As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Friday 15 June 2018


09:00 AM

THIS WOULD BE a whole lot harder if biologist Gail Patricelli didn’t have an excellent sense of humor. Because I’m expected to sit here like a professional and not guffaw at her invention: A real-life fembot, which is probably not what you’re imagining but instead a taxidermied bird stuck on wheels. It tears around a table in her lab, turning its head back and forth, stopping periodically to bend up and down, as if pecking at the ground. Patricelli laughs as she steers it around, which I take to mean I’m allowed to laugh too.

The fembot (Patricelli’s name for the contraption) is serious science, though, a machine that’s helping her tease apart the wild—and wildly complex—mating ritual of the sage grouse, a species under threat. Because it turns out it’s pretty easy to trick a male sage grouse into trying to mate with a robot.

The male sage grouse is perhaps the only thing more absurd than a female robotic sage grouse. When they gather to display in a mating arena known as a lek, they sound more like sci-fi than anything remotely bird-like—a shreeet of a passing laser blast, and a low pop of, well, your guess is as good as mine (see video above). Males also inflate patches of thin skin on their chests. “They have a whole bunch of muscles on their chest that allows them to manipulate this like an elaborate balloon animal show,” Patricelli says.

Females are comparatively drab, which makes turning one into a convincing robot easier, though far from simple. It begins with a specimen that met an unfortunate end by way of car or powerline. Meaning, it’s going to need some reconstructive surgery. “I do my best to try to make it look realistic,” Patricelli says. “I have learned a lot and spent a lot of time in the arts and crafts section.”

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