The Goldilocks Experiment

November 26

We’ve been deploying the Goldilocks experiment today at ten local bowers using the new and improved “machines” that I made. This experiment aims to find out if bowerbirds prefer certain colored decorations over others. To test it we ask the question: Will he chose to place preferred colored objects in prominent positions on his mat and dump the unwanted ones out the back and into the rubbish heap? To find out, we deploy colored leaves in one spot and check back later to see where he moved them to. It’s very simple and non-invasive, measurements involving a mere measuring tape and a plastic protractor. It takes a couple minutes and we visit his bower at a later time when he isn’t there, typically the same afternoon.

The picture shows not only a big brush turkey, near enough to Mr. Bowerbird’s bower to cause him great alarm, but it also shows the machine prototype holding up three colored leaves: red, blue, and cream. The machine itself is simply a small twig, pinned to the bowerbird mat, outfitted with slots to retain the very end of each artificial leaf. Mr. Bowerbird easily detaches each colored leaf from the machine with his beak and deposits each wherever he wishes. If deployed in the manner consistent with the instructions from the manufacturer, you shouldn’t really be able to detect the machine itself, but only see the three leaves. The deployment is back a ways from his avenue so as to not disturb what he is doing there and intentionally designed to be camouflage so he won’t worry over the machine itself, only worry about the colored leaves that “came from nowhere”.

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Beautiful Australian day with mostly clear skies, if not strong south winds. It makes for lousy surf, but hey, one cannot surf everyday! The clear skies also bring on an extremely high UV index, especially from 10:00-3:00. We try and cover up when out in the sun by wearing big hats, plenty of sunscreen, and sometimes white long-sleeved shirts or stay at camp or pick forest projects to work in with lots of trees. Right now we are spending the noon hour under a picnic pavilion at a nature reserve; gives our bowerbirds time to choose their colors, our video cameras time to film some action, and our stomachs time to eat lunch. The Coffs Coast, they say, has the nicest climate in Australia. Never too cold or too hot, nor too wet nor too dry. A little bit like what I remember Hawaii was all about. But nothing can be paradise for long if we damage the ozone layer and singe the planet with harmful rays. I have always wondered why plants don’t get skin cancer. After all, they spend their whole lives reaching for the sun.

Included for your enjoyment is a recent photo of a bowerbird courting to an empty bower. But just look at his eye. You can tell he is really excited none the less!

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