Satin Bowerbird - Ptilonorhynchus violaceus
June 08, 2008
Recently I engaged in some barter. A friend of mine is an avid birder (hard to believe, I know), and runs a landscaping consultation business. He basically will assess your yard, and suggests how to make it more attractive to our feathered friends. I offered TJ a painting of his choice, in trade for his expertise in the aforementioned matters. I found out that what is basically good for us is good for the birds: shelter, food, and water. He recommended: creating a brush pile (as many birds find that useful for protection from the elements and hungry raptors), myriad types native plantings (cardinal flowers for hummingbirds), trees that create small berry-like fruit (such as Service Berry), and having plenty of shallow water about. As he went over this, he would stop every now and then and cock his head and say "Hey wait, I hear a...." After that happening several times, TJ and I grabbed our binoculars and geeked out for about 20 minutes. He proceeded to identify all of the following: Magnolia warbler, Yellow warbler, American Redstart (another type of warbler), Yellow-rumped Warbler, and some type of flycatcher we were unable to properly identify. So, apparently the birds think my neighborhood is pretty good already. It helps that we live near a major migration flyway (Lake Michigan), and additional water source (North Shore Channel), and that many of the yards in my neigborhood have large specimens of what TJ referred to as "junk" trees: Hackberry, and Chinese Elm. Those "junk" trees are a little birdie buffet of invertebrates.
TJ requested a painting of a Satin Bowerbird. I was happy to oblige as it was a good excuse to do a little research on this very unusual, and charismatic family of birds. Bowerbirds (native to Australia-New Guinea), get their namesake from the courtship behavior of the males. The males create elaborate constructions (bowers) made out of twigs, and adorned with various natural and manmade items, in hopes to attract the ladies. The male Satin Bowerbird in this painting has gathered bits of blue plastic and feathers to adorn his bower. There is a David Attenborough segment in which another species of bowerbird collects piles of nuts, beetle shells, and flowers. In research for this painting I went in to the collections at the Field Museum. When I asked Dr. Willard to pull a Satin Bowerbird for me to look at he quipped, "You could just do a painting of a Common Grackle and nobody would know the difference!" Ah...ornithology humor. Anyway, Dave took out several specimens, and noted that he thought the females were quite beautiful. I agree, though drab in overall color, the plumage patterning is beautiful.