Gould's Handbook to the Birds of Australia (i.
pp. 441-461), published in 1865 gives a good early account of these curious
birds. Since that time discovories still more wonderful have been
made. A bird of New Guinea now recognized as the Vogelkop Bowerbird
(Amblyornis inornatus), was found by Beccari to present not only a modification
of bower-building, but an appreciation of beauty perhaps unparalleled in
the animal world. His interesting observations (Annali del Mus. Civ.
de Storia Nat. di Genova, ix. pp. 382-400 tav.viii.) show that this species,
which he not inaptly calls the "Gardener" (Gjardiniere), builds at the
foot of a small tree a kind of hut or cabin (capanna) some two feet in
height, roofed with orchid-stems that slope to the ground, regularly radiating
from the central support, which is covered. with a conical mass of moss,
and sheltering a gallery round it. One side of this hut is left open, and
in front of it is arranged a bed of verdant moss, bedecked with blossoms
and berries of the brightest colours. As these ornaments wither they are
removed to a heap behind the hut, and replaced by others that are fresh.
The hut is circular, and some three feet in diameter, and the mossy lawn
in front of it of nearly twice that expanse. Each hut and garden are, it
is believed, though not known, the work of a single pair of birds, or perhaps
of the male only; and it may be observed that this species, as its trivial
name implies, is wholly inornate in plumage.
Another species, the Streaked Bowerbird (Amblyornis
subalaris), the female of which was originally described by Mr. Sharpe
(Joum. Linn. Soc. xvii. p. 40) as being still more dingy, turned out to
have the male embellished with a wonderful crest of reddish-orange (Finsch
and Meyer, Zeitschr. f. ges. Orn. 1885, p. 390, tab. xxii). Not
less remarkable is the more recently described "bower" of the Golden
Bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana), a genus of which the male,
like the Regent-Bird, is conspicuous for his bright orange coloration.
This structure is said by Mr. Devis (Trans. Roy. Soc. Queensland, 14
June 1889) to be piled up almost horizontally round the base of a tree
to the height of from 4 to 6 feet, and around it are a number of hut-like
fabrics, having the look of a dwarfed native camp.
Related to the forms already named are two others,
the Tooth-billed Bowerbird, (Scenopooetes dentirostris) and the
Catbird, (Ailuroedus dentirostris), which, though not apparently
building "bowers," yet clear a space of ground some 8 or 9 feet in diameter,
on which to display themselves, ornamenting it "with tufts and little heaps
of gaily tinted leaves and young shoots" (Ramsay,
Proc. Zool. Soc. 1875,
p. 592). The former of them, which, according to Mr. Lumholz (Among
Cannibals, pp. 139, 140); covers a space of about a square yard
with large fresh leaves neatly laid, and removes them as they decay, inhabits
Queensland. The "Cat-bird" is known to Australians from its loud,
harsh, and extraordinary cries.
By most systematists these birds were placed in
the 19th century among the Paradiseidae
of Paradise). However in the British Museum Catalogue of Birds
pp. 380-396) they were found in the "limbo large and broad of Timeliidae
- though allowed the rank of a subfamily "Ptilonorhynchinae",
the name being taken from the feathered and not the bare (as might from
its etymology have been expected) condition of the base of the bill shown,
in the picture on the previous page of that part in the Satin Bowerbird.
Today the bowerbirds form the Ptilonorhynchidae family within the Passeriformes