For the Birds Radio Program: Birds in the News: Gay Vultures

Original Air Date: April 8, 2003

Two bonded male Middle Eastern Griffon Vultures are successfully rearing chicks together.

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I try hard to keep up on news events in the world of birds, but somehow I missed a big story that made the rounds three and a half years ago. Back in September, 1999, several news sources published a story about Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, which was working on an ambitious captive breeding program intended to restore Middle Eastern Griffon Vultures to the wild. Only about 70 pairs of this badly endangered species remain in the wild in Israel.

Two of the zoo’s males, named Dashik and Yahuda, developed a powerful pair bond with each other. They built a nest and performed the entire spectrum of mating and nesting rituals normally done by mated pairs. Some zoo keepers wanted to separate them and try to find female mates for them, but Dashik and Yahuda got along better than any of their straight pairs. The zoo keepers found this intriguing, so they placed an artificial egg in the nest the gay vultures had built. Dashik and Yahuda immediately started sitting on it to incubate it. They shared the responsibility equally and seemed unusually capable. So the zoo keepers decided to gamble on another experiment. They took a day-old vulture chick and placed it inside a swan egg, taped the egg closed, and put that in the nest. The vultures took turns sitting on it until the baby broke out of it. And then the gay couple tenderly raised their new baby together, feeding it, sheltering it on hot days, and preventing it from falling from the nest. A zoo spokesperson said that they did a great job.

After the chick, Diva, was successfully fledged, the zookeepers tried the experiment again, and Dashik and Yahuda raised another baby, Adi Gordon, again doing an admirable job. I haven’t been able to find out how many babies they’ve raised together since then.

A lot of people were surprised to learn that gay animals could successfully rear babies. I don’t know what other species have done this. I had a pair of gay gerbils once, Digger and Sparky, but I never offered them a baby gerbil to raise. Frankly, I think they would have spent their time moving it from one spot of the cage to another the way they did with everything else—the two of them were totally focused on interior decorating, and would probably have been too preoccupied to serve as foster parents. And gay mammals would be at a distinct disadvantage in the feeding department, compared to vultures.

I’ve been trying to learn what became of Dashik and Yahuda since the stories came out in ’99, but so far to no avail. Perhaps they’re involved in a movie-making project. They’d be naturals to star in the avian production of “The Bird Cage.”