email a friend iconprinter friendly iconBowerbirds
Page [ 4 ] of 4
« Prev | 

Donald runs through an impressive repertoire of bird and tree frog trills, then hops down to his mossy mat. He hunches behind his tower and points his beak at the treetops while softly peeping. Suddenly, on the opposite side of his tower, another Macgregor's bowerbird appears—colored like Donald, but with a slightly rounder head. A Mary!

OK, Donald can pull down a Mary. Now he needs to make her stay.

Donald and the female begin a game of hide-and-seek. He unfurls his previously hidden carrot-orange crest and streaks out at her, wings askew, then darts back to hide again. His crest is spiky, bright as a hot chili, making him look a little like Rod Stewart. Clutching at the moss, he bobs and sways and chirps and sings like a rock star. Then he races behind his tower and jumps at her from the other side. Back and forth, around and around the tower the two run, Donald dashing toward her, as the object of his desire runs to the other side to try to get a better look at him and his flaming crest.

If the female chooses Donald, they will mate on the mossy platform, but after ten minutes she steps to the edge of the moss and flies away. She apparently doesn't give Donald the signal to follow, because he stays at his tower and calls and calls again, his pitch rising ever higher.

What has he done wrong?

"Maybe nothing," Benz says, when I return to camp. "I'd guess that wasn't her first visit at Donald's. And I'd bet she'll be back."

Perhaps Donald thinks so too. Or perhaps he hopes another Mary will come. Either way, he doesn't dither but gets to work again. He tucks his party crest away and putters around the base of his tower, carrying off bits of broken moss and twigs. He rearranges the nuts and straightens up his beetle pile. As a last touch, he adjusts the garlands of caterpillar feces. He steps back and eyes the whole structure, deciding, it seems, that the tower is ready for another visitation. Then Donald jumps back on his perch and starts the song again. Rat-a-tat-tat, he calls. Rat-a-tat-tat. 

Virginia Morell is writing a book about animal minds. Biologist and photographer Tim Laman covered the Foja Mountains expedition in the June issue.
Page [ 4 ] of 4
« Prev |