Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home

Flying Casanovas

Classroom Activity

To compare and contrast various styles of bowers created by bowerbirds.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Bowerbird Basics" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  1. Organize students into teams of two. Assign each team to track one of the following types of bowerbirds (some teams may be tracking the same bird):

    1. Western Bowerbird
    2. Tooth-billed Bowerbird
    3. Archbold's Bowerbird
    4. McGregor's Bowerbird
    5. Golden Bowerbird
    6. Vogelkop Bowerbird
    7. Regent Bowerbird
    8. Satin Bowerbird
    9. Great Bowerbird
  2. Provide each student with a copy of the "Bowerbird Basics" student handout. Have each team decide which member will record a visual representation of its assigned bowerbird's bower and which will journal the characteristics of the assigned bower.

  3. Once roles are assigned, have students watch the program, taking notes on their assigned characteristics. Students should note variations of bowers of their assigned species.

  4. Following the program, have members of each team compare their visual and written records of their assigned bower and reconcile any differences. Then have three teams combine to form a new group and compare bowers. Have the new group answer Questions for Combined Teams.

  5. After all groups have answered their questions, hold a class discussion on the characteristics of all the bowerbirds featured in the program and determine the similarities and differences among them. Discuss each of the following points and any other student observations when analyzing all the bowers:

    • How do the bowers compare in terms of simplicity versus complexity?

    • How do the items chosen by each species compare and contrast?

    • What might be some reasons for these similarities and differences?

    • What behaviors did the male bowerbirds exhibit that might have been designed to increase their chances of being selected by the females?

  6. As an extension, have students research ways other bird species display mating behavior.

Activity Answer

There are 17 bowerbird species known. They make up the family Ptilonorhynchidae, which, in turn, makes up the order Passeriformes.


Type of bowerbird

Style of bower

Some of the materials used to decorate


Western Bowerbird

Two-walled structure

Bones, snail shells and pebbles—all white, twigs.


Tooth-billed Bowerbird

Mat or Platform

Leaves, all pale side up.


Archbold's Bowerbird

Mat or Platform

Moss, blueberries, dried orchid stems, beetle wing cases, head plumes of King of Saxony Bird of Paradise.


McGregor's Bowerbird


Tree fern, twigs, caterpillar droppings, impacted moss, rare black fungus.


Golden Bowerbird

Twin Maypole

Twigs, fungus, horizontal branch, translucent seed pods, yellow lichen, jasmine flowers.


Vogelkop Bowerbird

Twin Maypole

Thatched roof of orchid stems, sapling base, twig pillars, black stems of tree ferns, moss lawn, beetle wing covers, orange fruit, glowing orange leaves, acorns, black fruits, bush flowers, brown fungus, brown leaves, blackberries, a large black mushroom.


Regent Bowerbird


A leaf, a molted skin of a cicada.


Satin Bowerbird

Avenue (with walls)

Interwoven twigs , green leaves (chewed up and smeared on walls like paint), blueberries, green leaves or fruit, cicada skins, small skulls, leaf skeleton.


Great Bowerbird


Marble chips, snail shells, beer bottle fragments, hair band, green foot powder packets, green water-bottle tops.

Similarities and differences include the simplicity or complexity of each bower, the size of each bower, and the materials used. Often, the more elaborate the bower, the less vivid the owner's plumage will be and vice versa. Some differences are a result of the materials available to each bower builder and how long the bower has existed. Some behaviors exhibited by bowerbirds were stealing items from or deconstructing other bowers, or singing songs to attract mates.

Links and Books


Wechsler, Doug. Bizarre Birds. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 1999.
Investigates the fascinating and bizarre aspects of some of the 10,000 species of birds including physical traits, breeding, eating habits, and ability to fly.


Ryan, Michael J. "Sexual Selection, Receiver Bias, and the Evolution of Sex Differences." Science, September 25, 1998, p.1999.
Explores how sex differences in a species may evolve based on females' preferences for certain traits in males of that species.

Brownlee, Shannon. "Of Males and Tails: Seeming Handicaps Tout a Suitor's Worth." U.S. News & World Report, July 6, 1998, pages 60-62.
Reviews two different approaches to why females choose ornate males in sexual selection.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Flying Casanovas
On this Web site, read about bowerbirds from a scientist who has shadowed them for more than 10 years, learn the legends and lore of the birds, investigate the nature of courtship, and match bowerbirds to their proper bowers.

Birds—Everything About Bowerbirds
Includes photos and information about habitat, nesting, and behavior of the Great Bowerbird, the Golden Bowerbird, and the Tooth-billed Bowerbird.


The "Bowerbird Basics" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5-8

Life Science

Science Standard C:
Life Science

Regulation and behavior

  • An organism's behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species' evolutionary history.

Grades 9-12

Life Science

Science Standard C:
Life Science

The behavior of organisms

  • Like other aspects of an organism's biology, behaviors have evolved through natural selection. Behaviors often have adaptive logic when viewed in terms of evolutionary principles.

Teacher's Guide
Flying Casanovas

Video is not required for this activity