Bowerbird Bowers

Golden Bowerbird, Australia

Golden Bowerbird (male), Australia

Coming across a bower in the woods is like finding a secret castle in an enchanted forest.

 

Here is information about what a bower is, and a story about the day we found a rare bower.

 

Satinbowerbirdmale.jpg

Satin Bowerbird (male). Photo: Brett Donald. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The male bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea have fascinating and unusual courtship displays.

 

The fundamental reason males build bowers is to attract a female.  A polygamous species, the male’s goal is to fertilize as many females as possible.  The female’s goal is to build the nest and raise the chicks.

 

Satin Bowerbird range. Courtesy birdsinbackyards.net

By building a tremendous bower he is expressing his proud ability to produce quality offspring, while at the same time attracting multiple mates.

 

Satin Bowerbird bird, Queensland

Satin Bowerbird bower, Queensland

He builds the bower usually with sticks or tall grass, then decorates with objects he finds.

 

Some of the decorations are organic, like flowers or feathers; and some are inanimate treasures, often shiny, like drinking straws or candy wrappers.

 

Sometimes rival males will steal attractive items from another male’s bower.  More details here.

 

The male painstakingly builds the bower, arranging and rearranging his special creation.  The courtship unfolds:  first the female visits the bower when the male is absent.  If she likes it, she returns when the male is present, and watches his strutting and bowing display.

 

Next she visits multiple bowers, eventually makes her choice, copulation occurs, and off she goes to build her nest.  The bower is not the nest, it is just a showy structure for attracting females.

 

Each bowerbird species builds differently.  The satin bowerbird, for example, uses many blue objects.  You can see from Athena’s photo there’s even a blue clothespin!

 

Golden Bowerbird, Australia

Golden Bowerbird, Australia

It has been observed that as satin bowerbirds mature, they get more skillful at choosing bluer objects.

 

Charles Darwin wrote about the bowerbirds, and scientists have been avidly studying this courtship ritual ever since.

 

Jet in forest with Golden Bowerbird bower

Jet in Queensland rainforest beside Golden Bowerbird bower

We discovered the golden bowerbird’s bower was very different from the satin bowerbird’s.

 

They decorate with flowers (often white) and fruit.  The smallest bowerbird (9 in. or 24 cm), yet they build one of the largest bowers.  I kneeled beside the bower for size comparison.

 

The golden bowerbird is only found in a tiny area of Queensland in the Atherton Tablelands.  More info here.

 

Right after that photo of me was taken, we encountered a bit of bird drama.  We apparently, and unknowingly, came close to a cassowary’s nest.

 

In case you are unfamiliar with a cassowary, they are also a rare bird–an endangered species.  But unlike the petite golden bowerbird, the cassowary is over six feet tall (182 cm), weighs 187 pounds (85 kg), and can kick a person to death.

 

Southern Cassowary, Queensland, Australia

Southern Cassowary, Queensland, Australia

We had no intention of disturbing the cassowary, but he was unconcerned with our good intentions.  So we had to leave the special bower quickly and quietly, to find safety.

 

That was a hair-raising experience, because the cassowary didn’t just let us leave.  The guide warned us (whispered nervously) not to turn our backs on a cassowary.

 

So we backed up–surrendering, going now, bye bye.  As we backed up, he advanced.  We backed up more, he advanced more.

 

When it was clear this wasn’t working, our guide–a large man–stood beside a wide tree and told the two of us to back up behind his human shield.

 

We did this, wondering if we would ever see him again.

 

About ten minutes later the guide emerged safely from the jungle.  We three got quickly into the car, locked the doors, and sat there, stunned; eventually drove off.

 

Most of the time finding bowers isn’t so dangerous.  In fact it is perfectly delightful.

 

Courtesy enchantedlearning.com

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

 

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67 thoughts on “Bowerbird Bowers

  1. This was totally fascinating Jet. Unbelievable how large the bowers get and from your description interesting with all the trinkets. Who knew how dangerous the Cassowary’s are? That was a lot of drama – but an interesting experience you’ll never forget. Wonderful post.

  2. What a fascinating story….one of the best yet!:) the bower decorations are simply glorious…..and such a sense of design and symmetry….The picture of you, Jet, next to the bower is extraordinary…..but even more so is the story of your encounter with the Cassowary!!! I know Australia is filled with the most unusual and extraordinary wildlife, but this really blows my socks off:) Thank you for so much food for thought…..and by the way what wonderful material for a children’s book…..Have a great weekend…janet. 🙂

  3. The male bowerbirds of Australia have some unusual behavior to to fertilize… Glad you had protection from the tour guide. 🙂 Great stories to share. Thank you, Jet!

  4. Great stories! You should write for the Australian Tourist Board – each Australian post nudges us closer to a trip – or maybe the alternative Australian tourist board…the cassowary tale is marvellous.
    Thanks, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thanks pc. Australia is a crazy place, and adventuring in some of the lesser known places is really fun, and at times a bit tricky. I’m glad you enjoyed the post today, and I really appreciate your weekly visits and comments. I sure enjoyed your excellent camping trip today too.

  5. Very impressed with the bowerbird’s craftsmanship! And – after seeing the photo of the cassowary I would also not turn my back to it:) Looks a bit angry doesn’t it?

  6. Another great adventure with some interesting creatures. Thanks for sharing it. It would be cool to have some birders discover a piece of evidence in a bower. Might make a cool murder mystery.

  7. How incredible to see both a Bower Bird and a Cassowary in their natural environment AND living to tell the tale. What an amazing guide as those Casdowary’s don’t mess around!

    • Your comment reflects your experience in Australia, Joanne. Yes a wild golden bowerbird and cassowary in the same quarter hour is mind-blowing. And he was an amazing guide. Cassowaries don’t mess around. His legs got all stiff and he marched around in a circle like a soldier, before he began advancing. And try walking backwards over fallen trees and thick vines under the dark canopy. It was quite an adventure — glad to share it with you. You know the quirks of Australia….lol.

  8. Thanks for introducing me to another new bird and the photos were wonderful. As I was reading about your encounter with the cassowary, it was delightful to realize the encounter between the bird and Anne and Brett in your book was based on your actual experience. Congratulations on writing and publishing a book. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing, the mystery and the Australian setting. It is great to add another mystery series to my collection and I’m looking forward to your next book.

    • I am flattered, ACI — I didn’t know you had read Wicked Walkabout, and of course this gives me a thrill. Yes, the rainforest/cassowary scene in WW was based on a real experience. I am delighted you enjoyed it. I am nearing the completion of Golden Gate Graveyard, currently working hard on Draft #13. It is based in San Francisco, also a mystery with Anne Lamington. You will definitely read about it here, and I’ll be revving up posts on SF as well. It’s a good story, I know you will like it. Many thanks.

  9. I’m pretty sure in a past life I must have been a bower bird…or want to be in the next life because of this: “the male’s goal is to fertilize as many females as possible.” So a bower is sort of like buying a Porsche, eh…just get them in the car and half the battle is won!

    • The cassowary nest is described as a “mattress.” A ground nest, it is 39″ wide (100cm) and 2-4″ thick (5-10cm). Their eggs are third largest in the world at approx. 1.5 lbs (584g) (ostrich and emu are bigger). A big bird with a big nest, you imagined correctly Nexi! Thanks very much for your comment.

  10. Absolutely fascinating these bowerbirds! and I had never heard of a Cassowary either. Amazing how the bowerbirds get attracted to coloured things, and then different colours depending on which kind of bowerbird they are.

    • I’m glad you found it fascinating, Bertie, I did too. They have very interesting behavior and have fascinated scientists, and folks like us, for centuries. Glad to introduce you to the cassowary too. Always a pleasure, my friend~~

  11. I absolutely loved this post, Jet. Thank you for sharing the story. I had no idea bowerbirds existed until now and what delightful and fascinating birds they are too! I’m glad you got away from the Cassowary in one piece…I’d have screamed the place down (I have something of a phobia of birds and can’t actually come face to face with one without a barrier of some sort in the way!) Thank you again, for another great post!

    • I am smiling from ear to ear, BHNT, thanks so much for your great feedback. I am happy you enjoyed the cassowary and bowerbird story, and were able to virtually join me in the Australian rainforest. So great to hear from you. 🙂

  12. You didn’t mention how your guide managed to get away from the cassowary after you snuck off to the car. You said he was a large man, but did he have to do battle? All in all an amazing adventure. Thanks for sharing it with us. Your posts never cease to amaze and inform.

    • He was a man who didn’t share his secrets. He didn’t say how he did it, but he did say this had never happened to him before. Thanks so much Gunta, for your continued interest — it is a great pleasure to me.

  13. wow! fascinating stories of birds! that must have been a scare with the cassowary Jet. but love the bowerbird courtship behavior 🙂 the golden male is gorgeous! thanks as always for sharing, 🙂

  14. Wow! What amazing adventures viewing, photographing, and recording rare species in the land down under. Your were fortunate to return safely with this fantastic post of your trip and present to us an exciting tale that kept me for one, glued to every word!

    • What a joy it is to receive your wonderful comment, Eddie. That was an adventure that was a whirlwind of activity and rarity, and one that I am happy to have been able to record and share. Thank you for your kind words my friend~~

  15. What a fascinating and eventful trip this was, Jet. I’ve heard about the bowerbirds and seen videos of their behaviors as you write about, but how exciting it must have been to stand to this large bower! The story of your encounter with the cassowary is incredible – so happy it ended peacefully on all sides 🙂

    • Thanks for your lovely comment, BJ. You know how the bird world is, you never know what you’re going to come across. We were in a very remote pocket of the rainforest. Our guide knew of the bower, but none of us knew if the bowerbird would actually be there, and then to come across the cassowary too was a thrill. Yes, it was a happy ending, and I am so glad to be able to share the story with you.

  16. Did anybody tell you that I’ve forgotten my good friend Jet?
    Just came back from the “Golden Gate Graveyard” … after checking out how things go there …
    I dare not look at what I’ve missed again dear Jet.I made a start here and I was amazed again by your birding experiences and the beautiful guys!Oh,that architect and decorater,the “womanizer who steals hearts.How beautiful he is!I so much enjoyed all the details on his behaviour towards Ms Bowerbird!She is not innocent at all though,she knows which side her bread is buttered lol.And last but not least,this magnificent flightless Cassowary bird with the flashy plumage,how beautiful he is!I’ll come back tonight or tomorrow to go through all of the posts I’ve missed.Those Greek islands kept me away from WP again.Hope you & Athena are keeping well and that you enjoyed your holidays 🙂 CU again ♥√v^√v^√ ི

    • My dear Doda, always a joy when you return, and I have no doubts you will. I smile here, glad to see you, and also happy to know you’ve been enjoying the deep blue waters and glorious Greek islands. I enjoyed your words and interpretations of the bowerbirds (“womanizer” lol) and your interest in my books. Today I work steadily on Golden Gate Graveyard manuscript and cover art, soon to be ready for readers. Your joyous presence was a great gift today, thank you.

  17. WoW, this is a very fascinating post! The bower birds, their bowers & mating routine are awesome. Love the part about the cassowary, and am very happy it all worked out well!

    • So glad I was able to have you “join” me in the Australian rainforest, Resa, to enjoy the golden bowerbird and southern cassowary. Thanks so much for your visits and comments, they are much appreciated.

  18. FASCINATING…both birds! The tall bower and courting behavior of the bowerbirds as well as the giant aggressor… casso-WARY, indeed. 😉

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