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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1986 May;83(9):3042-6.

Animal art: Variation in bower decorating style among male bowerbirds Amblyornis inornatus.

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Physiology Department, University of California Medical School, Los Angeles, CA 90024.


Courtship bowers of the bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus, the most elaborately decorated structures erected by an animal other than humans, vary geographically and individually. Bowers in the south Kumawa Mountains are tall towers of sticks glued together, resting on a circular mat of dead moss painted black, and decorated with dull objects such as snail shells, acorns, and stones. Bowers in the Wandamen Mountains are low woven towers covered by a stick hut with an entrance, resting on a green moss mat and decorated with colorful objects such as fruits, flowers, and butterfly wings. Young males build simpler bowers, and adult males differ among themselves. Experiments with poker chips of seven colors offered as decorations showed that individual birds prefer some colors over others, individuals and populations differ in these preferences, certain objects are placed in specific parts of the bower, and birds steal chips from neighbors. Bower style may be partly learned. Hence, geographically varying bower styles may be a culturally transmitted trait, like human art styles.

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