Behind the Scenes: Australian Bowerbirds Photography

Kangaroos and infants in bags cute koalas that eat eucalyptus leaf plus the planet’s largest deadly snakes… All of these immediately come to the mind when you think of Australia. But have you had the chance to meet bowerbirds? We’ll take a look at two in today’s issue of “Behind the Pictures.”

If you’ve ever watched one of the BBC programs that focus on Australia Perhaps you’ve been as intrigued by the intricate courtship behaviour of birds belonging to the family of Ptilonorhynchidae The Bowerbirds. This tiny, twenty-seven species of birds live exclusively within Australia in both Papua New Guinea.

Female Bowerbirds have a very specific preference in their choice of their partners. (Although they are not monogamous, except for the case from Catbirds (Ailuroedus) they do not create monogamous pairs.) What was it that captivated Charles Darwin himself about the Bowerbird in the past? It was the ritualized, ages-old method by which men court their female counterparts.

The male Bowerbirds unlike their more well-known relatives the Birds-of-Paradise They don’t make a splash by their sophisticated colors or striking forms. They’re on the plain side. So, how do men get past the discerning females? Through their design and architectural capabilities.

Birds are extraordinarily intelligent in comparison to their dimensions. In the course of time, they’ve evolved several interesting behavior patterns. Male bowerbirds attract females through their songs and their elegant shelters. (Hence they are known as bowerbird is named after the bowers they construct.)

The bowers they construct usually comprise many tiny branches. Males put a lot of time and effort in building and refining the bowers. Certain Papuan species like the Genus Amblyornis make structures that are so intricate they fooled the earliest explorators of the Papuan in the inland. They resemble more human work more than animals.

Birds are obsessed with decorations. The more artistic impression they create on a female, the better chances of mating. A poor architectural style and a lackluster vocals could condemn males to a long period of infidelity.

For bows that are decorated males make use of a variety of artifacts. Flowers of plants that are just blooming and beetle scabs, berries, snail shells and pebbles. The colors need to not only be striking, but also tune with the bird’s unique preference for food. Again, a lot like people!

For those who aren’t aware our trash, it is a part of the bowerbird’s use to decorate its nest. Humans are the source of all kinds of plastic trash including bottles, gum wrappers straws for drinking and so on.

As sad as it may be, take note of the bizarre colors of the trash that Bowerbird has left in the photo below. Also, notice the hue of his iris. It’s remarkable, don’t you think?

Satin bowerbird
NIKON D500 + 11-16mm f/2.8 @ 13mm, ISO 5000, 1/100, f/7.1

This Satin Bowerbird I photographed in my photograph is among the most commonly seen species in the family. I spotted its bower less than a dozen meters away from the parking area, close to the trail that runs through Lamington National Park.

This played into my favor when I was executing my strategy. I wanted to find someone who is familiar with human beings and this was expected. The goal was to capture photographs at a broad angle. If I had used an ordinary focal length of say 500mm, I would totally eliminate the background.

To avoid disturbing the bird To avoid disturbing the bird, I planned everything I needed ahead of time. To keep the bird from being scared I created my composition, and then used SnapBridge SnapBridge app to activate my camera from an in-between distance. The bird came in quickly. Once his head popped out I pressed the trigger. Click! There it was!

The second image shows The Great Bowerbird, the largest bird in the family. This time I was facing exactly the same issue as those of Satin Bowerbird. I was trying to eliminate as much as I could the surroundings the bird chose to use its bower. The ten-meter long strip of shrubs and grass that ran along the roads and railroad tracks wasn’t particularly attractive visually. Therefore, I took the 70-200mm lens, and then increased the zoom to 170mm.

Great bowerbird
NIKON D810 + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 170mm, ISO 640, 1/320, f/4.0

In the midst of all the garbage amongst the rubbish, on an overhanging tree, was the Bowerbird. It was about noon and it is almost absurd to remove your camera out of your backpack. Dark shadows on the tree as well as a brightly lit background. This is a difficult problem to handle.

Luckily I was carrying a flash along with me, which was a large softbox. I brought it with me to Australia for these exact circumstances. This diffused flash balanced the shadows and highlights and provided the photograph with an appealing soft light. (Nicholas’s recent article on flash photography for wildlife is very pertinent if you’re looking to master the art of photography!)

That’s two Bowerbirds. Although they are close, they remain distinctive. My approach was to shooting these birds. If the conditions permit it’s important to think about the best way to take the picture so that the image tells the story. In my opinion photos must be telling stories.