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Bowerbird caught in the act

Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)
Published 01 Oct 2016 by Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)

According to the Field Guide to Australian Birds, the male Great Bowerbird is a sedentary fella who prefers to adorn his twin-walled bower with bleached bones and shells. But at Yourka Reserve, we know differently.

For the last 8 years we've shared our home with a Chlamydera kleptomaniac. An experience which has, at times, left us scratching our heads and, at others, had us rolling in laughter at his peculiar taste and crafty behaviour.

Just 60m below the shed that is the Yourka field station we have witnessed the construction of four separate bowers overs the years. The selection of adornments has been many and varied.

The year our middle daughter turned three, the bird decided his best bet to impress a lady friend was with a plastic Dorothy the Dinosaur tea set that he stole from the sandpit.

Tiny pink cutlery, little purple plates, a green sugar bowl and a miniature purple teapot took pride of place at the bower entrance.

The following year he went with the more traditional approach. White snail shells were back ‘in’ but he still kept that little tea pot and added some fencing wire, a toy spatula and a toothbrush (!?)

More recently he has been getting quite brazen, regularly entering the kitchen and the workshop and even raiding the bin to pinch a scrap of plumbers tape or the clip off a bread bag. Things that you don’t even notice are missing.

Then there are the things you do miss, like the lid off a water bottle, or the plug for the kitchen sink.

You search and search and finally resign yourself to the fact that you're losing your marbles. You don’t think for a second that it could be the bird.

Six months ago we lost the spare key to the shed. The kids got the blame, then the contractor, the volunteers, even I came under suspicion (!) Not for a second did we suspect our stealthy neighbour. It was a day of hilarious exoneration when the kids and I led a group of Bush Heritage supporters down to check out the bowers only to find the key, with it’s long tail of fluoro pink flagging tape (so that it couldn’t get lost of course) centre-stage in bower number four!

For years, Paul has said he’s felt like he is being watched, so yesterday we thought we’d turn the tables on our feathered friend and point the camera on him. At the moment he is actively refurbishing, maintaining, defending, and even displaying at his bower. With the help of a trail camera we watched his antics throughout his very busy day.

He entertained guests, he scared off another male intruder, he straightened a few twigs and he shifted a little red, plastic cap six times before he was finally happy with it’s positioning.

Where did the little red cap come from? The top of the trail camera aerial of course!

Today we decided to do a little experiment. The kids collected an assortment of small items and laid them out on the concrete beside the kitchen. We all placed our bets on what he might choose, with our highest stakes on the red items as this seems to be the flavour of the month. We set up the camera and headed out for the day. To our surprise he went straight to the snail shell. It was the only item he took. Perhaps he is a traditionalist after all?

What a privilege it is to be able to observe this quirky avian behaviour over many years at such close quarters.

We’d like to say a special thank you to our recent Bush Heritage visitors whose generous donation funded the set of trail cameras that have added a whole new level to our species surveillance… and our broader monitoring program. Stay tuned for the latest pics of our resident freshwater crocodile caught on camera!

Despite being spoilt for choice, the bower bird selects another snail shell for his collection. Despite being spoilt for choice, the bower bird selects another snail shell for his collection.
A silent visitor passes through. A silent visitor passes through.
The male bows his head to display the pink crest at the nape of his neck while his mate inspects his skills in interior decoration. The male bows his head to display the pink crest at the nape of his neck while his mate inspects his skills in interior decoration.
Do you think he's on to us? Note the brand new drink bottle lid on the left and the Agile wallaby paused back right. Do you think he's on to us? Note the brand new drink bottle lid on the left and the Agile wallaby paused back right.
The lost shed key. The lost shed key.

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