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Can birds be Lgbtq?

In recent years, there has been increasing discussion around whether animals, including birds, can exhibit LGBTQ behaviors and identities. This article will explore what the research says so far on this complex topic.

What does LGBTQ stand for?

LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning. It refers to a community of people whose sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions fall outside of heterosexual and cisgender norms.

Some key definitions:

  • Lesbian – A woman who is emotionally, romantically and/or sexually attracted to other women.
  • Gay – A person who is emotionally, romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of the same gender. Commonly used to describe men attracted to men, but can apply to women as well.
  • Bisexual – A person emotionally, romantically and/or sexually attracted to more than one gender.
  • Transgender – A person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Queer – An umbrella term used by some to describe LGBTQ people or those who do not identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender.

Do animals exhibit LGBTQ behaviors?

Research indicates that same-sex sexual behavior, as well as deviations from typical gender norms and expressions, have been observed in a wide variety of animal species.

Same-sex sexual behavior

Numerous studies have documented same-sex sexual interactions in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. This includes courtship, affectionate and sexual behaviors between two animals of the same biological sex.

Some examples in birds include:

  • Male flamingos forming same-sex pair bonds and nesting together.
  • Female Laysan albatross pairing up in lesbian couples to cooperatively raise chicks.
  • Male giraffes engaging in homosexual courtship and mounting behaviors.
  • Female zebra finches showing preferences for female partners when given a choice.

Researchers estimate that same-sex sexual behavior occurs in up to 1,500 animal species. The prevalence varies greatly between species, ranging from occasional to frequent occurrences. However, only about 5 percent of all species reproduce exclusively through homosexual activity.


There is some evidence of gender-variant behaviors and identities in animals as well. This includes:

  • Male fruit flies displaying courtship rituals characteristic of females due to changes in brain development.
  • Female hyenas being born with masculinized genitals and assuming dominant, “male-like” social roles.
  • Male zebra finches occasionally taking on “female” mating displays and parenting behaviors.

However, it is difficult to determine if these truly represent shifts in an animal’s gender identity or just flexibility in adopting available roles.

What causes LGBTQ behaviors in animals?

There are a number of theories on what influences same-sex and gender-variant behaviors in the animal kingdom:

Genetics: Research on fruit flies suggests there could be genetic components that predispose animals toward homosexual activity. But there does not appear to be one “gay gene” and it likely involves a complex interaction of multiple genes.

Hormones: Pre-natal and post-natal hormone levels can shape parts of the brain involved in sexuality and gender-typing. This hormonal theory could help explain differences in mating behaviors.

Evolution: Same-sex sexual activity may have adaptive benefits that enhance the overall fitness of groups or species. For example, it may help strengthen social bonds or provide practice for reproductive mating.

Sex ratios: When populations have skewed sex ratios, animals of the more abundant sex may engage in more same-sex coupling simply due to lack of available opposite-sex partners.

Sexual fluidity: Animals may be more sexually fluid than humans, with sexual behaviors dependent on changing circumstances rather than fixed orientations. Their sexuality may shift back and forth throughout their lives.

Overall, the causation appears complex and likely varies between different animal groups. More research is needed to better understand the factors at play.

Can we call animals lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?

There is debate around whether terms like lesbian, gay and transgender should be applied to animals.

Some key considerations:

  • We cannot definitively discern sexual orientations or gender identities in animals based on behaviors alone.
  • Human constructs like sexual orientation may not map cleanly onto other species.
  • Calling animals gay or lesbian anthropomorphizes them by attributing human motives and identities where they may not apply.

However, advocates argue the LGBTQ label:

  • Usefully highlights the natural diversity of sexuality and gender.
  • Generates empathy by showing parallels between human and animal experiences.
  • Indicates harm from narrow heteronormative assumptions.

There are merits to both perspectives in this complex debate.

Do same-sex mating preferences limit reproduction?

Some people express concern that homosexual preferences could threaten animal populations if too many refrain from heterosexual breeding.

However, research indicates same-sex activity in animals generally occurs alongside ongoing reproductive mating and does not limit overall population sizes:

  • Most same-sex mating occurs in juveniles or outside breeding season.
  • Even preferentially homosexual animals mate heterosexually enough to sustain numbers.
  • Bisexual behavior is common with flexible partner switching.

Populations self-regulate factors like birth rates to ensure survival. Overall, same-sex sexual behaviors do not appear to negatively impact animal populations.

Are LGBTQ behaviors more accepted in animals?

Tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ behaviors show regional variations in animals similar to human cultures:

Species LGBTQ Behavior Level of Acceptance
Bottlenose dolphins Bisexual behavior High acceptance
Lions Same-sex couples Mixed acceptance
Chimpanzees Gender-variant males Low acceptance

Factors impacting social tolerance may include:

– Ratio of sexes
– Availability of mates
– Personality of leaders

So while LGBTQ behaviors occur widely in the animal kingdom, the social reception can vary greatly between animal cultures and communities.


The research to date indicates that diverse sexual and gender expressions are natural variations found in many animal species. However, the limitations of studying animal psychology make definitive labels like gay or transgender problematic.

As our understanding deepens through ethology and neuroscience, we may gain clearer insights into the spectra of sexuality and gender identity across the animal kingdom. But for now, the phenomena remain complex, multifaceted and open to interpretation.

Though LGBTQ behaviors in animals challenge human norms, they also reflect the remarkable flexibility and diversity of life on earth. Further study will reveal more about the biological role these variations play in evolution and group dynamics.

Overall, the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity in humans and animals is likely far more fluid and adaptive than rigid categories can capture. While provocative, applying queer identities to animals may say more about our human need to categorize than any intrinsic identity on their part. Nonetheless, documenting the natural variations that exist worldwide can help combat heteronormative assumptions and foster greater acceptance of diversity in all species.