My PhD research
will focus on the courtship and mating behaviour of the Tooth-billed
Bowerbirds in northern Queensland.
The most famous species of bowerbird, the Satin Bowerbird, is known
for its complex courtship. The male Satin Bowerbird builds and maintains
an avenue of sticks, decorated with various natural and man-made
objects (usually blue or yellow and shiny). This complex structure
is his bower and its sole purpose, along with his deep blue plumage
and ritualised display behaviour, is to attract a mate.
As well as the Satin Bowerbird, there are 16 other species of bowerbirds
and, between them; they vary, not only in their physical appearance
and the brightness of their plumage, but also in the form and complexity
of their bower and display behaviour. The Tooth-billed Bowerbird
has the most simplistic bower, which, in this case, is called a
court. The court is a cleared area of ground on which leaves are
laid out with the undersides face upwards. During the breading
season, which lasts from approximately September to January, male
Tooth-bills spend most of their time perched above their court giving
an almost continuous stream of calls and vocal mimicry. Throughout
the breeding season, females visit several males at their courts.
When a female visitor arrives, the male owner descends to the forest
floor and gives soft, high quality, vocal mimicry, followed by a
vigorous visual display. Ultimately, the female chooses from among
the potential mates, and the display ends in copulation. The female
then incubates and raises her young alone.
My research will investigate the mechanisms behind this unique courtship
behaviour, specifically looking at behaviours such as the selection
and placement of leaf decorations, leaf theft by certain court owning
males, vocal mimicry and visual display, and court placement within
Prior to Cambridge
||I arrived in Cambridge in April
2012 after having spent 6 months working at a research project
in Queensland, studying Spotted Bowerbirds. As well as helping
with the on-going research at the field site, I ran several
experiments. Two of these were investigating whether male Spotted
Bowerbirds can learn to change their preference for certain
decoration types based on what they see at neighbouring bowers
and on their own experience. Another looked at the decoration
theft interactions between bower owning males. These experiments
were designed by my supervisor Dr Joah
Madden from the University of Exeter where I had previously
done my undergraduate degree in Animal Behaviour.
During my degree at Exeter,
I had the opportunity to participate as a field assistant
in several research projects both in the UK and overseas.
One of these projects was the previously mentioned Spotted
Bowerbird project. During this first stay I investigated individual
consistency in bower decoration use and colour preference.
My results found that male Spotted Bowerbirds are consistent
in their decoration use, both within and between years. My
enjoyment and interest in the Spotted Bowerbird research motivated
me to do a PhD with the less studied Tooth-billed Bowerbird.
(right: Spotted Bowerbird bower)