An observational study has concluded that same-sex couples form strong commitments to each other, at least in Zebra finches. The study raises questions about the roles of partnering and companionship among animal species.
Finches known for pairing off
A study appearing in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology examines the mating, courtship and coupling patterns of birds, according to the BBC. Zebra finches, according to Wikipedia, typically mate for life with a member of the opposite sex. The study examines behavior of same-sex couples of Zebra finches, a small songbird native to Indonesia but transplanted throughout the world. The study, led by University of California Berkeley scientist Dr. Julie Edie and two colleagues from the University of Saint-Etienne, raised an entirely male group of Zebra finches to observe if the birds would create the same kind of close bonds formed between males and females. The researchers then introduced female finches into the group to see if any males, previously paired with other males, would break off same-sex pairings to form heterosexual pairings.
Partnerships formed regardless of gender
What Dr. Edie and her colleagues found was that when male finches were raised in an all-male environment, more than half the birds would partner with other male birds. Pairs of male finches that had bonded exhibited the same behavior normally seen in male-female pairings. Same-sex finch couples would sing to each other, preen each others’ feathers and nuzzle beaks, just like heterosexual finch pairs. According to the Daily Mail, after a period of continuous perching with other male finches, a group of females was introduced to a group of eight male finches that had a same-sex companion. Of those eight birds that had taken a same-sex partner, five ignored the females. Dr. Edie said that the implications, according to The Telegraph, were that the impulse to find a mate goes beyond the simple drive to procreate, and that attracting a “social partner, whatever its sex, could be a priority.” Monogamous species, which the Zebra finch is, could thus seek to form a “cooperative partnership that may give advantages for survival.”
Certain groups argue homosexuality “goes against nature,” but the opposite is the case. Roy and Silo, a pair of male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan, according to the BBC, formed a same-sex-pairing and nurtured a donated baby egg. According to Dr. Edie, female albatrosses have been known to form same-sex partnerships, mate with males to become pregnant, and raise chicks together. Homosexual pairings are also recorded in higher numbers in zoos and populations low on one gender, according to the New York Times. More than 1,500 species, according to News-Medical.net, an Australian medicine and science news website, have been observed to engage in homosexual behavior of some sort, including primates.
The BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/14479670
Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2026133/Gay-zebra-finches-attached-faithful-heterosexual-pairs.html
The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8702443/Gay-birds-as-faithful-as-straight-pairs.html
Wikipedia on the Zebra Finch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zebra_finch
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/magazine/04animals-t.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1313443974-YzvnRmoeHIl530GkEehM3Q&pagewanted=1
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