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The birds of paradise found in New Guinea and the surrounding areas are extremely showy. Their brilliant plumage and flamboyant displays are unequaled in the bird world. Male birds of paradise vary greatly from species to species, displaying an amazing variety of colors as well as crests, fans, plumes, and tail streamers. The birds also differ widely in size and in the shape of their bills. But despite their differences, they are all closely related, forming a distinct family of magnificent perching birds.
Food and Feeding: Birds of paradise find most of their food in trees. The various species have different diets, as the different shapes of their bills show. Many species, such as the greater bird of paradise, have short, stout beaks that are suitable for eating fruit, buds, leaves, and flowers as well as insects and other small animals. Other species, such as the brown sickle bill, are equipped with long, thin curved bills that are good for pulling insects and their larvae out from under bark and moss.
Characteristics: Birds of paradise originated in New Guinea, and there are 37 different species on this large tropical island. Six species have spread to the Molasses, the Au Islands, and the east coast of Australia. Most of the birds live in the rain forests of New Guinea, and many live only in the highlands. Others inhabit the savanna (grassland) on the south of the island or live in the mangroves that fringe the coast. Birds of paradise are similar in shape to crows or starlings. The smallest, the king bird of paradise, is only six inches long. The largest species are 18 inches long with tails that may extend another 24 inches. Birds of paradise have rounded wings, and their feet are strong for perching on branches. Plumage varies widely within this family of birds. In certain species the male and female are alike with plain feathers.
But in most other species the female is brownish for camouflage on the nest, while the male has multicolored feathers that are often iridescent, and crest, fans, or tail ribbons. This vivid plumage is intended to attract the females, and competition between males has resulted in the evolution of even more colorful forms. As various groups of birds became separated from one another, they evolved to form distinct species. Only six inches long, the king bird of paradise is the smallest in this family of birds. The male ragging bird of paradise often displays near villages in New Guinea. The male magnificent bird of paradise has outstanding plumage. In display, he often removes leaves from surroundings so that light falls on his iridescent feathers and shows him off to best effect.
Breeding: Breeding behavior varies with the different species. The males of colorful species mate with many females. To attract a mate the male performs elaborate displays. Some males compete at communal display grounds called elks. Male groups of 15 to 20 greater birds of paradise gather in the treetops at dawn, fluffing up their yellow and white plumes. Each male bows down and curves his wings high in a complex dance ritual. The male blue bird of paradise hangs upside down from a branch, fans out his feathers and tail ribbons, and then bobs up and down. After breeding, the colorful males take no part in nest building or incubation. The drably colored males of certain species find a single mate, and both sexes share in nesting and caring for the young. Nests are usually built in trees or inside hollow tree trunks. The drab brown colors of the female magnificent bird of paradise camouflage her on the nest. The male emperor bird of paradise puts on spectacular courtship displays.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, and Related Species:
Length: 6 in. -4 ft., including tail feathers
Wingspan: 3-10 in.
Sexual maturity: Female, 2-3 years. Males, up to 7 years
Breeding Season: Variable
Eggs: 1-2, rarely 3. Pale with colored spots and blotches
Incubation period: 17-21 days
Fledging period: 17-30 days
Habit: Mostly solitary outside the breeding season. Some have a single mate, but most males have several mates
Diet: Fruit, leaves, buds, flowers, invertebrates, small vertebrates
Related Species: There are 43 bird
of paradise species, all grouped in the same family. Of these species, 37
can be found in New Guinea.
Distribution: Found in New Guinea, the Molasses, the Au Islands, Cape York Peninsula, and the east coast of Australia
Conservation: Birds of paradise were once hunted for their plumage. This was made illegal in 1924 following a dramatic drop in numbers. Today, loss of habitat is a major threat to many species, particularly those with restricted ranges.
Some Birds of Paradise and Their Display
Superb bird of paradise, Lophorina superb: Lives in the mountain forest of New Guinea. Mainly black feathers, but in display the male shows a throat shield of metallic blue green feathers.
King of Saxon bird of paradise, Pteridophora Albert: Found in Papuan highlands. Male has long crest feathers.
The king bird of paradise, Cicinnurus reggaes: Lives in lowland forest of New Guinea. Long, wiry tail feathers end in green disks.
Ragging bird of paradise, Paradise ragging: Found in New Guinea. Often displays in trees at edges of villages. Male has dazzling plumage for courtship, with mixed coloring of maroon, yellow, and green.
Did You Know:
The ribbon tailed bird of paradise that is found in Central New Guinea was not discovered until 1939. Its two long tail feathers can be up to three feet long.
Several species utter strange calls. The king of Saxon bird of paradise sounds like the crackle of radio static, and the magnificent rifle bird lives up to its name with a call that sounds like a passing bullet.
Males may not breed until they are seven years old. But they watch the courtship rituals of their elders, learning and waiting for their time.