Bowers and Birds

For many years, I’ve owned a copy of “The Joan Baez Songbook”, containing the music and words of many of the songs she made popular. One is called “I Once Loved a Boy”, an old English/Scottish folksong. The first verse goes like this:

“I once loved a boy and a bold Irish boy,
 I would come and would go at his request.
 This bold bonnie boy was my pride and my joy,
 And I built him a bower in my breast.”

I’ve never been quite sure what might be involved in building such a bower, but nevertheless it sounded like a good idea.

Just a few days ago, I came across a bower, and, although it’s got nothing to do with the Outback, I’d like to tell you about it. It was not in anybody’s breast, but rather in the bush near the Hawkesbury River, just to the north of Sydney. Here’s a picture of it:


It probably bears no resemblance to what the woman in the song had in mind. This one has been built by a male satin bowerbird, as part of its elaborate efforts to attract a mate. The female bowerbird spends a deal of her time inspecting local bowers, and watching the males’ courtship dances, before making a choice. Bowerbirds, native to Australia and New Guinea, are said to be amongst the most behaviourally complex species of birds in the world.

The bower is constructed (on the ground) out of two walls of vertically placed sticks, and the area in front is decorated with many – sometimes hundreds – of brightly coloured objects, such as shells, flowers, feathers, stones, and berries, but also plastic items, coins, pieces of glass, etc. Blue is often the preferred colour, and the male spends many hours arranging the items to get the best effect. [Hence the expression, “He’s a bit of a bowerbird”, meaning he tends to collect a lot of useless objects. Of course, he may be doing so to try to attract a mate. I suspect it’s probably more cost-effective if he can find a woman who’s prepared to build him a bower in her breast.]

The bowerbird’s bower is not used as a nest – its only function is to impress the female.

satin-bowerbird in bower









Hey chicks, what do you reckon?


About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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5 Responses to Bowers and Birds

  1. Lizzie says:

    Great song words and story/photos of a quirky male with interesting habits.
    This chick is quite bedazzled.

  2. Sue Emeleus says:

    I would prefer the one in the breast!

    Although I’ve heard about the blue things I’ve not seen one before! Fascinating.

    Love from Sue

  3. Mandy says:

    We have a resident Western Bowerbird in our garden who makes a very attractive bower each year. His favourite colours are green (when my tomatos are growing) and red (when they are ripe).

  4. Anne says:

    The Bowerbird is the original basket maker so I love it. Mandy’s Western “tomato collecting” Bowerbird sounds interesting…I hope he doesn’t bruise the toms.
    And Rob…diamonds can be blue!!!!! Hint Hint 😉
    A piece of info for those in Bowerbird areas…..always cut those plastic rings from yoghurt containers or bottles…they have been known to choke a Bowerbird when collecting for his display.

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