Step into the color-coordinated world of the South-Pacific bowerbird, where a complex architecture of found objects takes shape in the tropical forest.
Maybe you've always thought that bachelor pads were for the birds--if so, you'd be right.
The bowerbird has literally made name for itself constructing colorful tropical homesteads. Using flowers, feathers, fruit pulp, seeds, moss, snail shells, and just about anything else it can get its beak on, the male bowerbird displays an architect's sense for assembling social space.
University of Maryland biologist Gerald Borgia explains that some bowerbirds are even known to paint the inside walls of their ornamentally complex towers, roofed bridges, and display courts, using "a stain made from chewed plants, charcoal, and saliva." Indeed, Borgia adds, "Males with high-quality bowers...and many decorations on their courts mate most often." Good design, in other words, gets the chicks.
And some birds need the extra help. There is a demostrated correlation between lackluster plumage and the construction of more colorful bowers--what Borgia calls "flashier nests"--within which a romantically unattached male can indulge his inner Liberace. Singing songs of attraction and realigning his Technicolor spread to shine more brightly in the afternoon sun, the bowerbird eagerly awaits his next visitor.
Using color to define or individualize space is clearly a strategy that crosses species lines, but exactly how color is used, and what specific colors might mean to those who use them, remains an open subject. Whether to attract, intimidate, soothe, or confuse, color is key to the decoration of space.
Febuary 2008, Dwell Magazine