THE ENGAGING BOWERBIRD
Perhaps the most entertaining and interesting birds in my garden are the Australian Satin Bowerbirds. The difference in appearance between females and juveniles and the adult male is hard to believe. Initially the birds are olive green, with cream and brown scalloped chests, bronze wings and tail. They have piercing blue, Liz Taylor eyes and dark beaks.
As the males approach maturity around five years of age they begin a slow transformation. It can be two years before the change is complete; to glossy blue-black plumage, pale beak and violet eyes.
Here is a bird in transition.
And a short time later. His eye is already violet.
It’s no surprise that the male in particular prefers my blue bowl.
The indigenous Wiradguri people know the birds as ngurum-bula, meaning ‘two homes’ – a bower of sticks built by the adult male and a separate nest (a marrung) for the female’s eggs. My thanks to Adam Gowen for this information. The nest is also built of sticks, and located in a nearby tree. There are usually two eggs, which are cream, speckled with brown.
Now a male bowerbird has two great passions. One is eating (especially fruit and veg) and the other is collecting treasures to decorate their female attracting bowers.
The male decorates its bower with anything blue it can find. Here in the Blue Mountains it uses blue wildflowers such as Patersonia, and the blooms and berries of Dianella. Exotic blue flowers are a real bonus. In my garden their favourite is the groundcover Lithodora, which has tiny, star like flowers striped blue and white. I have to admire their choice, as they are beautiful and delicate enough to decorate wedding cakes. Just as well I have plenty.
Tail feathers from the gorgeous blue and red crimson rosellas are also prized.
What else? When you think about it, there is not a great deal in nature that is blue. These days the adaptive birds steal blue plastic drinking straws, clothes pegs…and above all, milk bottle tops. I sometimes tie a couple to a chair with cotton thread….simply for the delight in seeing them try to detach them. . But let’s face it, all this plastic is not good for the environment.
They also pilfer treasures from each others’ bowers.
It is interesting to compare these objects with those found in bowers in times gone by. Originally, nature provided the treasures.
In the early days of white settlement the birds took a liking to bonnet ribbons, pieces of broken, willow pattern china, shards of glass from blue perfume and medicine bottles, and (later) the marble stoppers from early carbonated drinks.
By 1940, the list from just one bower included the following;
Eight bluebags (once used in laundries to keep linen white) , 10 pieces of blue matchboxes, one blue cigarette packet, (thankfully not so much smoking these days!) one piece of blue string, 34 pieces of blue glass, 17 blue feathers, blue marbles, (from a childhood pastime since replaced by computer games) one car park ticket, four blue chocolate wrappers, and a blue invitation card to an ‘At Home’ (oh the etiquette of the 1940’s) .
What a perfect snapshot of life 70 years ago. Not a piece of plastic in the list. Interestingly, we may be turning full circle. My Blue Mountains village of Blackheath recently claimed to have become the world’s first community to ban plastic straws.
I suspect the bird in the above photo lived next door to a milk bar. He may have to make a radical change in his collecting routine soon, especially if he lives anywhere near Blackheath.
Bowerbirds like to hide their bowers away from prying eyes, but they are quite easy to locate due to the bizarre noises they make. It can only be described as a mixture of chirring, whirring, buzzing and whistling.
By the way, there are other varieties of bowerbird. Below is an adult Western Bowerbird, whose addiction if for all things green. Dorothy Latimer wondered where all her unripe tomatoes had gone.
UPDATE – August 2018 Not a plastic straw in sight. Next step, ban plastic milk bottles.
BACK TO NATURE…..
Good grief, all that publicity about the environment seems to be having an effect. I think this fellow may have mugged a Sulphur crested cockatoo!
I would like to include a link here to a bowerbird’s blog Many thanks Dennis.
For another story about our wonderful birds, click HERE.
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