Vogelkop bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata)

Synonyms: Amblyornis inornatus
GenusAmblyornis (1)
SizeLength: 26 cm (2)
Male weight: 105 - 155 g (2)
Female weight: 105 - 146 g (2)

The Vogelkop bowerbird is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The fascinating Vogelkop bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata) belongs to a unique family of birds famed for their construction of complex structures known as ‘bowers’ (3). The Latin name, inornata, refers to Vogelkop bowerbird’s lack of bright plumage. Some scientists have theorised that the complexity of this species’ bower has resulted in the male no longer needing bright plumage in order to attract a mate (3).

The plumage of the Vogelkop bowerbird is mainly brown, with its upperparts being dark brownish-olive fading to pale cinnamon brown on the underside (2). The Fakfak Mountain population of this species has slightly darker plumage on the upperparts, with brownish-yellow plumage below. The Vogelkop bowerbird has a brownish bill, dark brown eyes and bluish legs (2).

Although the male and female Vogelkop bowerbird are quite similar in appearance, the female can be distinguished by being slightly smaller, with legs that are darker and less blue than the male (2).

The Vogelkop bowerbird is native to New Guinea, where it can be found in the Tamrau, Arfak, Wandammen, Fakfak and Kumawa Mountains (2).

The preferred habitat of the Vogelkop bowerbird is rainforest with a canopy of 25 to 30 metres. It occurs at elevations ranging from 1,000 to 2,075 metres, but is usually found between 1,200 to 2,000 metres (2).

It is absent from areas of extensive, bare rock (2).

The most fascinating aspect of the Vogelkop bowerbird’s biology is the construction of a wigwam style bower by the male (3). In general, male bowerbirds construct and decorate bowers in order to attract a mate, with the structure of the bower varying greatly between species. Female bowerbirds are thought to prefer to mate with males that construct larger and more highly decorated bowers (4).

The bower of the male Vogelkop bowerbird is a complex hut-like structure, generally known as a maypole bower as it is built around a central sapling tree trunk (2). The roof is usually made out of epiphytic orchid stems, and the whole construction can be up to 1.5 metres in height and 2 metres in diameter (2). The central pole of the bower is covered in moss, and this extends out to form a lawn in front of the bower. This lawn is then decorated by the male with neat piles of attractive objects, including brightly coloured fruits and flowers, insect exoskeletons and pieces of charcoal (2). Red, blue, black and orange coloured items are particularly favoured by the Vogelkop bowerbird, though the colour, type and amount of ornaments varies greatly from bower to bower and between populations (2) (3). The male Vogelkop bowerbird will often indulge in sabotage or theft from a neighbouring bower (2).

In certain parts of its range (Fakfak and Kumawa Mountains), the Vogelkop bowerbird builds a more simple structure which lacks a roof (2). The extreme difference in bowers may lead to these populations being classified as a separate species, although genetic studies so far have not revealed any major differences (2) (3).

When a female Vogelkop bowerbird arrives at the bower, the male will begin the courtship display by rushing inside and crouching at the rear of the bower, while singing (2). The courtship songs consists of both natural sounds and mimicry, and the chamber of the bower is believed to amplify the song (3). During the courtship display, the male will also stand erect and occasionally run out from the concealment of the bower, with its head cocked to one side, before dashing back in (2). Male Vogelkop bowerbirds are polygynous, mating with more than one female (3).

The female Vogelkop bowerbird alone is responsible for nest construction and raising the young (3). Only a few nests have been observed and these were built in the forking branches of saplings, about 1 to 2.5 metres above the ground. One such nest has been described as an untidy structure of sticks, with a lining of leaves. The clutch size of the Vogelkop bowerbird is known to be at least one egg (2).

While there is little information on the diet preferences and feeding behaviour of the Vogelkop bowerbird, it is known to feed on fruit and insects (2).

The Vogelkop bowerbird is described as being common and widespread throughout its range (2). Due to the small size of its range, however, this species could be vulnerable to future threats such as habitat loss.

While there are no known specific conservation efforts aimed at the Vogelkop bowerbird, people living near the Arfak range of this species are said to avoid destroying the bowers (2).

Find out more about the Vogelkop bowerbird:

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  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Rowland, P. (2008) Bowerbirds. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
  4. Madden, J. (2001) Sex, bowers and brains. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B, 268: 833-838.