Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The bowerbird near the heart of the city

It is quite amazing that a 40-minute tram ride and 5-minute walk away from my home, a Satin Bowerbird is building a new bower. But what is more amazing is that this isn’t a ride out of the city, but in to the very edge of the CBD.

There is a magical Australian Indigenous rainforest garden of gum trees, tree-ferns, palms, creepers, sedges, grasses and bushes flourishing in Melbourne, and it is not at the Botanical gardens. Nor is it in the walled garden of the Melbourne Club or any other exclusive garden of the city’s elite.

Enclosed by concrete walls, glass, steel mesh and a metal framework, this rainforest garden is at the Melbourne Museum and is the permanent Forest Gallery, demonstrating the natural and human forces that shape southeast Australia's forest ecology. This flourishing garden is habitat for tiny birds, frogs, blue-tongued lizards, insects, and a host of other creatures I have not yet encountered. It is also home to a pair of Satin Bowerbirds – male and female.

The Satin Bowerbird, Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, is common to the forests of eastern Australia from southern Queensland to Victoria. The male, whose stunning, shiny jet plumage provides the name, builds a bower of twigs and grasses on the ground and decorates it with bright objects, including flowers, berries and even plastic oddments, to woo a female to mate.

On a previous visit to the Museum's Forest Gallery, I noticed a stunning arrangement of blue plastic objects around the large bower near the path. Blue plastic spoons, straws, biro barrels, and milk bottle lids and broken bits of blue balloons were artfully arranged around the bower’s entrance and the ground around it. I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any photographs to show this brilliant display, but this Wikipedia image does the job.

On my visit there with my younger son last Sunday, however, this brilliant cerulean concourse was missing. I thought it had been washed out, raided by vandals, or tidied up by over-zealous clean-freaks who missed the point. The bower still stood, but seemed somewhat diminished.

Later, while quietly waiting for the tiny wrens to show themselves in the open part on higher ground, (my son and I love sit quietly to see how close the wrens will reach us before they dart off again), I noticed the Satin Bowerbird male was assembling a new bower.

I guessed that it was new because he was very busy with it – scuttling in and out, making adjustments to the arrangements of twigs and grass that are so minute to be barely perceptible, at least not to anyone else besides the Bowerbird and the female he is trying to woo with his bower.

And there didn't appear to be any blue bits and pieces around that bower, as though it weren't ready for the finishing touches that will attract the female to mate with him.

The irony is that after all that construction work, if the female is attracted by the male’s bower to mate with him, she will the fly off to build a separate nest in which to lay their eggs.

I wonder if she raids his love-shack for material to build the nest.

The photo is one I took of the Forest Gallery from a visit there early last year. You can see a photo of the Satin Bowerbird in its bower on the Museum’s website.

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At September 25, 2008 4:50 pm, Blogger unique_stephen said...

I love these guys.

Little bastards keep pinching our pegs.

At September 28, 2008 11:48 pm, Blogger parlance said...

I'm surprised. I didn't know about this display. I'll go and see it.

At September 29, 2008 8:32 pm, Anonymous Jarrett said...

Thanks! I'll definitely look for this little ecosystem next time I'm in Melbourne.


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