The Satin Bowerbird is a bird we have seen more recently as males attend their bowers and impress visiting females with the hope of mating with as many females as possible. To do this they seek to gain the prestige of having the most beautiful bower and trinkets, performing the most creative dance and singing the most skilful mimicry song. The male is blue-black and the female green and brown with a patterned chest, the juveniles are similar to the female but with less green and more brown in plumage.
Each male has spent weeks tirelessly building each strand of the bower from dried grass and sticks, collecting blue coloured objects (his jewels which match his own beautiful alluring colours) and positioning them in an impressive display. he has spent most of his life practicing building bowers and learning his own dance steps and peculiar song in a very similar way to the Lyrebird.
He knows there are several competing bowers in his local forest, and that these males may come at any time he is absent from the bower, to steal his blue trinkets or to ruin his bower. They all want the prize of impressing and mating with as many of the resident females as possible.
Bowerbirds are endemic to the rainforest areas of the east coast of Australia and are primarily native fruit and insect eaters (mostly figs). Of our over 45 species of fig there is always one or more fruiting at any time of the year, as well as the fruit from both introduced and other native species. Similar to the Lyrebirds they are low flying birds and capable of mimicking other bird sounds.
The juvenile male looks the same as the female and takes seven years before it gains its mature black feathers and violet eyes. It is the refraction of light on the surface of the feathers that gives the glossy blue-black appearance.
Of our 8 species of Bowerbird (10 if we include our Catbirds which are in the same family) most build bowers and gather trinkets (some collect white or green objects, flowers or fruits to decorate their bower and attract female interest). Simply put, if the male is not smart, artistic and creative enough the female will notice it and fly off to view another bower. Males spend many hours repairing and improving their bowers as they search for blue objects. Researchers have found that when red objects are placed in the bower area, the Bowerbird will either remove them or cover them up.
All through Spring this flight of the females visiting bowers takes place, in a similar way men and women courting and dating, with ladies seeking out and ticking off the qualities they see in their aspiring suitors as they seek to impress. I had the amazingly rare opportunity to film the process of the female entering the bower and the male dancing for her. I apologise for the shaky camera as it is shot at quite a distance from the bower, up under a large tree (bowers are often hidden under trees or bushes). It was difficult to stabilise due to low angle I had to hold the camera.
Considering the the amount of time, great skill and creative effort that goes into the construction of the bower and the wooing of the female my thoughts are drawn to consider the difference between excellence and perfectionism. The pursuit of excellence is a healthy attitude to have because it is based on a realistic and positive understanding of who we are, accepting that we can strive to do better but it is OK if sometimes we make mistakes and or fail to meet our goals, we can learn from these and stay humble. However, perfectionistic attitudes, which are primarily bred in children from a young age, by perfectionistic, legalistic and negative parents and carers demanding a high level of performance and achievement in life, give the impression that one’s value comes from what they do and achieve, and is only acceptable when it is completed with perfection. As they constantly fail to reach their goal, even when they do exceedingly well, they are constantly under the stress of trying to achieve unrealistic goals to please their parents and themselves resulting ultimately in discouragement, depression and a sense of worthlessness. The child raised to exhibit excellence, however, can accept themselves for who they are, like a Bowerbird, as a teenager, he spends many hours practicing to build a bower, which will not be needed till years later. He makes mistakes but tries many times till he finally masters the art. He learns to dance and to mimic, knowing he may not be the best but he will give it his best shot, in the hope it will be acceptable when the time comes.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” – Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
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