Bowerbirds – Birds.com

June 13, 2006 by  
Filed under Features

If you’ve ever marveled at the structure of a robin’s nest, you’ll be blown away by what bowerbirds can do. This family of birds, found in Australia and Papua New Guinea, take nest construction to a whole new level. They even do some interior decorating!

The male bowerbird builds an elaborate structure out of twigs, and decorates it with colorful items. He spends up to nine months each year in building and maintaining it.

In truth, this structure is not a “nest”: it’s not meant to protect eggs or chicks. The bower’s purpose is to woo the female bowerbird. Once the female mates with the male, she takes off on her own to build a small nest and raise the chicks. You will rarely see a female’s nest. But the male’s bowers are meant to be noticed, and are among the most spectacular structures built by any bird.

In some species, the male may simply do a bit of landscaping, clearing an area of forest floor of all leaf litter to create a “court bower”. But others, after clearing a court, will build spectacular structures inside it. For the Satin Bowerbird and Great Bowerbird of Australia, it’s a yard-long “avenue bower”, two walls of sticks arching towards each other, or meeting to form a tunnel.

For others, like the Vogelkop Gardener of New Guinea, it’s a “maypole bower”, a gigantic 2-meter-high house of twigs, big enough for a human to crawl inside. It may even contain rooms- all this built by a bird the size of a robin.

These amazing birds will then start decorating their bower. The Gardener decorates the bower entrance, first laying down moss, then piling stacks of colorful items like flowers, fruits or beetle-wings in color-coded stacks. The Satin Bowerbird chooses blue items exclusively. Satin Bowerbirds near towns have been known to steal blue bottle caps, bits of blue glass, blue candy wrappers, or even blue keychains – keys still attached – to decorate its bower.

When the female arrives to take a look, the male bowerbirds will perform specific calls and dances to woo and attract her. If she is impressed, she will mate with him and go off to lay eggs on her own.

The male will remain at the bower, in hopes of wooing more females. They’ll keep fixing up the place, and keeping the “court” around the bower clear. In outback Australia, this latter task is particularly important – in case of a bush fire, the cleared area can act as “defensible space” and may keep his hard work from being burned.

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