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 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