Satin bowerbird saved from plastic chokehold

By AG Staff 15 December 2017
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The incident points to the wider impact of plastics on native Australian animals.

Footage of a satin bowerbird’s (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) struggle when a ring from a plastic bottle became caught around its head, captured by The Australian Reptile Park, has revealed the ongoing threat of plastic to the wellbeing of Australia’s native animals.

According to a statement by the Reptile Park, the bowerbird was delivered to the general manager Tim Faulkner by a concerned local who noticed the birds windpipe was heavily obstructed by the plastic ring.

Satin bowerbirds are well-known for their peculiar mating ritual which sees them decorate intricate bowers— a long tunnel-like structure made up of sticks— with blue and purple ornaments.

“This is a natural behaviour that has been occurring for thousands of years but now humans are sharing their habitat at an increased capacity, more potentially harmful items to birds start appearing in their bowers,” said Tim.

The impact of plastic

According to Karen Rowe, a satin bowerbird expert from Museums Victoria, bowerbirds have been documented using artificial objects to decorate their bowers for a long time, however, increased availbility has caused issues.

“The widespread availability of plastic objects, and particularly blue objects like clothing pegs, milk bottle-tops, and straws are likely to catch the eye of a male satin bowerbird,” she told Australian Geographic. “While it’s likely plastic objects like milk bottle-tops may impact individual satin bowerbirds from time to time, the conservation status of the species is secure and at the moment.”

Changing the colour of bottle tops

Karen said that less unrecycled plastics in our terrestrial and aquatic environments would not only benefit the bowerbird, but also many other Australian animals.

“Specifically for the satin bowerbird, changing the colour of milk bottle-tops from blue to another, less attractive colour, may make a difference.

“In 1995, Bruce Lindenmayer was able to get the Canberra Milk company to switch their bottle-top lids from blue to black to reduce the risk of satin bowerbirds catching their bills or heads inside the rings when using them to decorate their bowers.”