As the two birds gently entwine their heads, their soft, downy necks form a heart shape. They are, quite literally, a pair of love birds - Laysan albatrosses, reunited after months apart.
These seabirds, with a seven-foot wingspan and curved yellow beaks, soar over the oceans as far north as Alaska every November, after six months alone, before meeting at Kaena Point.
This rocky outcrop overlooking the Pacific in Oahu, Hawaii, is their ancestral breeding ground. It is here they return to mate and put on the world’s greatest display of monogamy.
For all is not how it seems on Kaena Point. A biologist studying the 120-strong albatross colony at the University of Hawaii has ruffled quite a few feathers with her extraordinary discovery. She has found that many of the albatrosses appear to be, well …gay.
Lindsay Young, who has worked on Oahu since 2003, has discovered that a third of the pairs at Kaena Point consist of two female birds.
The albatrosses have previously pulled the wool over conservationists’ eyes with their cosy cuddling - as the two sexes look identical.
According to Young, who used DNA analysis to genetically test the birds’ gender, some of the female pairs have been together for up to 19 years - as far back as biologists’ data extends.
In that time, these same-sex partnerships raised dozens of chicks. It seems the females choose a male to father their chicks, but then return to their nests to incubate them with their ‘wives’.
This colony is literally the largest proportion of . . . I don’t know what the correct term is - “homosexual animals?” - in the world,’ says Young.
Her revelations turn our knowledge of the animal kingdom upside down and begs the question: can animals be gay?’
In fact, same-sex sexual activity has been recorded in more than 450 species from flamingos to bison, beetles to warthogs, according to Jon Mooallem, who has written in The New York Times on the subject.