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.
Hey chicks, what do you reckon?