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Architecture but not Nests

Finally there are structures built by birds which do not really fit into any of the above categories, because they are not nests, these are the bowers of the various species of Bowerbird.

Male Bowerbirds build structures which though often involving great effort are not actually nests. These bowers, built by 14 of the 18 known species of Bowerbird are stages or advertisements. They are built to attract females which presumably are attracted to larger more ornate structures and which judge a male on his collection of treasures. The real nest is built by the female after she has been mated by her chosen male and she incubates the eggs and raises the young on her own while the male stays with his bower to try and attract more females. Bowerbirds build different sorts of bowers even within one species. Different populations build different designs and collect different 'treasures'. Some simple bowers consist of an avenue of twigs which the male bird walks up and down to display himself to the female. Some of these may have the sticks painted with yellow, brown or purple plant juices.

More complicated bowers involve towers of sticks and display arenas on which the male arranges his collection of treasures and around which he displays himself. Treasures include feathers, particularly blue ones, snail shells, beetle wings and heads, bones, flowers and anything else which takes the bird's fancy which may include man-made objects such as silver spoons, car keys, gun cartridges, tin mugs, buttons and other colourful scraps of material.

The most impressive bower is built by the Vogelkop Gardener Bowerbird (Amblyornis inornatus) from New Guinea which in some areas builds a huge open-fronted roofed hut up to 2.2 m tall and 2 or more metres across. This structure is built by a bird the size of a Song Thrush.

Australasian Bowerbirds are not the only birds to build structures that are not ever destined to be nests. Others include the Tooth-billed Cat Bird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris), also from Australia, and Jackson's Whydah (Euplectes jacksoni) from Kenya and Tanzania. Both of these make structures which are quite simple in comparison with some of the bowers described above. Cat birds line a 1-2 m arena with upside down fresh leaves which they cut from vegetation with their toothed bill. Jackson's Whydah is a leking species in which each male has a personal arena about 1 m across with a pseudo-nest. Mating normally takes place during inspection of the pseudo-nest by the female. Like all leking species the female builds the true nest later, incubates the eggs and raises the young on her own.

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Last updated: 01 January 2003