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GRAPPLE | With Issues and Ideas

Watershed Moment | The Fire Next Time | Blue Period | As the World Warms | Woe is Us |
Bare New World | Up to Speed


Staffan Widstrand/Minden Pictures

This male satin bowerbird, once a collector of blue feathers, now adorns its bachelor pad with live ammunition, 50-year-old bottle caps, and condom wrappers stolen from ranchers. As humans encroach on their habitat in Australia and New Guinea, bowerbirds are appropriating our flotsam—and even our noises—for their courtship displays. In northern Queensland, members of one subspecies advertise their sexiness with tobacco, an invasive weed that grows in damaged rainforest. And their repertoire includes mimicking not only natural melodies of birds of prey and wind blowing through the trees but also women scolding dogs and even chainsaws.

"They have to be pretty intelligent," says Gerald Borgia, a pioneer bowerbird researcher at the University of Maryland. "They probably have the most complex display of any species there is." His lab's studies show that smarter males have greater mating success, perhaps because they're able to anticipate female desires, build more complex bowers, and quickly adapt to environmental change. Unfortunately, bowerbirds have yet to figure out how to deal with habitat destruction, as deforestation threatens highland jungles in New Guinea and agriculture plows through the Australian outback. —Christa Morris

NEXT: As the World Warms

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