Monday, August 29, 2011

Animal Alphabet: V is for Vogelkop Bowerbird

A few people have expressed concern or curiosity, so if you're reading this and are worried about how my part of Vermont weathered Irene, let me say that our house was unscathed. Irene hit here as a lot of rain and wind, but really if I hadn't been warned I'd have had no reason not to think it was just a longer-than-usual summer storm. Spend your cares instead on the Schulz Library at CCS, in a different part of the state, a lot closer to a river and with more cause for concern.

This week's Animal Alphabet critter doesn't look like much:

But, in fact, the Vogelkop bowerbird is one of the most amazing instances of the variety and splendor of the natural world.

Rather than trying to impress his mate with elaborate feathers, wattles, or dancing displays, the male bowerbird builds and decorates a structure for the female to inspect. And the Vogelkop bowerbird, more than any of its relatives, constructs an impressive and wondrous gallery, collecting colorful seeds, flowers, fungus, snail shells, beetle elytra, and even human detritus from around the forest, and arraying these collections in an area under his bower as much as five or six yards across.

Every male collects different items and arranges them according to his personal (if that's the right word) taste.

This is a pretty crummy drawing. Go look at David Attenborough investigating a real Vogelkop bower.

I think you will agree with me on this point: if you were walking through the Vogelkop peninsula of New Guinea without any knowledge of the bowerbirds, and you encountered one of these structures with its array of ornaments and its piles sorted with obvious regard to aesthetics, you'd believe it was made by a human. Or a fairy. Or a spirit creature. Or a smurf. Something.

Next week: probably my last sea creature, and it's a doozy.


Loops O'Fury said...

There was a spread on Bowerbirds in Nat Geo several months ago. Fascinating how the structures vary in size and style. The birds seem almost human when they get all persnickety over the decorations. I read that some of them flip out if anything is moved out of place.

Curious Art said...

I've been fascinated by these dudes ever since I was a child. The bowers are absolutely magical.

I loved the goth bowerbird in the vid pruning the offending white fungus from his dark palette. It's tough being a purist.