The Blue-Black Bowerbird


By Kay McNee

Jake was a black bowerbird who lived on the Eastern side of the majestic Mount Bromo in Indonesia.

The Old Chief bowerbird – Chief Harry – had recently left to lead a flock on another mountain, and Jake had been elected as the new Chief, but his initial feelings of pride and excitement about his role were gradually being replaced with feelings of apprehension and a growing sense of pressure.

As Chief, Jake was expected to set an example for the other male bowerbirds on Mount Bromo when it came to attracting a mate – the others would follow his lead and act as he directed them, with the intention of the whole flock finding partners and continuing the survival of their species. Bowerbird numbers were falling across the world, and there was an underlying fear of extinction that lurked just below the surface of every flock meeting. Old Chief Harry had achieved great success in improving bowerbird figures on Mount Bromo, but rather than reassuring Jake, this fact only served to instil a sense of inferiority within him.

“I’m not sure I’m cut out for this”, Jake confided in his friend Brown Eagle. “They all think Old Chief Harry was the best Chief we’ve ever had. They have no confidence in me”.

“What makes you think that?” asked Brown Eagle.

“I just know. I hear them talking all the time about it”.

“You hear who talking?”

“I don’t know, all of them. Anyway, I’ve got a few ideas which I’m going to try. Thanks for chatting Brown Eagle”.

The next day, Jake put his first idea to the test. He flew down to the lake and strutted around the edge, puffing his black chest out and parading himself in the hope that potential partners would be impressed by the immense power he effortlessly exuded. They weren’t. Puffing out his chest got him nowhere. It was back to the drawing board.

On the second day, Jake flew back to the lake and perched on the edge before performing a song. Rumour had it that previous Chiefs had wooed potential partners using song. Jake wasn’t exactly sure where these rumours started, or which specific Chiefs had been successful with this method, but, he thought, this rumour had been running for years, so it was highly likely to be true. It wasn’t. His song got him nowhere. It was back to the drawing board.

On the third day, Jake arrived at the lake with his best idea yet. The other bowerbirds still talked about Old Chief Harry’s famous dance routine – by all accounts, a mesmerising dance that had potential partners queueing up for him. Jake began the dance, remembering all of Old Harry’s steps. It still wasn’t working – potential partners were either ignoring him or laughing at him. ‘If it worked for Old Harry, why isn’t it working for me?’ Jake sighed. He would dance for 1 more minute, then go back to the drawing board.

But suddenly, from behind him came a flash of piercing, electric blue. He stopped dancing and the colour went away. Intrigued, he started dancing again – bowerbirds around the lake had now stopped what they were doing and were looking over at him. The more he danced, the more the shocking blue seemed to flash and swirl in the air. Where was it coming from? Bowerbirds around the lake were now surrounding him, cheering and clapping.

As Jake turned around, he realised that his tail feather had opened out during the dance – that beautiful blue was the blue of his own tail!

‘How had I never noticed that before?’ wondered Jake. ‘It must have been in me the whole time’.