Bowerbird is the common name for any of several species of birds of the Ptilonorhynchidae family of Australia and New Guinea, the males of which build beautiful and elaborate nests of sticks or grasses called bowers which is the central feature of their mating ritual. In 1872, naturalist Odoardo Beccari was the first to record observations of a bowerbird’s bower. He thought it was made by a person because he considered it too artistic and elaborate to be the work of an animal.
Naturalist David Attenborough describes these bachelor pads as “a giant bower woven around a single sapling, carpeted with moss… the ultimate seduction parlour.” The bower is actually a tunnelling structure that creates an illusion of uniformity. These make the males appear much larger than they actually are. Research by Evolutionary Biologist John Endler’s research has shown that the one who creates the best illusions gets the most dates. Are females attracted to magicians? Or does size really matter? Until we can communicate with the feathered females, we can only guess. But one thing is for sure: beauty matters. The Navajo have a concept, “hozho naasha”, which translates as “Walking in Beauty”. They believe that beauty exists within us and around us as the light reflects through a rainbow. They honour the four directions with different colours and objects, just as the Bowerbird lines his home with colour and light; the objects could number in the thousands! The rainbow symbolizes communication between creator and perfection. Bowerbirds are avid collectors of colourful treasures; some species favour objects coloured red and orange while others, exclusively blue.
Bowerbirds live up to thirty years and can spend half a decade building the bower. This models for us the patience, dedication, focus and fortitude of true artistry. Their home decor includes flowers, fungus, deer dung, charcoal, grey stones, bones, feathers, fruit, shells and human materials like plastic, marbles, glass, metals. They are aware, opportunistic and imaginative in their choice of objects: all qualities humans would benefit storing in the bowers of their own consciousness. The birds lay these on top of mossy floors. The bower provides comfort, shelter and safety, along with a place to rendezvous with their lovers. It reminds even the most flighty and spiritual artists among us that we have bodies that need attention and care.
During Spring time escapades, if a female is interested, she will fly from bower to bower, inspecting them from both outside and inside of the avenue. While the female is inside, the male will stand in the court just outside her view and display his prized, brightly coloured objects. He will dance a unique and bizarre dance, another display of his artistry and creativity. If she is impressed with him, she will allow him to approach and dance with her.
Bowerbirds teach us that effort, resilience and innovation is necessary for bringing the beautiful within us out for all the world to see. The Bowerbird shows us how to become a shiny being ourselves, in the safety of a nest we have built with our own two talons.