The Constant Gardener – Vogelkop Bowerbird

During my visit to the Arfak mountains in West Papua (see previous post) i spent a considerable amount of time after Birds of Paradise, waiting lengthy hours in hides for birds to display or trekking the steep slopes in the hope of fleeting views of Black Sicklebill or Arfak Astrapia. No matter how exhilarating the quest was, the results in terms of quality of sightings and photograph opportunities were slightly disappointing. But this negative undertone was more than offset by the pleasure of watching one bird, actually not really the bird itself but the amazing construction the male puts up : the Vogelkop Bowerbird.

In the mountains above Siyoburi, this is a fairly common bird, i could often hear its varied harsh and metallic calls, and during the 8km or so trek to the top of the ridge almost a dozen of its bowers could be seen close to the trail, some still in construction, some already abandoned, and some at their apogee. The basic design is similar for all bowers : an intricate cone-shaped stack of thin bare branches form a hut with a front entrance, and various collections of forest material are disposed inside or in front of the hut to produce a stunning display site, built by the male bird with the aim of attracting female birds. All bowers are however different : the shape of the hut, the choice of display items. colors and shapes, their arrangement. Typically the Bowrebirds would pick fruits, berries, flowers, mushrooms, beetle elitra, etc… , but when close to villages colored plastic or metal items are also chosen as long as the bird finds enough of them to make it a collection. One bird had a few film rolls collected, leftover from some past expedition, maybe belonging to Sir David…

All this building takes almost a year, and the male bird makes daily visit to its bower, cleaning the place from fallen leaves, or just subtly rearranging items and branches of the hut in search of perfection. I wonder how the whole thing survives from foraging wild pigs or the occasional Dwarf Cassowary…

I don’t think any other animal in the world produces something that so closely resembles a human work of art. Granted, the purpose of this is fairly prosaic, but doesn’t mate selection play a greater role in all our endeavors than what we are generally prepared to admit ?

9 thoughts on “The Constant Gardener – Vogelkop Bowerbird

  1. Bonjour Yann,

    Une fois de plus, vos photos sont, à la fois, belles et intéressantes, alliant qualité photographique et intérêt scientifique. Votre série sur l’oiseau jardinier brun est exceptionnelle. La photo montrant un mâle picorant le fil de votre appareil photo révèle une certaine curiosité de ces oiseaux, contribuant certainement au développement de leur goût décoratif. Comme je rédige, en ce moment, un livre sur les oiseaux à berceaux, j’aimerais reproduire une ou deux de vos photos. Quel est votre condition de reproduction?


  2. I agree with Michel. The photo of the bower bird on the camera is not just amusing but a wonderful behavioural insight into its curiosity. Wonderful set of photos.

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