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Masters of Illusion

The bower of a great bowerbird with one display court visible in the foreground.

the bower of a great bowerbird with one display court visible in the foreground, the other court is visible through the avenue. Note the green decorations to the side of the court.

By Laura Kelley & John Endler

Male great bowerbirds construct visual illusions that enhance mating success by altering female perception of their displays.

Laura Kelley is a Research Fellow at Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Male animals produce a dizzying array of courtship displays when attempting to attract a mate, but perhaps the most impressive of all are the courtship rituals of the bowerbirds. Of the 20 species of bowerbird that are endemic to Australia and New Guinea, 17 of these decorate cleared areas or construct bowers.

It is a common misconception that bowers are nests. Their sole purpose is to lure females so that the males can mate with them.

Many males never succeed in attracting a mate to their bower and only a few males get to mate with the majority of females. The potential costs and rewards are therefore very high, and males do everything they can to attract females such as building elaborate bowers, decorating their bowers with brightly coloured objects and mimicking the vocalisations of other species.

The breeding season for most bowerbirds lasts for several months, so males have to invest a lot of time and effort in keeping their bowers and decorations looking perfect in case a female should drop by. However, males cannot be at their bowers all day every day, and rival males take advantage of this by marauding unattended bowers. Upon arrival at an unattended bower, the marauding male often spends several minutes pulling down the walls of the bower and then steals as many decorations as he can fit in his beak. Often the bower is left almost...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.