Jennifer StackhouseBowerbirds in the garden

A satin bowerbird has built its bower in a garden bed under one of our bedroom windows. It is partially hidden by an abutilon and a border of clivias, but clearly visible from inside our house.


View of the bowerbird’s bower from inside my window

The male bird has spread out his collection of blue objects and regularly performs strutting dances in and around the bower, which is made of sticks. As well as the blue collection he has added long pieces of straw (filched I think from next door’s horse feed). The yellowy colour of the straw highlights the blue of his collection. The collection of blue objects is mainly dark blue plastic milk tops, which I’ve put out for him (after carefully removing the ring at the base of the top).

His impressive collection of blue objects

His impressive collection of blue objects

The female bird (or it may be birds) visits, stands in the bower and watches him as he dances, sings his strange mechanical sounding songs and rearranges his collection of objects. He often picks up a blue item with several of the pieces of yellow straw, exhibits it, and then puts it down again. Sometimes the female picks up some of the ornaments as well and even rearranges them. It is fascinating to watch the courtship.

Recently we looked out to see the bower trampled. I was worried the dogs had run through it and knocked it to pieces. The damage was soon rebuilt, but I was still concerned.
This morning however we watched a young male bowerbird arrive in the bower. After a few minutes he started tearing down the bower! When we realised what was happening we shooed him away but already a lot of damage was done. At first we thought he was a female (immature males and females are both green) but he did have signs of darker plumage and was obviously hoping to put a spoke in this guy’s courtship plans.

After a while the resident bird arrived back for a day of singing and dancing and looked quite shocked to see the damage. He quickly pulled himself together and began repairing the trashed bower and reusing the pieces the interloper had torn down and thrown aside.
Here’s a video I took of him rebuilding the bower soon after the destruction occurred. He started on one side and then worked on the other side.

Nearly rebuilt!

Nearly rebuilt!

After quite a few hours of constant work the bower is almost completely repaired. He is still making some final adjustments, but here’s a shot of the rebuild.

Satin bowerbirds are native to the east and south-east coasts of Australia. They are certainly plentiful here in the lower Blue Mountains as we’ve had bowers here and also beside our lane way as well as in the garden in our previous house in Kurrajong. I have never before been able to observe the bower so closely however.

In reading up about these native birds I’ve learnt that the glossy black blue plumage this bird exhibits doesn’t develop fully until the bird is seven. The males begin to colour at about five. So our bird is more than seven years old and the interloper about five. I wonder if the interloper has his own bower near by – it is quite likely! Meanwhile, the turf wars continue.

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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

3 thoughts on “Bowerbirds in the garden

  1. Wow, you lucky thing, Jennifer! What a wonderful thing to experience in your garden, and what a lovely post!

  2. What a wonderful story! I hope there’s a happy ending for this hard-working (and rather fetching) fella. Please keep us posted…

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