Satin Bowerbird Mimicry

To: Evan Beaver <>, Paul & Irene Osborn <>
Subject: Satin Bowerbird Mimicry
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 00:39:54 +1000
A couple more Satin Bowerbird incidents:

Evan Beaver wrote of their eating habits:
> Or tomatoes, basil, virtually anything else edible. I've seen them
> pull leaves off just about everything, except the lemongrass.
I once watched in amazement as a Satin Bb dined happily on the leaves of a
Shining-leaved Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide photinophilla).  The leaves are
not as densely clothed in stinging hairs as are the leaves of the other
Dendrocnide species, but the sting from any one hair is just as painful to a
human.  (That was in the Knoll N P on Tamborine Mt which is just inland from
the Gold Coast)

And I would add that one night when camped in what is now the Mt Mistake
Section of the Main Range N P in southern Queensland, my good Zoologist
friend, Peter Ogilvie, who was out spot-lighting, urged me to come and watch
a Ringtail Possum eating the leaves of a young Giant Stinging Tree (D.

I can but guess that as Dendrocnide evolved stinging hairs, so did the
native leaf-eating fauna develop an immunity to the sting.

Those two incidents happened about 40 years ago.  Peter was then National
Parks Zoologist in the Qld Dept of Forestry.  (Forestry administered
Queensland's N. Parks up to 1975.)  Peter is now Manager, World Heritage, in
the Queensland E P Agency.

And it was Peter, who in the mid-1960s drew my attention to a remarkable
piece of Satin Bowerbird mimicry, which I think has not been mentioned in
the present discussion.

Peter was carrying out a fauna survey of Lamington National Park and
consequently he took more than a passing interest in the performance of a
male Satin Bowerbird at his bower.  This included extensive tape-recording
of the bird's vocalisation.  (And I wonder if Peter has kept his recordings.
I reckon I could still copy a 40-year-old Uher open reel tape.)

Listening to his tape, Peter could hear the very distinctive call of a Lewin
Honeyeater behind the on-going continuous 'chirring' of the SBb's bower
song.  When he found it a few more times he realised that in fact it was the
Bb mimicking the honeyeater call, but while still keeping up the continuous
'chirring'.  A remarkable performance!

It is now well known that some birds can sing internal duets:  use the two
sides of the syrinx independently to "sing two tunes at the same time".



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