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This was a short story I read in an anthology here in the UK, but it was about fifty years ago so I don't recall any of the other stories or book details.

A future Earth dominates a large section of the galaxy and basically takes over new races/ cultures whenever it finds intelligent like. Any natives are quickly subjugated into being second class citizens.

The tale begins with a weeping bird humanoid girl reclaiming a dead body. She has to indicate which one it is in a large pool of preserving fluid that's full of brightly plumed dead bird people.

These are the ones who were killed in the weekends fighting, how they earn their living is the bird people fight showy duels to the death to entertain the Earth populace, it's an awesome spectacle with extravagant aerial combats happening above the streets.

An Earthman strikes up a relationship with the bird girl, just as friends, nothing sexual. They meet weekly for a chat and he's always relieved to see she's survived the previous weekend.

She explains how it's a non lethal courtship ritual on her world but the Earth administration decided it'd be more entertaining to fight to the death, the bird people population is decreasing rapidly but the show must go on. One day he meets the chick (see what I did there? Chick? Bird girl?) and she's very distracted and soon leaves. He gets home and there are excited news reports of spectacular battles in the skies, it seems all the bird people are killing each other off.

The next day he himself goes to the dead body pool and sees her corpse all wet plumage among the others. As it's being lifted out for him there are news reports of a new planet just been discovered, the humanoid insect population does truly amazing fights and will soon be entertaining the jaded Earth humans

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    @user14111 Not to be confused with the Tiptree novel. (And if it is this story (which it certainly is) it's a duplicate of this question but with way more detail.
    – Shawn
    Jul 12, 2023 at 19:59
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    Seeing "Alien bird people fight as gladiators" in the sidebar of "Hot Network Questions" is why I still come to SE. Jul 13, 2023 at 15:37

1 Answer 1

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"Brightness Falls from the Air", a short story by Margaret St. Clair a.k.a. Idris Seabright which was also the answer to the question Poignant short story about doomed romance between human male and birdlike alien female; originally published as an untitled "$100 Title Contest Story" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1951, available at the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations, perhaps the 1976 anthology Galactic Empires, Volume One edited by Brian Aldiss.

Rhysha came to the bureau one evening just as he was going on duty. She had come to claim a body. The bodies of the bird people often stayed in the bureau for a considerable time. Ordinary means of transportation were forbidden to the bird people because of their extra-terrestrial origin, and it was hard for them to get to the bureau to identify their dead. Rhysha made the identification — it was her brother — paid the bureau's fee from a worn purse, and indicated on the proper form the disposal she wanted made of the body. She was quiet and controlled in her grief. Kerr had watched the televised battles of the bird people once or twice, but this was the first time he had ever seen one of them alive and face to face. He looked at her with interest and curiosity, and then with wonder and delight.

[. . . .]

"After the earthmen took our planet," she said, "we had nothing left they wanted. But we had to have food. Then we discovered that they liked to watch us fight."

"You fought before the earthmen came?" Kerr asked.

"Yes. But not as we fight now. It was a ritual then, very formal, with much politeness and courtesy. We did not fight to get things from each other, but to find out who was brave and could give us leadership. The earth people were impatient with our ritual — they wanted to see us hurting and being hurt. So we learned to fight as we fight now, hoping to be killed.

"There was a time, when we first left our planet and went to the other worlds where people liked to watch us, when there were many of us. But there have been many battles since then. Now there are only a few left."

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