SOCIAL HISTORY AND THE SATIN BOWERBIRD

THE ENGAGING BOWERBIRD

Preening bowerbird

 

Elizabeth Taylor

The eyes have it.

Satin bowerbird

Misty morning

 

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.

 

Proud adult.

Proud adult male bowerbird.

Male satin bowerbird

Of course the blue bath is a favourite.

 

Male satinn bowerbird

All spruced up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.073-satin-bowerbirdnest

 

Am I a cute chick or wot??

Am I a cute chick or wot??

 

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.

Forget the bottle top, I'll pinch her flowers!

Oh, these may be a winner with the ladies!

 

Berries to match the bowerbird's eye.

Dianella berries to match the bowerbird’s eye.

Tail  feathers from the gorgeous  blue and red crimson rosellas  are also prized.

Patersonia

Patersonia

 

The crimson rosella's tail feathers are prized by bower birds.

The crimson rosella’s tail feathers are prized by bowerbirds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 being pinched.

 

Thanks Pauline!

Thanks Pauline!

Juvenile male in training.

Juvenile male in training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acrobat extraordinaire!

Acrobat extraordinaire!

 

 

Oh yes, I’m a bowerbird of impossible beauty!

 

That fan might be useful on a hot day.

That fan might be useful on a hot day. Photo by kind permission of Ian Joass.

They also pilfer treasures from  each others’ bowers.

What a show!

What a show! Surely stolen property.

It is interesting to compare these objects with those found in bowers in times gone by. 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.blueglass-stopper

Carbonated drink bottle with its marble stopper.

Carbonated drink bottle with its marble stopper.

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.

From The Blue Mountains Gazette, November 2016

From The Blue Mountains Gazette, November 2016

 

The straw floor...a great pic by Graeme Chapman.

A straw floor…a great pic by Graeme Chapman.

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.

 

Westerb bowerbird's treasures

The Western Bowerbird prefers green over blue. (photo by Dorothy Latimer)

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.

FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT IN THE BOX BELOW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 Comments
  1. Enjoyed your pictures and the write up — thanks for telling us about the blue-eyed Satin Bowerbird.

  2. That is so interesting! The most interesting birds we get in my neighborhood are the family of crows and the local parrots. I couldn’t tell you much about the parrots, they’re more heard than seen. But the crows are fun. When I had rabbits, they liked to play games with each other. The crows would also become protective when the neighbor’s cat came into the yard. If it went anywhere near their bunny friend, they would dive-bomb it and chase it out of the yard. My rabbits were always safe outside when the crows were around!

    • Pauline

      Crows are one of the most intelligent birds of all, Christina. If they are pinching fruit from an orchard they always appoint a ‘lookout’.

  3. http://paulineconolly.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/BowerBird-768×576.jpg
    IAN JOASS has had a perfect sense of nature and a clever way to depict its facts… i am very happy to see one of his photos here…

  4. Beautiful looking and very interesting sounding bird. Don’t think I ever saw one on any of my visits to Australia.

    • Pauline

      They are in the bad books now, Marcia…for eating the leaves of Editor Des’s green beans!

  5. Thanks for such a lovely page, Pauline.

    This month a bower has suddenly been set up outside our window and the Satin Bowerbird is blogging furiously.

    http://odimbar.blogspot.com.au/

    Most research and movies focus on springtime. This of course is autumn where we live in southeastern Australia. There is a complex of interaction between birds in the blog. I don’t know how long this bird and this bower will remain, but there is a chance to observe long term relationships and roles.

    • Pauline

      Hi Dennis, thanks so much. I will be following your bowerbírd’s blog with great interest. I will add your link to the article. Maybe you can link yours back to this page too. Our bowerbirds have just reappeared after an absence of a few weeks.

      • No problem, Pauline. I forgot to mention that I already have you in the middle of research links, right column. Will you be writing more on this subject? I have subscribed to your blog and will weave into my blog reference to your stuff in some story. But for the moment, worse than having fiction characters yelling at me in the night, the birds write the story! Interesting that your birds went away and came back… ours departed for some weeks before this too. Never a bower before, but flashing wings, no strawberries for us to pick and daily contests for figs.

        More of my writing at
        http://cephalophoria.blogspot.com.au/
        and links beyond.

        I’ve never found a bowerbird nest. In front of this bower is a huge old Port Wine Magnolia much higher than the house. It is home to birds of many species, I think. They’ve chosen a somewhat secret place and I leave that to them.

        It’s very satisfying, also in the context of some neighbours grumpy about our filling the front yard with food and other plants, that our suburban forest definitely pleases the bowerbird.

        Pleased you have the birds in social context. Helen’s first qualification in social work, mine in anthropology (in 1963!) so we are attuned to social networks and keen to discover what this bird’s life is, without anthropomorphising.

        Long ago I greatly enjoyed Ian Rowley’s “Bird Life” 1974 which he wrote while working at the Wildlife Research Station of CSIRO. it’s entirely about behaviour. Today a replacement copy arrived, ordered from the web, pages 150-165 on Arena Birds, into which I will now delve. 🙂

        • Pauline

          I’ve never had a bower in my garden either. I think it’s the least they could do after all the tomatoes and raspberries they eat! I write about all manner of things on this site, so no doubt I will revisit the bowerbirds.

          I love social history in the broadest sense. I even started a Facebook Page on Australian Social History which has grown much larger than I anticipated. No wonder I don’t get much ‘proper’ work done.

          Am supposed to be writing the biography of a controversial Tasmanian surgeon (Dr Victor Ratten), but the birds here constantly lure me away from my desk.

          I will be after Ian Rowley’s book now.

  6. A facinating bird.
    I remember reading about them once before and how they collect anything blue they can find to add to their nests.
    How lucky to have such wonderful birds visiting your garden.

  7. Pauline contacted me in facebook with the information after we photographed a juvenile in the forest at North Haven.
    The transformation of this bird is amazing.
    Thanks Pauline for this blog post and helping my daughter and I to know more about this amazing bird.
    Just Awesome, to say the least.
    Regards
    Marty & Karin Okkaland

    • Pauline

      Thanks Marty. So pleased Karin is interested in our wonderful birdlife.

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