Saturday, November 10, 2007

Offering Flowers in Courtship

There was a flash of red dancing in the branches. Amidst the lush green under-growth, a Red-backed Fairy Wren was displaying his magnificent scarlet cloak. The birdbook tells me that his deep red feathers will fade after a few months of sun and rain and this has led to the suppostition that there are, in fact, two red-backed species - one wearing scarlet, the other a deep crimson. But these differences could be due, the birdbook says, to the condition of their plumage (Frith, 1976:416).

A couple of days earlier I'd found a small delicately-woven nest lying on the trail. The image of the Wren's nest from the birdbook looks remarkably similar. Wrens create an oval-shaped home from little strips of grass and that seems to be just the same as the empty nest that lay on the path.

According to Emu, the publication of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, during the Wren's courtship, these brightly-frocked males carry pink or red flower petals, displaying them towards their chosen partner.

In an observational study of of this petal-carrying behaviour among both wild and avairy-reared birds, it was found that male birds display flower petals towards the fertile female. The researchers concluded that the petal-carrying behaviour is mainly an inter-sexual event to attract the female, although in 10 percent of cases, the male birds enacted the same behaviour towards other males, leading to the suggestion that it could also be an intra-sexual aggressive display (Karubian and Alvarado, 2003).

Along the trail I meet another riverwalker who's also taking photographs. As I stroke his graceful greyhound, we chat about the Brahminy Kite that just swooped low over the water and the abundant birdlife that dwells in this special and sacred place.

Frith HJ, 1976, Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds, Surry Hills, NSW, Reader's Digest Services Pty Ltd.
Karubian J and A Alvarado, 2003, 'Testing the function of petal-carrying in the Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus),' Emu, 103, 1, 87-92.