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SATIN BOWERBIRD

Ptilonorhynchus violaceus

By Danielle Davis

Images by Alicia Carter, Sharon McGrigor & Dave Pinson

Video by Sharon McGrigor


There are 18 species of genus ptilonorhynchus Bowerbird in the world, (mainly New Guinea and Australia) of them 7 species are found in Australia of which 4 live in New South Wales. They are the Satin Bowerbird, Regent Bowerbird, Spotted Bowerbird & Green Catbird.

Considered very advanced birds from the males amazing sexual displays and his complicated nest building, the Satin Bowerbird gets its name from the intricately weaved “bower” that the male builds to entice the females to mate with him.

With a solid mat floor of small sticks the elaborately built U-shaped bower is made out of twigs and sticks woven into the walls, which run in a north-south direction. The dominant males brilliantly decorates the platforms at either end of the bower  with flowers, feathers, berries, shells, leaves and when around humans, will use objects such as pegs and bits of plastic usually predominantly blue in colour but will use some yellow or green objects as well. They also paint the walls with charcoal and their saliva coloured from fruits. The bower is not a nest, but an attractive “avenue” made by the males to hopefully entice and impress any female into it.

When they are not feeding the males spend much of their time in the bower calling to potential female mates and warning off any other male rivals. Males with the most highly decorated bowers achieve the most matings with females, who can be very fussy. Mating is performed within the walls of his bower.

Bowerbirds are very closely related to Birds of Paradise, and species are found in many parts of New Guinea and Australia.

Satin Bowerbirds may form large flocks in the non breeding season and live mainly in forests, rainforests and the edges of drier forests on the coast and adjacent ranges of Eastern Australia.

 

They’re found from Cooktown in Queensland to south of Melbourne in Victoria. During autumn and winter, they leave their forest habitat and move into open woodlands to forage from ground to tree canopy on their diet of mainly fruits but will also eat larvae, spiders, small lizards & frogs, seeds and insects. However, with the arrival of the spring breeding season they collect together in small groups, inhabiting territories which they apparently occupy year after year. Each mature male bird protects and defends a separate court & bower inside a traditional courtship area and tends his own bower throughout the year. Young male bowerbirds spend much of their time when not feeding, practicing building bowers.

Both male and female Satin Bowerbirds have bright lilac-blue eyes, but here the similarities end.

 

The mature male is about 27-35 centimetres long, and his plumage is black with a glossy purple-blue sheen. Until he moults into this plumage during his seventh year, his plumage resembles that of the female.

 

 

 

 

The female is slightly smaller and looks very different, coloured with green, grey-green, dusky brown and dark brown. Her underbody is buff to cream, marked with dark olive-grey to dusky grey crescents.

 

 

 

Their call in alarm is a harsh, wheezing hiss but when feeding in flocks they can make continuous croaking sounds, explosive churrings and whirring rattles but are more silent in the non breeding season. In display the males emit harsh chatterings, buzzing and creaking churrings interspersed with loud ringing notes and mimicry of local birds.

September-February is courting and breeding season which sees the male Satin Bowerbird actively, and only in front of females, prancing and dancing about stiff-legged with his tail raised over his back, jumping over the bower, pointing his beak to the ground, with exaggerated postures of begging and aggression, flinging his wings about and strutting his stuff around his bower so much so his eyes bulge outwards!

 

During this performance he offers the female items from his collection of mainly blue objects, while making a series of hissing, chattering and scolding noises. If she is interested then mating takes place in the avenue of the bower.

 

 

She then leaves to nest on her own while and the male stays to mate with several females in a single season not taking apart in any of the incubation or raising of the chicks.

 

 

Only the female builds the nest and after mating goes off alone to this shallow, saucer-shaped construction of twigs and dry leaves, placed 10-15m above the ground in the upright outer branches of a tree. The nest is lined with fine dry leaves.

 

 

She lays 1-3 cream- light brown spotted eggs, which she incubates for 21-22 days then raises her chicks on her own, who take approx. 19-22 days to fledge (fly and leave the nest) then they are conducted to a nursery area where she tends them for another 8-9 weeks.

Immature male in bower

 

 

 

Updated March 18, 2017  

Webmaster: Susanne Ulyatt

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