A Bower Bird’s Lessons of Courtship

When it comes to wooing the fairer sex, precious few can top the impressive display put on by these smooth operators from Down Under (and neighboring New Guinea). Sometimes called “catbirds,” “gardeners” or “stagemakers,” I’m talking about the 17 different kinds of bower birds that could teach lessons in the art of courtship.

As any gal will tell you, setting the mood is a step in the right direction. Here’s how the birds do it, just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Lesson 1: Create a Comfortable Space

Bower birds are the Frank Lloyd Wrights of the avian world, creating elaborately-designed bowers – which are essentially bachelor pads – all in the hopes of attracting and mating with a female. Made up largely of sticks and twigs, the bowers are built on the forest floor and, depending on the type of bird, they may include towers built around small saplings, walls that arch toward one another to create a tunnel, and even pillars and bridges on occasion. These birds are meticulous about the design and upkeep of their bowers and will spend hours getting it just right.


Lesson 2: It’s All About the Bling

What woman doesn’t appreciate tokens of affection from her special someone? Lady bower birds are no different, and their prospective males go all out when it comes to dressing up the bower with colorful trinkets collected from the forest. Some of their finds include colorful flowers and berries, interesting rocks and shells – and especially anything shiny like beetle wings, but also discarded coins or bits of glass or anything, really, that particularly catches their eye. Some birds opt for a particular color theme, only decorating with blue objects, for example. Others like a little variety, and some even use simple tools like sticks to paint the insides of their bowers using chewed up leaves or berries.

Lesson 3: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

No matter how hard you work for something you really want, if you let yourself get distracted from your goal, someone else just may come along and nudge their way in front of you. When male bower birds leave their nests to hunt for food or other baubles for the bower, their hours of careful construction can be undone in a matter of seconds by neighboring males who are competing for the same females. Sometimes it’s outright vandalism, although some craftier males will also go so far as to steal flowers and other goodies to take back to their own bowers!

Lesson 4: Know Your Strengths

Let’s face it – not everyone can be Brad Pitt. Luckily, charm counts for a lot. One important characteristic of bower birds is that they know exactly what is it that they bring to the table. The less attractive the coloring of the male, the more elaborate and adorned his bower, the more complex his mating song and dance – and vice versa.  Sometimes it is the thought that really counts.

Final Lesson: Don’t Come on Too Strong

The whole purpose of the bower is to create a little space between the male and female. It gives her some time to approach on her own terms; allows her have a look around and see if she digs his sense of style.

The more experienced the bower bird is – they can live 17 years or more – the better his chances of success at winning a mate seem to be. But in the end, no one really knows exactly what it is that tips the scale for the female. Maybe they’re not so different from us, and if it feels right, they just know

Bower birds join nine other charismatic animals in The Nature Conservancy’s top 10 list of most bizarre examples of love in the wild. »

[First image: Female satin bower bird. Image source: benjamint444/Wikimedia Commons. Second image: Bower. Image source:  Robert Devereux/Flickr]

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I love this bird! What a character. And that nest is amazing.

  2. amazing

Add a Comment