Listening Topic: Life Sciences – Television program about bower birds

A. Listen to a program about bower birds. As you listen, note your answers to the following questions:

 What do bower birds do that the speaker finds so special? ________________________

 How do bower birds learn to build nests? ________________________

 What do birds do to other birds’ bowers? ________________________

 Note some words that the speakers use to describe the birds. ________________________

B. Read the questions and answer the ones you can. Then listen to the program again and answer the remaining questions. Listen again if necessary.

 What are some examples of behavior birds use to attract a mate? _________________________

 What do bower birds do to help raise the young or chicks? _________________________

 How are maypole bowers constructed? _________________________

 List some objects bower birds might use to decorate their structures. _________________________

 How do experts think the birds learn to build these structures? And how long does it take to develop this skill? _________________________

 Why does the speaker describe bower birds as thieves? _________________________



Answers may vary slightly.

 They build structures to attract mates.

 They learn from other birds.

 They destroy other birds’ bowers or steal from them.

 Competitive, incredible, special, intelligent, advanced, thieves


Answers may vary slightly.

 They dance and fluff up their wings.

 Male bower birds don’t help raise the young. The females take care of feeding and protecting the young.

 The birds weave sticks around a small young tree, and then they decorate it with “ornaments” from their environment.

4   Flower stems, spider silk, berries, acorns, leaves

5   Experts are still studying this. They know that groups of young male birds work together work together to build bowers until they are old enough to build them on their own.

 They steal “treasures” from other birds’ bowers.


A = Host

A:   Today on Amazing Animals, we’ll be looking at some truly incredible birds. You’ve probably seen nature programs showing how some birds behave in sort of strange ways to attract a mate. Sometimes they do a little dance, or fluff up their feathers, or something like that. It’s like they’re showing off to attract a mate. Well, bower birds use physical displays too, but what’s really sort of amazing are the structures, or bowers, that they build. This is what makes them truly special. Let’s take a look at a few of these structures, which are only built by male bower birds, by the way.

At first glance, you might think these are just intricate nests. But they’re not. In fact male bower birds don’t participate in nesting or raising the chicks. The females take care of feeding and protecting the young. The males put all their energy and attention into attracting a mate. And that’s why they build these bowers-for courtship purposes-to attract female birds!

This first one is what we call an “avenue bower.” The birds insert thin twigs into the ground in two parallel lines forming walls. The two walls of sticks sometimes arch over to create a sort of tunnel or archway. One kind of bower bird, called a satin bower bird, actually paints the walls of his bower. He chews leaves, and then smears the pulp on the walls using a leaf or twig as a tool. This is very rare behavior for a bird, and it’s one of the reasons that bower birds are considered by some to be the most intelligent and most advanced of all birds!

At the end of the avenue, or tunnel, that they create, bower birds place treasures such as snail shells, bones, and pebbles. The birds will use almost anything: special feathers, marble chips from a cemetery, broken bits of glass, bottle tops, flowers, moss, and lichen. They seem to take advantage of their surroundings. Birds that were near an elementary school were filmed in the playground carrying off things kids had left out: colored chalk and small plastic toys-like a little elephant, a plastic knife, and a toy motorcycle.

So the decorations they use to beautify their bowers vary depending on the resources available and on what appeals to the bird. One bird might decorate with a collection of blackberries, and a grouping of acorns. Another might arrange clusters of small red flowers next to some blueberries and a few orange leaves. And that’s the part of what intrigues me! It’s as though each bird has different criteria for what is beautiful. It’s as if they all have different tastes!

This second one is called a “maypole bower,” and it looks, well, it looks something like a Christmas tree. The birds weave sticks around a sapling-a young, small tree. Then-here’s what amazes me… they decorate the maypole by hanging ornaments they’ve collected…like caterpillar droppings, orchid stems, and spider silk. And sometimes, they change the position of the ornaments as though they’ve decided it wasn’t quite balanced or they’ve decided to feature a favorite object in a more prominent place. They take so much care building and decorating each maypole bower. And they take meticulous care of their bowers once they’re erected, too. If one of the decorations is moved out of place (usually by a neighboring male); the owner of the bower will quickly repair it.

So, you might be asking, how do these birds know how to build these structures? Where do they learn to do it?

Well, that’s something the experts are still investigating. They do know that groups of maybe 6 or 7 young males may work together building bowers, until they’ve matured to around 7 years old. And once they’re mature, they no longer work together. In fact, you might say they work against each other!

These competitive birds have been known to sabotage a rival’s bower by destroying it or stealing the treasures. It’s these human aspects of their behavior that have mystified bird enthusiasts. Not only are they able to use tools; not only do they have an aesthetic sense; but they’re also thieves.

In the end, every male bower bird is in serious competition with his peers for the attention of female bower birds. When a male sees a female near his bower he’ll let out a song or a sort of clicking call. When he has the female’s attention, some types of male bower birds will hide. When the female comes closer to the bower, the male will ruffle feathers on the back of his neck, spread his wings and do a dance. If the female is interested, they will fly off into the bush together.

So what exactly is it that attracts a female bower bird to a particular male. Well the bower he has built has a lot to do with it. It seems that the size and the decor-or beauty of the bower is a major factor in attracting females.

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