How it all began
Who knew that one of the world’s greatest avian love stories occurred after one of the biggest break-ups in history? Over 40 million years ago, Australia ended its million plus year attachment to a large landmass including Antarctica and South America to go it alone.
Isolated from the rest of the world, the flora and fauna of this new continent evolved a unique character of its own including a most peculiar species of bird obsessed with creating one of the best bachelor pads in the animal kingdom, the bowerbird.
Currently, there are 17 different species of bowerbirds in Australia and on the neighboring island of New Guinea. Named after the elaborate bowers (or thatched structures) they create, this species understands the importance of living a stylish life and that the odds of landing a lovely female bowerbird directly relates to the construction, layout and decoration of your love shack.
The different types of bowers
These amorous avian architects are known to create three kinds of bowers: maypoles, mats and avenues.
The simplest of structures, the mat bowerbirds create a thick lush floor of soft plant material and organize a ring of ornaments atop. The subtle yet confident approach.
Maypole builders construct towers of twigs around one or a few saplings creating a hut-like roof with ornaments arranged inside and out and even a suspended bridge between the towers for the male to perch upon. This approach seems to say, “Hey, I’m not afraid of a challenge!”
Finally, the avenue bowerbird creates two walls of vertical twigs that sometimes connect to make a tunnel with ornaments inside and out that says, “Look, I’ve built you a road right to my heart.”
King of the bachelor pad
For most male bowerbirds, ornaments or decorations include the usual leaves, flowers, feathers, stones and berries but some males, in an effort to display their cunning and resourcefulness, have sought out coins, nails, rifle shells, pieces of glass, spoons and even a glass eye! While most of these materials are acquired the old fashion way by searching and carefully choosing only the best decoration, other more shrewd bowerbirds have been observed stealing ornaments from their neighbors bowers. Particularly, the younger male bowerbirds are known to embrace petty thievery.
The male bowerbird spends countless hours arranging and rearranging his decorations inside and outside his bower all in an effort to attract that special lady, or ladies. Males are polygynous, meaning they mate with several female bowerbirds.
So after all of this hard work and attention to detail into creating the best bachelor pad on the block, bowerbirds must have a pretty decent success rate with the females, right? Wrong. For many males, especially the younger ones, the effort will have been in vain as a recent study observed 75% of female bowerbirds only visited one bower before mating. However, with age comes wisdom and older males generally enjoy multiple female visitors stopping by for a peek. Additionally, bowerbirds are relatively long-lived and it is thought the female bowerbird may remember the best males from previous years. More proof that a female never forgets!
These are all the reasons why I’ve fallen madly in love with the bowerbird. Do you love the bowerbird as much as me or is there another species that’s captured your heart? If so, why don’t you get involved with our Love Species Campaign on Twitter and tell the world about your love for your favorite species?
Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA