Two weeks ago I posted photos of Topknot pigeons, including some in a fig-tree at Jerrara Dam near Kiama. On that same walk at the Dam, I saw this female Bowerbird perched near another fig-tree. The light was good, allowing her remarkable eye colouring to show clearly.
Then she flew into the fig-tree, so I followed her from below. It was darker under the thick foliage and for a while I couldn’t see much. However I could hear rustlings in the canopy, and the occasional fig dropping onto the ground. Eventually I got a reasonably clear sight of her (or perhaps another bower bird!) with a beakful of fig.
Soon she reached for another fig:
Having secured it, she hopped off on some mission.
A while later she returned and things then got a little weird. Peering in the gloomy canopy backlit by bright patches of sky, it was hard to see clearly, but she seemed to have become greener and fatter. Than the penny dropped – I was looking at a catbird!
Had I been looking at a catbird in the fig tree all along? Then I started to doubt my catbird identification, because I saw nearby the dark blue shape of a male bowerbird, clutching a large fig in its beak. Perhaps it was a female bowerbird after all?
I looked back at the cat/bowerbird and saw that it had been joined by a second one:
Looking more closely, I decided that the white streaks on the bird’s green underside meant it had to be a catbird—later confirmed by looking at the photos. The second bird was clearly a juvenile as it began begging for food, turning its head ingratiatingly.
The older bird completely ignored the younger catbird (kittenbird?), preferring to groom itself.
Then further across the canopy, I saw the original female bowerbird reaching for another fig. So there definitely was a mixed group of birds in that tree!
The male bowerbird was taking a rest from feeding, and this time I could see a hint of his distinctive blue-violet eye colour, and the glossy iridescence of his dark blue feathers.
Walking away from the tree—I was getting a stiff neck from constantly looking vertically upwards!—I saw yet another bird hoeing into the figs. This time I was in no doubt of the identification – it was a male Australasian Figbird.
Returning to the dam entrance, I noticed a horse in an adjacent field. It came over to the fence and whickered gently. I hadn’t brought any figs for it, alas, so I just patted its nose briefly before getting into the car.
Here are some brief notes on the birds I saw.
The Green Catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris) is found east of the Divide, between Batemans Bay and north past Fraser Island. They’re fairly common, but not often seen. Their name comes from their call, which sounds like a cat yowling, and males and females have similar plumage. After my earlier uncertainty on identification in the dark under-canopy, it was reassuring to see that the Menkhorst bird guide includes a note about distinguishing between catbirds and bowerbirds.
The Satin Bowerbird (Ptilorhynchus violaceus) is found over a similar range to the green catbird, but also further south as far as Melbourne. As I’ve noted, the male and female have quite different plumage, but share much the same glorious blue-purple eye colour. The bowerbird name of course comes from the male’s habit of making a bower with an avenue leading in. The entrance to the bower is decorated with mostly blue items.
The two species are related with catbirds forming one branch of the bowerbird family (Ptilorhynchidae). However catbirds display a different social behaviour – no bowers!—and they are monogamous whereas bowerbirds are polygynous. Male catbirds share in nest-building and care of the young, whereas among the bowerbirds proper these tasks are carried out solely by the female. (The male’s bower is solely for courtship displays.) Bowerbirds are among the most intelligent birds, as evidenced by the complex bower-building and performance displays of the males, and by the remarkable mimicry both sexes are capable of.
The Australasian Figbird (Specotheres vieilloti) belongs to the oriole family, and has a wider north-south range than the Catbird. As the name suggests they are mostly frugivorous, with figs a particular favourite, but they will also eat insects.
(The horse was of course the introduced Equus caballus.)
Footnote: Below is the unedited second photo in this post. The contrasting light levels illustrate why I had trouble identifying the birds at first: