I was wandering around the yard enjoying the cool July weather and quietly adding to my to-do list when I noticed an untidy pile of sticks in the garden bed at the front of the house. I was about to add ‘tidy-up garden beds’ to my list when I looked again and saw that the untidy pile of sticks actually had an intricate structure to it, and surrounding it was a smattering of blue objects. Incredibly, despite being surrounded by extensive and diverse bushland in Brisbane, a Satin Bowerbird had chosen to build its bower in a garden right next to our house. Excited, I headed off to share this find with our three young boys.

Revegetation and bush regeneration have been passions of mine for some time. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a number of properties over the years, and even more lucky to have moved to a bush block in Upper Brookfield where I’ve been able to indulge my passion for revegetation over the last 5 years. We joined the Land for Wildlife program as soon as we could, and the support, guidance and enthusiasm of the team over the years, in particular Catherine Madden, Fflur Collier and Cody Hochen, has been invaluable.

Two Satin Bowerbirds in immature plumage.
Two Satin Bowerbirds – the bird to the right is in partial adult plumage, suggesting it is about 5-6 years old. They start developing adult plumage at age five.
Two Satin Bowerbirds – the bird in the bower is in adult plumage suggesting it is at least 7 years old with the right-hand bird in partial adult plumage.
This Satin Bowerbird is making his eyes bulge – one of the various acts performed during courtship displays.

After discovering the bower, I was able to borrow a fauna camera through the program, surreptitiously placing it near the bower to record the comings and goings. What followed was an interesting revelation to me. The bower turned out to be what is called a ‘practice bower’. Typically, mature male Satin Bowerbirds build a bower decorated with predominantly blue objects to attract females. They undertake a courtship dance, parading favourite blue objects, and if the dance-off is successful, mating occurs at the bower site. The female than builds a separate nest where the eggs are laid.

The practice bower is where immature male bowerbirds learn the art of bower building and courtship displays. After leaving the camera in place for a week, we recorded hundreds of images of this behaviour, with up to four immature male bowerbirds gathering objects, adding and rearranging sticks and often performing for each other. Leaves, blue pegs, Blue Billy Goat flowers, a blue biro, blue bottle lids, ‘nerf gun’ bullets and various bits of blue streamers made up the bulk of the objects that were proudly displayed. Sadly, most of the objects were plastics gleaned from the local area.

The bowerbirds chose to build their bower in garden beds planted with native species. With the exception of some grevilleas and native gardenias, all are local endemic species. The vegetation surrounding the bower is comprised of sparse clumping species like lomandras, dianella and native ginger with smaller shrubs like butterfly bush, hovea, native holly and bursaria providing structure under the larger grevilleas. This provided open ground between clumping plants that enabled the construction of the bower, with a dense mid-stratum providing shelter.

The bowerbirds seem to have packed up for the season as I write, probably heading higher up in the D’Aguilar Ranges as part of a seasonal altitudinal migration. Whilst the use of native species in the garden beds may or may not have influenced the placement of the bower, I’d like to think it did, and I hope they return in the coming years to utilise our garden.

Article and photos by Phil MacDonald
Land for Wildlife member
Upper Brookfield, Brisbane
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One response on “Young bowerbirds and their practice bowers

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Joy.
    About 7 years ago, we unknowingly set up our two person tent within two metres of a bower, belonging to a Great Bowerbird, found only in the Top End.
    This species has a distinctive purple/pink nape crest, which it displays by turning its head to face down and away.
    This was at Wangi Falls in Litchfield National Park.
    Our entire camping group were also treated to a “noisy” mating dance in broad daylight, in which the male displayed his purple head plumage to good effect.
    I am hoping to find a photo from our archives to show you.

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