MV Blog


An empty bower

by Jessie
Publish date
21 August 2014
Comments (8)

We farewell Jack, our resident Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), who died in the Forest Gallery this week.

Jack the Bowerbird Jack the adult male Satin Bowerbird
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria

Since Melbourne Museum opened on 9 December 2000, Jack has been a big part of the Forest Gallery. His daily calling, mimicry, aerial acrobatics and dancing entertained and excited both staff and visitors and gave him the reputation of a great entertainer. He was upwards of seven years of age in 2000, meaning this Forest Gallery icon made it to 21 years old.

Up until autumn he was still taking it in turns with his enclosure mate Errol to dance in their bowers and practise courtship behaviours. As winter progressed we started to note that Jack had slowed down and was not as vocal in the mornings. We had discussions as a team as to whether it was time for retirement but decided that Jack had spent his life in the gallery and should end it there when the time came. His time finally arrived yesterday and it feels as if a chapter in the life of this long-term exhibition has also come to a close.

Jack had many interesting adventures in the gallery. He almost died in 2000 when he for some inexplicable reason flew into the empty creek tube that runs under the earth path. He would have drowned in the water at the bottom if Luke (our then Live Exhibits Manager) hadn't raced to his rescue. This year he was a part of an exhibition at MONA with a live feed from the Forest Galelry showing Jack and the other bowerbirds cavorting with a blue teapot. His wing feathers were clipped countless times to slow him down on his over-excited exploits to court a female.  He shared the gallery with number of females, but since 2004 he only had eyes for our resident female Britney. They produced over 20 offspring which are now held in institutions and private collections across Australia.

Bowerbird with blue objects Errol the Satin Bowerbird with Toby Ziegler's contribution to the cache of blue things in the Forest Gallery. This is a still image from the video feed going in to MONA.  

With the absence of Jack, a new era has begun in the Forest Gallery. Errol, our younger male, may become the dominant make of the population. With any luck, he will continue to entertain both staff and visitors. 

Ames room or Ames bower?

by Kate C
Publish date
15 October 2010
Comments (0)

Jack the Satin Bowerbird is arguably the superstar resident of Melbourne Museum's Forest Gallery. His gleaming blue plumage is gorgeous. His skills in construction are unparalleled. He's a great collection manager. But could he also be an illusionist? 

Jack the Satin Bowerbird Jack the Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria

Deakin University's John Endler reported a fascinating possibility in his recent paper in the journal Current Biology. His study of the bowers constructed by the Great Bowerbird, Ptilinorynchus nuchalis, suggests that these animals arrange the ornaments in their bowers in such a way to make themselves look bigger, and thus more impressive, when courting females.

The principle is the same as that in the Ames Room in our exhibition The Mind: Enter the Labyrinth. The distorted, forced persepctive tricks our brains into interpreting people at opposite ends of the room as being dramatically different in size.

Of course, we're not sure if bowerbirds see this illusion the same that we do. And no one has noticed any partiular pattern to Jack's set-dressing, but perhaps there's more to his collection of blue things than first thought!


Birds use optical illusions to get mates, New Scientist, 9 September 2010

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.