More from Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. The Regent Bowerbird is about 12 inches long, with velvety black plumage and brilliant golden yellow highlights. It lives in the forests of Queensland, Australia.
They’re polygamous and promiscuous in their mating. Males court and mate with multiple partners in the display territories for which the bird is famous: the “bower” is an elaborate structure with two parallel walls made of twigs and a display area for ornaments the bird has collected.
The male’s courting display involves him dancing around and ritually presenting these precious possessions by holding each of them in his beak, one after the other. The objects may include snail shells, coloured insect carapaces, berries, seeds, flowers, or bits of human detritus such as blue plastic bags, broken glass, foil, twine, and bottle caps. Sometimes the males paint the bowers a yellowish-green colour by using a mixture of mashed-up, brightly coloured leaves and their saliva.
You may already have guessed that male Bowerbirds don’t see why all this effort should just be for the ladies to appreciate… or not appreciate in many cases, since females frequently get bored and move on before a male’s show is finished. How rude. The other boys, however, appreciate how much effort has gone into all his foraging and decoration. Sometimes they appreciate it so much that they want to mate with the bower’s owner. What you may not be expecting is that some male Bowerbirds are also transvestites…
Regent Bowerbird (Sericulus chrysocephalus)
Homosexuality: Male Transgender: Transvestism Behaviours: Courtship Ranking: Moderate Observed: Wild, Captivity
(See It’s Gay Animal Fortnight for an explanation of this box.)
Many younger males have plumage that resembles that of a female bird instead of a male. For up to seven years they may entirely resemble females or look like a mixture of male and female. These transvestites have special ways of building their bower and displaying their objects when they’re attempting to court somebody of their own gender. Bowerbirds with typical male plumage spend about 15% of their time trying to seduce other males. 28% of the juvenile transvestites’ display time is spent re-enacting the twist from The Crying Game with other males. Furthermore, two thirds of adult males seem to have no interest in courting anybody of either gender. Only a third of males build bowers at all, and only a fraction of visits by other Bowerbirds to a courting bird’s bower lead to mating.
Quite reminiscent of going back to somebody’s place, then they insist on showing you all their records or all their action figures or how many shoes and teddy bears they’ve got or something and you just think, OK… heading home now.
Next time on Gay Animal Fortnight… the gayest hoofed animal is not the Unicorn. It’s the Giraffe.
Original Regent Bowerbird image from Wikipedia Commons.