Pretend for a moment that you’re a male bird. Your singing voice is ho-hum, your dance moves are less than impressive and you lack the colourful plumage of a peacock or a mandarin duck. How do you go about attracting the opposite sex? You could take the lead from the bowerbird and create your very own pageant of colour.
Native to New Guinea and Australia, bowerbirds are named for the intricate bowers that they construct to attract mates. The structures themselves are architectural wonders – tunnel-like walkways and peak-roofed temples made from twigs and grass. But, the icing on the cake is how the bowerbird decorates his handiwork. Inside and outside each structure the industrious male places a collection of colourful trinkets that he has assembled for the courtship. The offerings range from natural objects such as shells, flowers, berries, and feathers, to scavenged man-made materials like bottle tops, clothes pegs, coins, straws and pieces of glass. The flotsam and jetsam are typically arranged in distinct piles according to colour. Often the presentation consists of items from a single colour family. In an effort to enhance their display, bowerbirds will even pilfer objects from neighbouring bowers. Boys will be boys.
Scientists have different theories as to why the bowerbird goes to such lengths to attract a mate, however, there is no consensus on exactly why. As researcher Felicity Muth explains in Scientific American magazine, “As it has taken evolution millions of years to create this unusual bird and it takes males years to learn how to build the perfect bower, it’s not surprising that it will take us humans a bit more time to reveal all the secrets of these avian artists.”