20 March 2012

'Puffins would fly to the moon'

The life of birds in two books under review:
No one who has seen [David Attenborough's Frozen Planet] will forget the images of the male and female penguins transferring the egg so that the starving parent can go off to feed. But Walker lives with the penguins over time and draws a much fuller picture. She confesses that she was determined to resist their charm. She was concerned that we anthropomorphise them just because they walk on two legs but, witnessing mates greeting each other after months of separation, she writes: "And the two birds hug. They really do … I saw that this was not anthropomorphising the birds … the Emperors hug for more or less the same reason that we humans do."
-- from Peter Forbes on Antarctica by Gabrielle Walker
King Sweeney's diagnosis of a life "without womenfolk" was hopelessly inaccurate, by the way: birds' sex lives are frankly filthy, from the cloaca-pecking dunnock, to the mallard's 17in, corkscrew-shaped penis, and the greater vasa parrot, whose copulation lasts an hour and a half. In sparrows, the testes are the size of a pinhead in winter only to swell to the size of a baked bean during the breeding season.
-- from David Wheatley on Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead

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