Satin bowerbirds: the obsessive-compulsive bachelors of the animal kingdom
Think of bachelor pads, and one pictures plasma-screen TVs, plush sofa beds, and gaming consoles. But humans aren’t the only species with a penchant for luxury housing; male satin bowerbirds skillfully construct personal ‘bachelor pads’, known as bowers, to impress the ladies.
Satin bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) are found along most of eastern and south-eastern Australia. Males and females are easily distinguishable, with the former having a full body of black iridescent feathers that appear a metallic blue under light, and the latter having an olive green/brown upper body and lighter scallop-patterned underside. Both have striking blue eyes.
The male satin bowerbird builds his bower on the ground out of sticks and twigs, erecting a U-shaped structure in the center (which the female will enter and where the mating ultimately takes place).
Just like an eligible bachelor would, he takes pride in furnishing and decorating his bower to make it as attractive as possible for the female during courtship. Interestingly enough, the satin bowerbird has a particularly specific preference for blue, and occasionally, yellow and shiny objects. These decorations come most commonly in the form of flowers and shells, though urbanisation has made access to man-made objects, such as bottle caps and straws, easy. In fact, these birds are so picky about their bower accessories that they never touch anything in red or pink (they have even been seen to purposefully remove items of these colours placed in their bowers), and are unique in displaying this almost-obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
It doesn’t end there; this colour-coordinated decoration isn’t all that likens the virile male satin bowerbird to his human counterpart. In a bid to outdo his competitors, the male satin bowerbird has been known to frequently steal more coveted decorative items (such as rare blue flowers or feathers) from, or even destroy, other bowers he sees. The rarer the object, the more desirable it is deemed, not unlike unique designer furniture pieces!
So why the fierce competition among males? A study by Gerald Borgia in 1985 provided empirical evidence that female satin bowerbirds favoured males with well-constructed, highly-decorated bowers, as bower quality is representative of the relative quality of the male (just like women who find men with posh houses attractive!). In fact, males with less flamboyant plumage make up for their lack of genetic physical attractiveness by building and maintaining more impressive bowers.
With his meticulous construction skills and sharp decoration abilities, the male satin bowerbird lays down his honey trap; the ladies move from bower to bower, carefully selecting the most attractive one. If things go his way, he’ll definitely be one happy bird!
Seeing is believing! Check these videos out:
Satin bowerbird courtship thievery
Satin bowerbird courtship rituals
Borgia, G., I. M. Kaatz & R. Condit, 1987. Flower Choice and bower decoration in the satin bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus: a test of hypotheses for the evolution of male display. Animal Behaviour, 35(4): 1129-1138.
Borgia, G., 1985. Bower quality, number of decorations and mating success of male satin bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus): an experimental analysis. Animal Behaviour, 33(1): 266-270.
“Satin Bowerbird: Basic Information”. Birdsinbackyards. URL: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Ptilonorhynchus-violaceus (accessed on 7 Apr 2013).
“Satin Bowerbird”. Wikipedia. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satin_Bowerbird (accessed on 7 Apr 2013).
“Satin Bowerbird Male,” by Brett Donald. Wikipedia, 2005. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Satinbowerbirdmale.jpg (accessed on 5 Apr 2013).
“Satin Bowerbird Female,” by Tatiana Gerus. Wikipedia, 26 Dec 2008. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ptilonorhynchus_violaceus_-Bunya_Mountains-8.jpg (accessed on 5 Apr 2013).
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-6yPpF1p9zc8/UQsxSzipSyI/AAAAAAAAJ-4/4rhQF3elvks/s1600/Satin+bowerbird.jpg (accessed on 5 Apr 2013).
“Crime of Passion,” by nana443 YouTube Channel, 3 July 2008. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ32_ijdmLo (accessed on 8 Apr 2013).
“Courtship display of the Satin Bowerbird,” by ElliotBurch13 YouTube Channel, 9 Oct 2010. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_BurGW2rPU (accessed on 8 Apr 2013).
I’ve started laying blue objects on the table in front of my wife.