Ian’s Bird of the Week – Tooth-billed Bowerbird ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 10/9/13
At the weekend, I followed some friends for an overnight stay at Paluma, the small village in highland rainforest about 60km north of Townsville. and they took me to view 4 display courts of the Tooth-billed Bowerbird near the village that they had already checked out. This species featured as bird of the week three years ago, but it’s an interesting subject and I got better photos this time. In contrast to some of the bowerbirds, it is sombre in plumage and cryptic in pattern but makes up for this with unique behaviour.
Alone among the promiscuous bowerbirds (the catbirds are monogamous), the male doesn’t build a bower to attract females but has a display platform or court, a cleared space on the forest floor with a central tree trunk or stem and it decorates the court with the leaves of rainforest trees, carefully placed lower side up. The central tree in the first photo is smaller than usual, but I’ve chosen this one as there are signs of the bird having chewed through some offending shoot near to it to keep the space clear. The same court is used from one year to another and the courts of different males may be relatively close proximity (50-100m/yards) to each other in what is called an extended lek. and there were four courts along the path where we were.
The males sing a strange, loud and varied song with lots of mimicry from perches above the court. So during the breeding season – September to January – they are quite easy to find. The vegetation in their preferred habitat is dense so hearing them is easier than seeing them and seeing them is easier than photographing them: the second photo is a fairly typical view of one through the foliage.
When they’re singing, they are fairly approachable and I got quite close to this one before it flew up onto an unencumbered branch above the court and continued singing in full view (third photo). The fourth photo is cropped to show both the toothed edge to the lower mandible and the ridged inside of the upper one, a clever designed mechanism of chewing off leaves. Some while later, at another court we saw a male pick and drop a leaf, which it let fall. It then picked another on and flew off with it in the direction of its court. Apparently, it is not unusual for the birds to steal the leaves of other males, so there is the same competition for accumulating decorations as in other bowerbirds.
I recorded the calls of three males on my phone and included one of the files below.
Last week, I mentioned a pending Snake of the Week and this aroused some interest, so here it is. I photographed this small whip snake seven years ago in a dry area in far Northwestern Queensland near the border with the Northern Territory. We tried to identify it by consulting a weighty tome on the Reptiles of Australia, but failed to find anything that quite matched it and gave up.
Some years later, I bought the 2008 edition of A Complete Guide to the Reptiles of Australia by Steve Wilson and Gerry Swan. It contains an Appendix which starts: “Late in the preparation of this 2008 revised second edition, a timely study of small tropical whip snakes (Demansia) was published. The work formally recognises additional species of these swift diurnal snakes, some of which have been familiar to herpetologists for many years.” So, there you are: the first time I’ve photographed a yet to be described species of vertebrate; it doesn’t often happen with birds.
I’ve been adding Primates http://www.birdway.com.au/primates/index.htm, Lizards http://www.birdway.com.au/lacertilia/index.htm and Snakes http://www.birdway.com.au/ophidia/index.htm to the Other Wildlife section of the website, hence the interest in snakes.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
What a neat bird and description of them. Now we not only get to see them, but hear them also. Thanks again, Ian, for allowing me to share these newsletters.
The snake, is interesting also, though I am not a big snake fan. I know most are beneficial and I don’t go out of my way to kill them, I just keep my distance.
Bowerbirds are an interesting group of birds. They belong to the Ptilonorhynchidae – Bowerbirds Family, which has twenty members currently. Looking at the Family page, I realized this is the second time Ian has written about the Tooth-billed Bowerbird. That was in August of 2010.
We were able to see the White-eared Catbird at Zoo Miami and at the National Aviary. At Zoo Miami, the keeper showed me the bower of the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird. You can see how he lined his bower with leaves. Unfortunately the birds were off display at the time.
Bowerbirds by Ian – Photos
Tooth-billed Bowerbird – Wikipedia