For the first time, a pair of gay vultures have become parents after successfully hatching a surrogate egg at a zoo in Amsterdam.
The pair of male griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) were given the abandoned egg by zookeepers at Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo. For two months, the couple nursed and incubated the egg in the nest they both helped build. The chick successfully hatched, and now the new dads both take care of the chick, regurgitating food into its mouth.
"We have had them for some years. They always build a nest together, bond and mate together," Zookeeper Job van Tol told BBC News. "But, as two males, the one thing they could not do was lay an egg."
"It was a bit of risk as we had no guarantees of success, but we thought, finally, this is their chance."
Homosexuality in birds is actually relatively common. At least 130 bird species have been reported to engage in homosexual behavior, whether that’s sex, courtship, affection, pair bonding, or parenting. Nearly a third of all long-term pairs in Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) are female-female and over a fifth of graylag geese (Anser anser) pairs are male-male.
"As in some penguin species, vultures do everything the same, they alternate all the jobs. Females lay the eggs, but they breed together, they forage for food together. Males are programmed to have that duty of care," said Mr Van Tol.
The zoo also had other vulture egg news this week, with the hatching of another vulture egg, whose parents were rescued from a road accident in Spain.
Since this vulture species tends to only lay one egg a year, this is great news for the conservation of the species. The zoo is part of a European breeding program for griffon vultures, so they are keen to investigate whether it is feasible for them to return these two chicks to the wild.
The griffon vulture is a large bird of prey, native to fragmented mountainous regions across southern Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Although some populations in North Africa and Turkey are in decline due to overhunting, the species as a whole is actually growing in number. Just like other vultures, this species is a scavenger, so it mainly eats the dead carcasses of animals, such as rabbits, rats, and pretty much any other meat it spots.
Congratulations to the new fathers!