The Artistic Birds of West Papua

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This story on Frontline absolutely blew my mind. American artist Mary Jo McConnell has for almost two decades traveled to the western half of the island of New Guinea to document the artistic homes of the male Vogelkop Bowerbird.

According to Frontline:

She found a group of artists that live and work in the cloud forests of New Guinea–these artists are birds. The creature that has become McConnell’s obsession, luring her back around the globe, year after year, is known as the Vogelkop Bowerbird.

It is no bigger than your fist, and the art it creates is called a bower…

It is made of woven twigs and has a floor and front lawn of gleaming green moss. Just outside the large entrance–large, that is, for a bird the size of a robin–are carefully stacked piles of bright orange orchids, shiny red berries and cascades of plum sized seeds.

The piles seem almost like ceremonial offerings, which, according to scientists, is about right. They say the bowerbird builds these ornate structures to attract a female for mating.

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I particularly like the way she characterizes them:

…to McConnell, the birds are artists. Over the years, she has even given them names with specific connotations. “Andy Warhol” uses found materials like noodle wrappers and batteries. Her favorite bird, “Leonardo Da Vinci,” crosses the feathers of a Sicklebill bird at the edge of his bower every year.

Watch the full segment here (14:56).

Photos are shot from the segment with my iPhone. Top is a general view of a bower, the bottom is a detail of “Andy Warhol”‘s home…note the can, which according to Mary Jo, has been used by the bird as decoration for years.

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