We have been watching a documentary entitled Bowerbirds: The Art of Seduction. It is a wonderful study of a remarkable group of animals. Although avian polygyny is not uncommon, most birds are monogamous because oviparity requries that one adult incubate the eggs and watch over the offspring while the other forages for food and defends the nest. Polygynous breeding systems typically occur when males occupy and vigorously defend territories. When this occurs females choose among males based upon a display on the part of the male which serves to advertise the quality of the resource which he defends. Females build a nest and rear the young, alone. Among the well-studied polygynous Birds of Paradise biologists have shown that male advertisements can take form as a number of truly incredible physical and behavioral traits including dramatic feathers, beautiful coloration, complex songs which may be combined with dance, and something absolutely remarkable called shape-shifting. [If you are interested in reading more about the Birds of Paradise, or about any bird for that matter, please check out the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University.] Among these birds males compete for females via their efforts to attract them and the more females that find any particular male a ‘good bet’ the more that will mate with him, thereby increasing the likelihood that they (the females) will bear high-quality offspring themselves. What is remarkable about Bowerbirds, which are also polygynous and closely related to the Birds of Paradise, is that the male display takes the form of a physical construction. Male Bowerbirds actually build a bower to attract females. Although the form of the constructed bower ranges across the twenty or so closely related species (found across New Guinea and Australia) there are two primary sorts, Maypole bowers and Avenue bowers. The former include architectures which are generally vertical (constructed around a central tree trunk or limb) while the latter are comprised of two walls (usually of twigs or leaves), which may form a tunnel, through which the female promenades. What is truly remarkable about the bower is that, in addition to its physical construction, it is festooned with an array of artistic adornments collected by the male. The diversity of these adornments is wide and includes colorful flowers, seeds, nuts, fungi, pieces of bone, shards of rock, and almost anything judged to be attractive to the male bowerbird and small enough for him to carry. It is interesting that males within a species show a range of aesthetic tastes when it comes to these adornments. Some like blue trinkets while others prefer red, and so on. Male preference is labile and highly individualistic.
[Neither of the images above is mine, they were found at Dusky’s Wonders. ] This is all well and good but what do avian sexual strategies have to do with the images included below? I have posted images of Poppies before and on more than one occasion – I think they’re lovely. We had a bit of fine whether this Monday past and Joanna’s gardens have begun to produce some showy blooms. I thought this image of a Poppy from a somewhat unusual angle might make for a good post. The original shot was strongly backlit. Since the result was quite washed-out anyway I thought I would go with it and enhance what details I could. Joanna was at her spinning wheel, looked over, and commented that I should work to recover the reds and blues of the plant and of the sky. So I did. I was adamant that my original, nearly monochromatic, treatment was superior while she strongly argued that a true representation of color was called for. Isn’t it interesting how our artistic senses and different aesthetic choices mirror those displayed by male and female Bowerbirds? By the way, which Poppy do you prefer?