejected male ducks are lurking, and they are up to no good. They try to force their repulsive unwanted selves on the female, who really, really does not want them to. She runs, she resists, She fights, and she is often injured or even killed in these gang rapes. I don’t know what else to call them. The male-to-female ratio in ducks is skewed by these violent proceedings, which of results in an even larger number of incel males, doing their nasty business with a diminishing number of females, who would rather die than to be inseminated by their attackers and pass on their yucky genes.
So what’s up with this sex war among ducks, when it seems so counter-producktive? (chortle here) Why do male ducks carry on in this brutal way? What makes them different from those other pretty, colorful, charming, singing, dancing boybirds?
Ducks have penises. Long ones. Longer than their bodies long ones. Most other birds don’t. They evolved away from that penetrative organ millions of years ago. Just sayin.