November 30, 2023

It has been a warm start to spring, and my neighbourhood has been absolutely overrun by a mob of rowdy, horny, young satin bowerbirds. I’m assuming they’re mostly juvenile males from the behaviour (hanging out in parks, acting moody, vaping …) but I’m no ornithologist, so take my observations with a grain of salt.

One of these rambunctious bowerbird youths has been constructing his bower a metre from where my kids jump on the trampoline.

The children have been rapt, watching the bowerbird between the fence slats as he’s been building, practising dance moves, singing, and occasionally bringing in a blue bottle cap or yellow flower – though these are quickly stolen by other bowerbirds, and often stolen back in turn.

We even got our David Attenborough on and set up a few cameras to record – you can check out the video above.

Seeing my kids’ fascination reminded me of when I was younger – satin bowerbirds are common on the Central Coast of New South Wales, where I grew up, and you’d occasionally come across a bower while charging through the bush.

There’s a unique kind of magic to stumbling across a fully decorated bower for the first time. Finding a structure built and designed by a non-human mind in the middle of a forest would be rare enough, but to find something that has been colourfully decorated is nothing short of amazing. It’s like coming across a fairy ring in the middle of nowhere – a natural phenomenon that could be mistaken for the work of pixies, or some other inhuman intelligence.

There are other birds that do this, of course – the black kite decorates its nest with white plastic, and the rock sparrow decorates with feathers.

The bowerbird is undoubtedly one of the most elegant and artful, however, with the curved walls of the bower framing their dance, and the choice and arrangement of decorations creating a visual illusion important to mating success.

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I also discovered, by rewatching the footage from our garden, that bowerbirds are capable mimics. They’re known to incorporate the songs of other birds into their mating displays. While I knew about the incredible mimicry of the superb lyrebird (which we’re also lucky enough to have nearby) I didn’t know bowerbirds could do it until I heard ours do his kookaburra impression.

So this year I am voting for the satin bowerbird in the Australian bird of the year poll. As everyone should.

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