Sunday, 14 December 2008

Satin Bowerbird

And jet-black Satinbird derides
Mirthful, his sober russet brides!

FAIRY LIFE IN FAIRYLAND Thomas of Ercildoune (Thomas Cargill) London 1870

p. 267-8:- Note 5, Page 215

'And jet-black Satin-bird derides,'&c

This beautiful bird of Australia isof one colour, the deepest black, but which shines like satin. His eyes are the most exquisite ultramarine blue, and he is about the size of a blackbird. His creed is favourable to polygamy, and he possesses an extensive harem. He is seldom to be seen by himself, but his numerous wives are so tame that, and I have, concealed behind a lattice, been able to watch them often for a long time together, play about and amuse themselves within two or three yards of my window, at the hospitable house of Mr. Peppin, in the far bush. They sometimes seem to fall out, and would then utter a strange hissing sound like that of a serpent. I do not think this peculiarity has been observed before. Their plumage is a good deal like that of the Thrush, except the light green back, and they in no way resemble the male bird, except in the deep azure of their eyes. As to their movements, I have never seen anything at all like them in birds. They seemed to me more to resemble a company of dancers going through a variety of figures than anything else. This bird (Satin Bower-bird, Philonorynchus holosericeus) belong to the natural family of starlings. The blacks have a superstitious awe and veneration for it, and will on no account molest it. Its extraordinary bower, and actions connected therewith, puzzle the, and notably the fact which they aver, viz. that none of them has ever seen or been able to find a satin-bird's nest. The bower is of great size, and is made of sticks and twigs interwoven and meeting each other from opposite sides, so as to be vaulted. They are always in the most retired part of the forest. Outside, rows of white stones are placed, so as to form little lanes, and everywhere there are signs of contrivance. Their ornamentation of these Bowers or 'Praying places', as the colonists call them, is very singular : they collect large quantities of things that are white, shining, or coloured, and arrange them chiefly before the front entrance of their Bower. Snail shells and other land shells, the whitened crania of birds and the smaller mammals, the fine blue tail feathers of the Lory and other Parrots, &c., are their chief objects, but they are not very particular as to the 'meum and tuum,' for when the Blacks miss any article which they can nowhere find, they regularly visit these curious bowers and respectfully take it backagain. Mr. Gould, in his beautiful 'Birds of Australia,' says that from some of the larger and most favourite bowers has been taken as much as half a bushel of the above-mentioned articles. What is the specific purpose for which these bowers are constructed? -- a question as yet rather of conjecture than specifically answered. My own personal observations lead me to think I can settle it. They are immoderately fond of two things -- Dancing and Playing at hide-and-seek and its analogues ; these bowers are merely Terpsichorean temples for the gratification of the community, and places where these pastimes, the delght of their lives, can be obtained at greater advantage, since they can repair there at any time, where they are sure to find partners ready and willing to join them, and the buildings are well adapted for these purposes. When there, they are never seen at rest, but always observed to be going through their evolutions, running through and through the Bower and threading the lanes of the stones outside. The philosophy of this light-hearted Bird seems to be comprised in our familiar apothegm, 'A short life and a merry one,' and their motto to be 'Carpe diem !'

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