Animals

Bowerbirds

Bowerbirds are a group of passerines that belong to the family Ptilonorhynchidae. They can be found in Australia and New Guinea.

They live in forests, grasslands and semi-desert habitats.

To attract females, the males of most species of bowerbird build complex shelters, known as bowers, out of twigs, leaves and moss.

The male bowerbird decorates his bower with a variety of objects, such as flowers, berries, feathers, pebbles, shells and insect parts. The male may even use human-made objects, such as coins, buttons, marbles, bottle caps or bits of glass, plastic or aluminum foil as decorations.

Male satin bowerbird, photo by Glen FergusThe male arranges these objects meticulously. Every decoration must be in a specific place. If someone moves an object while he is away from the bower, he will immediately move it back to its original position once he returns.

Some bowerbirds paint the inside of their bowers using paint made of saliva and chewed-up plant material and a twig or a leaf as a paintbrush, an example of tool use in birds.

A bower can take as long as 10 months to complete.

Some bowerbird species are known as mat builders. The males use leaves to create a thick mat, or platform, on the forest floor.

Other bowerbird species are called maypole builders. The males of these species build bowers in which twigs are arranged in a circle around a sapling or fern. The bower may have a roof that is supported by twigs, which act as pillars, converting the bower into a shelter that resembles a hut.

Mat builders and maypole builders are called gardener bowerbirds or because their bowers are surrounded by "gardens" that are decorated with objects that the male has collected.

The Vogelkop bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata), sometimes called the Vogelkop gardener bowerbird, the crestless bowerbird or the crestless gardener bowerbird, is a maypole builder. The thatched-roof hut that surrounds its bowers' central maypole of its bower" may be more than 6 feet across. The hut contains two chambers that are decorated with flowers.

The streaked bowerbird (Amblyornis subalaris), also known as the orange-crested bowerbird or the orange-crested gardener bowerbird, is also a maypole builder. The male carpets bower with soft green moss and decorates it with flowers. The bower is surrounded with a ring made of twigs that can be two feet across. The ring contains two different entrances to the bower.

The bower of an avenue builder is made up of two parallel vertical walls of twigs that form an "avenue" in between them. The male places decorations at the entrance to the avenue. Sometimes, the two walls are arched so that they join to form a roof over a tunnel that the bird and his mate can walk through.

Bower of male satin bowerbird, photo by Mila ZinkovaThe satin bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) is an avenue builder. The male satin bowerbird prefers to decorate his bower with blue objects - from blueberries to pieces of blue plastic.

Most bowerbirds are polygamous. The males and will try to mate with as many females as they can.

Mating takes place within the bower.

When a female comes to inspect the bower, he sings to her, puffs up his feathers and struts about in an attempt to get her to enter.

If the male is successful in his attempts to woo the female, the couple will mate in the bower.

Once mating is finished, the female will fly off by herself and then build a nest, made of soft plant material, on her own.

The female will incubate and raise her chicks by herself.

Once the female has left the bower, the male will try to attract more females so he can mate with them.

Sometimes male bowerbirds will steal decorations from the bowers of rival males or try to tear down their rivals' bowers.

Since designing a bower that is both sturdy and attractive to female requires a relatively high level of intelligence, some scientists think that the courtship behavior of bowerbirds helps to ensure that the more intelligent males reproduce and pass on their genetic material.

Bowerbirds are usually plain-colored. Male bowerbirds rely on their bowers, rather than on their physical appearance, to attract females.

The call of most bowerbird species is a wheezing or hissing noise. However, the bowerbird is an accomplished mimic, and can imitate the calls of other bird species as well as sounds made by other animals and the human voice.

Australasian Catbirds

Australasian catbirds are members of the bowerbird family.

They are known as catbirds because their calls sound like the meows of cats.

Some people say that these birds sound like crying human babies.

There are birds in Africa and the Americas that are also known as catbirds because they have similar sounding calls, but they are not closely related to the Australasian catbirds.

There are two genera of Australasian catbirds: Scenopooetes and Ailuroedus.

Scenopooetes contains only one known species: the tooth-billed catbird (Scenopooetes dentirostris).

The tooth-billed catbird is a mat builder. Its bower consists of a display area, sometimes called a "court" or a "stage" on the forest floor. The stage is decorated with green leaves that are placed so the pale side is facing up. The tooth-billed catbird is sometimes called the stagemaker.

Catbirds of the genus Ailuroedus are the only monogamous bowerbirds. The males do not build bowers.

There are three known species of Ailuroedus: the green catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris), the white-eared catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides) and the spotted catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis).