Romance and architecture. The bowerbird is designed to impress.
Most of our articles highlight how bio inspiration is used by scientists to engineer products that better mankind. But sometimes, we simply have to talk about animals with fascinating instinctual abilities. Almost all animals are designed to reproduce and ensure the success of the next generation, but birds take this to a whole new level.
This article was published in our February newsletter first. When Mel and I discussed which bird was the most romantic, we thought about those who mixed dance and design. While there were several birds who fell into this artistically gifted category, the bowerbirds stood out. Here’s why:
Driven to Design
Male bowerbirds are famous for creating complicated bowers that are used for display during the mating ritual. Each bower is unique to the species as well as the individual male and his available resources. To attract females, the male builds, decorates, and maintains an elaborate structure made from twigs and objects like brightly colored stones, fresh flowers, and fruit that he intricately places to create the most impressive display.
There are three main facets to bower architecture:
- A cleared area containing an “avenue” or domed tunnel of sticks, just wide enough for a bowerbird to pass through.
- A “display court” at the end of the tunnel with large leaves laid upside down or tiled with rocks.
- A “maypole,” which uses a sapling as a central tower, with an assortment of vegetation packed around the base, with or without a roof, sometimes many feet tall.
According to an article by the San Diego Zoo, different species favor different colors. For example, the striped gardener bowerbird prefers yellow, red, and blue objects. The fawn-breasted bowerbird favors green. Sometimes, males of some species will “paint” their walls with a mixture of charcoal dust and saliva or plant juices. The bird uses his beak or a bit of chewed bark as a paintbrush.
The great bowerbird appears to build its bower using a special optical effect. By carefully arranging objects on either side of the aisle, increasing size from the female, the male appears bigger and grander at the other end. When researchers purposely rearranged the items, the bowerbirds switched them back over the course of three days.
“’Great bowerbirds are the first known animals besides humans who create a scene with altered visual perspective for viewing by other individuals,’” John Endler of Deakin University in Australia said. The phys.org article quoting him continues, “He compares the bowerbirds’ design to the altered visual perspective that humans use to make structures appear bigger than reality, like scenes at an amusement park. Only bowerbirds use it for the opposite effect. He desires the scene to look smaller, so he appears larger to the female when he performs his special dance.”
- Depending on their species, some bowerbirds can live up to 30 years.
- Bowerbirds can be found on the island of New Guinea and northern parts Australia. They live in tropical forests, mangroves, eucalyptus stands, and savanna woodlands.
- After mating, the female flies away and builds a cup-shaped nest in an elevated bush or tree. She lays 1-3 eggs and cares for them alone.
- Bowerbirds can mimic other birds and sounds from their environment in order to attract a mate or to deter predators.
- All bowerbirds are frugivores, living mainly on the fruits of trees and bushes; occasionally, they eat insects, spiders, and seeds.
Check out the above video for the regent bowerbird’s romantic dance. Like us, he’s not always successful, but he never gives up. Persistence is key! (I sure am glad my sole purpose isn’t to attract a mate :-/).
Which birds do you think are most romantic?
Do you have a favorite bird?
If you like articles about bio inspiration and the fascinating design of plants and animals, then you might like this article on the burdock plant. You can also sign up for our newsletter. Along with cryptids, we highlight those fascinating creature we know exist and how they better our lives or our world. You can sign up below, in the sidebar, or simply navigate to a different page and that annoying pop up will appear in 30 seconds.
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