Interesting Species of Bower Bird

Including the Vogelokop Bowerbird

Discovery of the Bowerbird, and the Western, Regent and Satin Bowerbird

Interesting Species of Bower Bird including the Vogelokop Bowerbird

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Gould's Handbook to the Birds of Australia (i. pp. 441-461), published in 1865 gives a good early account of these curious birds.  Since that time discovories still more wonderful have been made. A bird of New Guinea now recognized as the Vogelkop Bowerbird (Amblyornis inornatus), was found by Beccari to present not only a modification of bower-building, but an appreciation of beauty perhaps unparalleled in the animal world.  His interesting observations (Annali del Mus. Civ. de Storia Nat. di Genova, ix. pp. 382-400 tav.viii.) show that this species, which he not inaptly calls the "Gardener" (Gjardiniere), builds at the foot of a small tree a kind of hut or cabin (capanna) some two feet in height, roofed with orchid-stems that slope to the ground, regularly radiating from the central support, which is covered. with a conical mass of moss, and sheltering a gallery round it. One side of this hut is left open, and in front of it is arranged a bed of verdant moss, bedecked with blossoms and berries of the brightest colours. As these ornaments wither they are removed to a heap behind the hut, and replaced by others that are fresh. The hut is circular, and some three feet in diameter, and the mossy lawn in front of it of nearly twice that expanse. Each hut and garden are, it is believed, though not known, the work of a single pair of birds, or perhaps of the male only; and it may be observed that this species, as its trivial name implies, is wholly inornate in plumage.

Another species, the Streaked Bowerbird (Amblyornis subalaris), the female of which was originally described by Mr. Sharpe (Joum. Linn. Soc. xvii. p. 40) as being still more dingy, turned out to have the male embellished with a wonderful crest of reddish-orange (Finsch and Meyer, Zeitschr. f. ges. Orn. 1885, p. 390, tab. xxii). Not less remarkable is the more recently described "bower" of the Golden Bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana), a genus of which the male, like the Regent-Bird, is conspicuous for his bright orange coloration. This structure is said by Mr. Devis (Trans. Roy. Soc. Queensland, 14 June 1889) to be piled up almost horizontally round the base of a tree to the height of from 4 to 6 feet, and around it are a number of hut-like fabrics, having the look of a dwarfed native camp.


Related to the forms already named are two others, the Tooth-billed Bowerbird, (Scenopooetes dentirostris) and the Tooth-billed Catbird, (Ailuroedus dentirostris), which, though not apparently building "bowers," yet clear a space of ground some 8 or 9 feet in diameter, on which to display themselves, ornamenting it "with tufts and little heaps of gaily tinted leaves and young shoots" (Ramsay, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1875, p. 592). The former of them, which, according to Mr. Lumholz (Among Cannibals, pp. 139, 140); covers a space of about a square yard with large fresh leaves neatly laid, and removes them as they decay, inhabits Queensland.  The "Cat-bird" is known to Australians from its loud, harsh, and extraordinary cries.

By most systematists these birds were placed in the 19th century among the Paradiseidae (Bird of Paradise).  However in the British Museum Catalogue of Birds (vi. pp. 380-396) they were found in the "limbo large and broad of Timeliidae - though allowed the rank of a subfamily "Ptilonorhynchinae", the name being taken from the feathered and not the bare (as might from its etymology have been expected) condition of the base of the bill shown, in the picture on the previous page of that part in the Satin Bowerbird.  Today the bowerbirds form the Ptilonorhynchidae family within the Passeriformes order.
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