Airdate: Nov 22, 2007
Scientist: Steve Williams
Science Diary: Climate Change - Bower Birds
In the cloudforest of Australia, Bowerbirds build elaborate homes for their mates.
Science Diary: Climate Change - Bowerbirds
Music; Ambience: Bowerbird vocalizations, close up
JM: In the cloud forests of northeastern Australia, there are animals that are found nowhere else in the world. We're listening to one of them now a rather remarkable bird. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside.
SW: "When we were doing the bird surveys around here this morning, there's lots of tooth-billed bowerbirds here. And several times it was sort of like 'Oh, there's a black-faced monarch. No, no it's just a tooth-billed imitating a black-faced monarch.' Then they were doing a chouchilla calls, then they were doing grey-headed robin calls, then they were doing bower shrike thrush call. But, luckily for us, in terms of surveying, they generally put their own little clicks and whistles on the end of the other bird's call. That's how you can tell that it's a bowerbird."
JM: That's field biologist Steve Williams talking about one of the great mimics of the avian world the tooth-billed bowerbird. But mimicry is only one aspect of this bird's unusual behavior.
SW: "It creates a bower by clearing a patch in the forest floor and placing fresh green leaves on it in a pattern that it hopes will please the girls as they come around. It's very fussy about the way it puts its leaves down on the ground. If you go and turn the leaves over or move them or anything, it'll come back down after you've gone and rearrange them and put them back where he likes them. And sometimes the male bowerbirds steal things off each other. They'll steak particularly good items off their bowers. The tooth-billed bowerbird is only found here, in the wet tropics in Australia. So, it's a really important species for conservation in the area. And it's also one of the ones that are more susceptible to climate change because of the fact that it's restricted to the rain forests and the tops of the mountains here."
JM: According to Steve Williams, if temperatures continue to rise in the Australian cloud forests, the bowerbirds and many other species will be threatened with extinction. Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.