Birds of Paradise

Goldie's Bird of Paradise

Some fantastic photos and videos of the incredible Birds of paradise. Who wants to go to New Guinea with me?  Via Wired. 

Birds of paradise have evolved into very conspicuous animals with orange, red and turquoise plumage and ornate wire-like feathers that have captured the imagination of scientists and bird enthusiasts alike.

Their showy features are a delight to behold, but they would also make them an easy target for hungry cats and other predatory mammals — if there were any around. The absence of such predators is precisely what allowed these otherwise impractical species to evolve.

“There was an evolutionary opportunity to develop that kind of extravagance,” ornithologist Ed Scholes of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said. “They’re a quirk of geography.”

More than 20 years ago, wildlife photographer Tim Laman saw his first birds of paradise, the Standardwing and the Red Bird of Paradise, while traveling in Indonesia. He started imagining a project to photograph every species of these birds in their natural habitats of New Guinea and parts of Australia.

“It was one of the dream assignments on my list,” said Laman, who’s also a rainforest biologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Laman, whose work often focuses on conservation, finally pitched the project to National Geographic in 2003. He teamed up with Scholes, and during the next three years the pair made five trips to New Guinea and managed to photograph about half of the 39 species of birds of paradise.

After eight years, Laman and Scholes completed their mission of photographing all of the bird-of-paradise species, including the ballerina-like bronze parotia, which only recently was recognized as the 39th species.

The project took Laman and Scholes through more than 200 flights, 18 expeditions and thousands of hours spent hiding in blinds as high as 50 meters above ground. They set up a battery-powered jungle ethernet and remote-controlled cameras hooked up to laptops to take the nearly 40,000 photographs that comprise the Birds of Paradise Project.

Here is a selection of some of the best videos and photos from their avian adventures.


Goldie’s Bird-of-Paradise

Goldie’s birds-of-paradise live on two or three islands on the western edge of Papua New Guinea.

Males coordinate their displays and their calls sound almost like an intense duet, says Scholes.

Magnificent Riflebird Bird of Paradise

Magnificent Riflebird

Unlike greater birds-of-paradise, the magnificent riflebird prefers to court females alone. He perches himself on a horizontal vine and transforms himself from a normal black bird into a “headless ovoid thing,” Scholes said. He hides his head behind his wings to reveal metallic blue feathers. As he hops around looking like a UFO trying to land, he flaps his wings and produces a buzzing sound that resembles fabric tearing, according to Scholes.

Male riflebirds are able to make that sound because their feathers have a soft, rounded edge, Scholes says. When a male riflebird spreads his wings, they look rounded instead of jagged like other birds. They may not be the most aerodynamically efficient wings, but they are beautiful to look at.

“No other birds have this adaptation. It’s purely for the purposes of courtship,” Scholes said. Magnificent riflebirds can still fly, but not for long distances.

Laman spent 80 hours hidden inside a blind to document the riflebird’s audiovisual, alien-like mating dance.

Greater Bird of Paradise

Greater Bird-of-Paradise

Male greater birds-of-paradise congregate in groups of up to 20 to court females in the canopies of New Guinea rain forests. Even though they’re competing for females, their displays are highly synchronized and coordinated, says Scholes. They display their wispy feathers and jump around from branch to branch.

There is some evidence suggesting that females prefer males who are part of more coordinated crowds. But that doesn’t mean all males in that pack will get equal access to the ladies because most females tend to choose the same male.

This one-male-for-all-females strategy is common among all birds-of-paradise and it’s part of the reason “why the process of evolution has been so extreme for these birds,” said Scholes. “The males with the most extreme characteristics are the ones fathering all the offspring.”

For years, Laman dreamed of taking a photograph of this bird with the sun in the background. After lots of climbing, waiting and good luck, he was finally able to take it with the help of a hidden “leaf cam” he set up in the trees.

Lesser Bird of Paradise

Lesser Bird-of-Paradise

These birds are smaller versions of the greater bird-of-paradise. They also have wispy colorful Mohawk-forming feathers, which made them targets for bird hunters in the 1900s looking to sell them to fashion houses as decoration for women’s hats.

Hunting doesn’t pose a big threat to these animals because by the time they’ve developed their beautiful feathers, they’ve reached adulthood and likely have had the chance to mate. Habitat destruction from logging is a concern, however.

Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise

Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise

These birds live in lowland swamp forests. Males prefer courting females atop vertical poles or branches.

“They’re playing a game or dance where she moves to the top and he positions himself so he can get her to come back down and get on top of her,” said Scholes.

As shown in the video, a yellow and purple male shimmies down a branch, tail first, wiggling 12 wire-like extensions in the female’s face. During this very tactile display, he moves back and forth several times, touching her.

“For some reason, females have found it appealing to be whipped by those wires before they mate,” said Scholes.

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