If Australian landscape architects are still wrestling with the question which animal to adopt as their mascot they can call off their quest. Scientific research helps them to make their final choice. The Great Bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis, native to Australia) presents itself as the best choice.

The great Bowerbird not only builds a bower as a little tunnel to attract females but doing so adds a final touch that makes this bird the obvious candidate to be lifted to the heraldic shield of Australian landscape architecture. All male Bowerbirds stand behind the bower and try to catch the attention of the female bird by throwing objects alongside the back of the tunnel. Everything will do, stones, little bones, shells but the most interesting objects, like bottle caps or a blue plastic clothes-peg, are saved for last to make the best impression. The amazing thing is that the great Bowerbird arranges the objects to size thus creating a false perspective.

For me Chlamydera nuchalis may call itself the Great Bowerbird because it not only creates a scenic (and romantic) route that seems to come out of landscape architecture textbooks, but as an extra the false perspective looks very much like the stunning prospettiva forzata that Palladio build in his Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.

Needless to say that the suggestion that birds would create romantic illusions is sheer human projection and that this beautiful construction has evolutionary advantages. The illusion may hold the female’s attention for longer than a poorly arranged gesso, the researchers say. But then again, if modern environmental historians are confronting us with their insights that Nature is mainly a cultural construct (Cronon) and post modern sociologists like Donna Haraway (Cyborgs) and Bruno Latour (Hybrids) are confronting us with the constant hybridization of culture and nature why not take a less anthropocentric view on the Bowerbird and grant him a hybridization from the side of nature. To coin a term let‚Äôs call it Nulture. And let us perhaps allow ourselves to look at our Culture as something that indeed is evolutionary advantages but nevertheless an inalienable part of nature. For the sake of being congruent let‚Äôs call it Cature. A deep bow for the Bowerbird!


Kelley, et al. Illusions Promote Mating Success in Great Bowerbirds. In: Science 20 January 2012: 335-338. DOI:10.1126/science.1212443

Posted by:Dirk Sijmons