Birds of Paradise

Lesser bird of paradise in full displayThe most astonishingly dramatic and colourful birds of the air are with out doubt the birds of paradise, from Papua New Guinea and northern Australia. This still of a lesser bird of paradise Paradisaea minor is from an NHNZ Images movie clip.

It's the males that dazzle with song, colour and acrobatics, much as those picture wing flies of Hawaii impress their females, which I wrote about last week.

These plumed birds of paradise assemble at display grounds, called leks, to entice a female with their spectacular advertising. Her eye is most likely to be caught by the most flamboyant of these extravaganzas.

They are the very opposite of discrete, but attract no predators. Very few ever existed in the treetops of New Guinea. For millions of years the 28 kinds of birds of paradise evolved in comparative safety. On this island there were few birds to compete with them and no monkeys or squirrels after the fruits and nuts these birds can handle with their strong manipulative beaks. In a way, they are the monkeys and squirrels of these tree tops, ardent gymnasts of this forest.

The greater bird of paradise was the first to be described from skins which had been prepared by native tribespeople who had cut off their wings and feet. This was not noticed and it was thought that they never landed, but their fine plumage kept them in the air in paradise. The latin name Paradisea apoda reflects this, as apoda means without feet.

Check out other interesting, intriguing and arresting images from the NHNZ stockshot library.