Monday, April 28, 2008

Animal Architects - the Bowerbird

There's been so much talk in the news regarding the housing market that I thought we might take a look at animal housing. Or, more appropriately, animal architects. This week we're going to focus on what kind of brilliant construction projects are out there and why and how animals create them.

Our first architect is the Bowerbird. A truly amazing little fellow, they are generally about the size of a pigeon. The builder among these birds is the male and he builds his remarkable structure to attract the attention of a female. Bowerbirds don't live in the bower, or nest and raise young there. The construction is all for the purpose of attraction and mating – a genuine "bachelor pad."

Depending on species, bowerbirds will build one of 3 different types of bower – a "maypole", an "avenue", or a "mat." Mats are fairly simple constructions consisting of a cleared area, possibly padded with plants, and ringed by ornaments like flowers or leaves.

The "avenue" is more detailed. Twin walls of twigs are erected and decorated. Occasionally these walls will arch over the empty space and form a tunnel. Some species of bowerbirds use a leaf or twig to paint the inside of these walls with charcoal and saliva.

The most elaborate bowerbird creation is the "maypole." These constructions use the trunks of young trees as support and stretch a roof-like awning over a broad expanse of ground. The courtyard, as it is called, is heavily decorated with flowers, shells, pebbles, fruits and all manner of brightly colored objects. The male bowerbird carefully arranges all of these objects and removes wilted or unattractive items from the area. He will also plant a lawn of moss under and around his bower, perhaps to draw more attention to his collections. Interestingly, the duller the bowerbird's plumage, the more elaborate and colorful their creation.

What do female bowerbirds think of all this? Only 25% of females visit more than one male's bower before mating. Then the female is off to solitarily build a nest, hatch the eggs and raise the young. Thank goodness she can manage on her own because the males are so wrapped up with the construction, decoration and upkeep of their "pad," they would have no time. Maybe if they snagged one of our snazzy Jungle Store birdhouses they could share a little incubating duty.

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