Nature Nugget – Bowerbirds

Bowerbirds are native to Australia and New Guinea. Unlike most birds which use just showy plumes and/or melodious songs to attract a mate, bowerbirds construct an elaborate structure on the forest floor called a bower. These structures are not nests for raising young but are bachelor pads designed to attract and seduce one or more females for mating.

Bowers vary from a simple circle of cleared earth with a small pile of twigs in the center to complex and highly decorated structures of sticks and leaves, which into and around the male places a variety of objects he has collected. These objects are usually brightly colored or shiny and may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, insect parts, and even pieces of plastic and glass. The male will spend hours carefully sorting and arranging his collection, with each item having its own specific place. If an object gets moved while the bird is away, it is carefully placed back in its place. No two bowers are the same, with each collection of objects reflecting the personal taste of each bird and its ability to procure rare and unusual items. Male bowerbirds spend nine to ten months of each year working on their bowers.

There are three basic types of bowers: mats, avenues, and maypoles. Mat bowers are among the simplest, consisting of thick pads of plant material ringed with ornaments. Avenue bowers have two close-set parallel walls of sticks that sometimes arch over to create a tunnel. A couple of species even paint the inner walls of their avenue bowers with a stain made from chewed plants, charcoal, and saliva, using a leaf or twig as a paintbrush. Maypole bowers are the most elaborate of all, consisting of twig towers and hut-like structures built around one or more saplings in a carefully groomed courtyard decorated with ornaments. Some create lawns of moss around their creations. The first European naturalists to observe the hut-like bowers believed they were built by human pygmies because of their skillful and aesthetic design.

Researchers have noticed that the drab species of bowerbirds build the more fancy and elaborate bowers, and the brighter colored species build the more plain and simple bowers. Apparently, the drab birds, which can look similar to their females, compensate for their dull appearances by building flashier bowers. The Vogelkop Bowerbird is the plainest of the bowerbirds and is the builder of the largest and most elaborate bower. Its bower is a cone-shaped hut 40 inches high and 60 inches in diameter, with an entrance and a front lawn artistically arranged and decorated with colorful flowers and fruits. In addition, this bird is an amazing songster and mimic. Many species even vary their decoration schemes from year to year, like a fashion trend, to keep up with the changing tastes of the females.

As the male bowerbirds go to much trouble to prepare bowers for their females, so our Saviour is preparing mansions for us in heaven. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also.” John 14:1−3. “What a comfort these words should be to us! Think of the work Christ is now doing in heaven—preparing mansions for His children. He wants us to prepare to dwell in these mansions.” That I May Know Him, 363.

David Arbour writes from his home in De Queen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: