New Guinea

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Aside from being accomplished architects and artists, many bowerbirds are also skilled mimics.  Male satin bowerbirds will imitate the calls of other local birds during their courtship displays.  Even more startling, MacGregror’s bowerbirds have been heard imitating human speech, pigs grunting, and even the sound of nearby waterfalls.

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After mating, the female cassowary will lay three to six large, green eggs.  Once these eggs are laid, the female’s job is done, and she will wander off to find another male to mate with.  It is the father who constructs a nest of waterproof vegetation and incubates the eggs for the next fifty days.  A devoted parent, the male will not leave his eggs until they have hatched.  A broody male cassowary does not need to eat, drink, or even defecate for the entire period of incubation.

Cassowary chicks are small, beige in colour, with dark brown stripes.  The father will protect his new family with devotion, showing them what foods to eat and ferociously protecting them from predators.  The chicks will stay with their father for the next nine months.

It has also been noted in zoos that cassowary chicks will imprint readily on anyone who is present when they hatch, including humans.  These chicks are then extremely tame and will follow their adopted parent anywhere.  In some native villages in New Guinea, cassowary chicks are even kept as pets and left to wander loose through the village, like chickens.  However, even the tamest chick will turn savage and dangerous upon reaching adulthood.  

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The male bowerbird’s obsession with the arrangement of objects in his bower might seem ludicrous, but it actually has a very distinct purpose.  Many male bowerbirds have been observed using the arrangement of objects to create optical illusions, particularly forced perspective, by arranging similar objects from smallest to largest.  It’s been determined that females find these illusions intriguing, and will spend more time at bowers containing them and give the males a better chance of mating.  This behaviour makes many researchers count bowerbirds among the most behaviourally complex of all birds.

Why Did New Guinea Warriors Prefer Daggers Made With Human Bone?

The indigenous people of Papua New Guinea did not develop metalworking before modern contact. Instead, they fought with sharpened bone daggers. Here there was a choice: fight with daggers crafted from human thighbones or daggers crafted from cassowary thighbones – giant, flightless, dinosaur-like birds. The preferred weapon in Papua New Guinea was human bone daggers.

And a new study suggests why: the dagger fashioned from human bone is stronger than the giant bird’s thighbone, largely because of the way the warriors of New Guinea carved the weapons. The human bone daggers retained more of the natural curves of the bone, making them stronger than the flatter, less curved cassowary bone daggers. Given that cassowary daggers are easier to replace than human-bone daggers, it makes sense that the human daggers were carved with greater care to make them stronger.