Published: July 2010

Bowerbirds

bowerbirds

Build It {and they will come}

To win choosy females, male bowerbirds swagger, croon, and… decorate.

By Virginia Morell
Photograph by Tim Laman

Donald has the tallest tower in the forest. It isn't as grand as the other Donald's Trump Tower, but it is impressive nevertheless, built with the one tool at his disposal: his beak. Donald, a Macgregor's bowerbird, lives in the dark woods of the Adelbert Range of Papua New Guinea. Here, atop a mossy platform and around a young sapling, he has woven his spire of sticks and twigs. At its base he has stacked piles of nuts, beetles, and cream-colored fungi; from its lower branches he has strung garlands of caterpillar feces glistening with dew. Thus ornamented, his tower soars more than three feet above the forest floor, pointing skyward like a beacon. Donald perches on a nearby tree and aims his beak in the same direction. Rat-a-tat-tat, he calls into the air. Rat-a-tat-tat.

All of this—the elaborate tower, pretty offerings, and strident calls—have one purpose: to convince female Macgregor's bowerbirds that he, Donald, and not the guy down the way, is the best male in the neighborhood, the one the gals should choose as a mate. Is Donald's fancy tower up to the task?

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