Five Satin Bowerbirds

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love (the creative spirit) sent to me:
Five Satin Bower Birds building
Four Australian Fur Seals Frolicking
Three Tasmanian Tigers barking
Two Superb Lyrebirds Mimicking
and a Kookaburra up a Gum Tree

The fame of the Australian bowerbird partially stems from the practice of building, decorating, and meticulously maintaining a bower to attract females. Naturalist David Attenborough describes these bachelor pads as “a giant bower woven around a single sapling, carpeted with moss… the ultimate seduction parlour.” The highly-decorated halls of the Satin Bowerbird must be regarded as the most wonderful instances of bird architecture yet discovered.

Laurie Ross has photographed a birds pride an joy. Male satin bowerbirds roam the streets and countryside thieving treasures to adorn their bedrooms. Both mature and immature males build bowers and display to prospective females during the breeding season. Bowerbirds build their stick structures and decorate their bowers with colourful objects. These birds are also known to steal decorations from each other.

The Satin Bowerbird’s bachelor pad consisting of two parallel walls of sticks, is built on the ground.  The male decorates it with bright blue coloured objects that it collects; blue clothes pegs, drinking straws and bottle tops are among the favourite stolen items, while bright blue parrot feathers, flowers and brown snail shells, make up the majority of decorations away from human habitation. A mixture of chewed vegetable matter and saliva is used to paint the walls of the bower.

Bowerbirds live up to thirty years and can spend half a decade building the bower. This provides a  model of the patience, dedication, focus and fortitude demanded of true artistry. The bowerbird is aware, opportunistic and imaginative in their choice of objects: all qualities humans would benefit storing in the bowers of their own consciousness.

Pauline Connolly, a lover of books and birds, compares objects found by the bowerbird in the times gone by, with the things they gather today. In doing so she provides a snapshot of life 70 years ago.

The Aboriginal people called this bird the ‘ghost bird’ because it may also collect bones for its bower. The association with ghosts might also be related to the fact that the bowerbird can throw his voice and imitate the sounds of dogs, people and other birds; things which aren’t there.

Jennifer Ackerman takes the times to observe birds in her writings. Her book, The Genius of Birds, includes a chapter describing the artistry of the satin bowerbird. Ackerman notes that European naturalists were perplexed whey they found these bowers and thought they had stumbled on fanciful dollhouses made by aboriginal children or their mothers. Like those before her, she is awed by the industriousness of this highly skilled, feathered builder.

Antares Iron Garden Newstead

No doubt, mere mortals, such as myself, are so impressed by the skill of these birds because we can relate to their obsession.  Perhaps with a different motive, we assemble things and decorate ‘our nests’. I love finding old things that I can place, strategically around the garden. For example, I have a collection of old bird cages and wheelbarrows. Then there are the stones that I have picked up and arranged around some large planters.

I am fortunate enough to have visited, Antares, an iron art garden created by Roger McKindley, in Newstead, Victoria. His garden matches anything a Satin Bowerbird could fashion. Antares entices your imagination through mystery and a sense of play. Broken and discarded objects come together, finding new life.

♥ The satin bowerbirds teach us that effort, resilience and innovation is necessary for bringing the beautiful within us out for all the world to see. They are encouraging us to take familiar things out of their environment and explore new ways of putting fragments together.

♥  Identify valuable (but often forgotten) parts of your life and find or create physical totems to represent them. Carefully arrange and rearrange these totems!

♥  If you encounter Bowerbird with bones, do you hang onto the old bones of your past – or are you able to ‘let go’ and release the past.

♥  You have found some old stuff!  Learn more about the art of assemblage and what to do with that stuff you have found.

In the world of humans, assemblage is art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects – scavenged by the artist or bought specially. The use of assemblage as an approach to making art goes back to Pablo Picasso’s cubist constructions, the three-dimensional works he began to make from 1912. An early example is his Still Life 1914 which is made from scraps of wood and a length of tablecloth fringing, glued together and painted. Picasso continued to use assemblage intermittently throughout his career.

In 1918 dada artist Kurt Schwitters began to use scavenged scrap materials to create collage assemblages – he called this technique ‘merz’. Assemblage also became the basis for many surrealist objects. Inspired by psychologist Sigmund Freud’s writings about the unconscious and dreams, surrealist artists often combined unlikely combinations of found objects to create surprising and unsettling sculptures. (Source: Assemblage Art Term Tate).


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