Prima Donnas in the world of birds, Birds of Paradise are some of the world’s most vibrantly beautiful birds. There are over 3000 species of Birds of Paradise in the Paradisaeidae family. They are known not only for their bright plumage but for the length of their feathers and colossal head plumes. Some species display bountiful breast plates or head fans. They are located in Indonesia for the most part but also Australia and New Guinea.
Birds of Paradise Plumage
The various species are adorned in many bright hues but vary just as widely in size. The King Bird of Paradise is the smallest on record, measuring a slight 16 cm long. Its bright crimson wings are tipped in a florescent orange. The males have blue feet and long curling streamers from its tail with bright green green fans at the tip. The Curl-crested Manocode is one of the largest at 43 cm long. Its glossy black and purple head feathers curl and blend with dark, shiny green feathers.
This fantastically beautiful family of birds spends their lives in rainforests and swamps and moss forests. All but a few species live in New Guinea. Those that aren’t are the Silk Crow and the Standardwing and the Manocode which live in Australia and The Maluku Islands.
Birds of paradise eat fruits and bugs indigenous to the rainforests and swampy areas they live in. Birds of Paradise need to eat two different types of fruits in order to survive, simple and complex. Fruits like figs, kiwi, mangos and bananas are simple fruits that are high in carbohydrates. Apples, pears and berries are complex fruits which contain higher levels of fats and proteins. Birds of Paradise require both sets of nutrients to survive and thrive.
This fruit eating requirement makes the Bird of Paradise especially important to the ecological system in New Guinea. In most other parts of the world, mammals eat tree fruits and as the seeds make it through their digestive track undigested, they are deposited in the ground and can sprout seedlings. In New Guinea, it is the Bird of paradise that takes on this important job. The few species that don’t make fruits their main dietary object prefer insects, particularly spiders.
Birds of Paradise have elaborate and time consuming mating rituals. They prefer solitude and will usually only come together to mate. Mating is where all those fantastic colorful feathers come into play. As with most species, it is the male who is the most colorful and elaborately adorned. The male Bird of Paradise uses this display of feathers and colors in conjunction with a mating dance to attract females.
The males use a Lek mating system that entails many males of the species gathering in one spot to compete for females using their dance and appearance. They also use loud vocal displays like crowing and cawing. This is done each day of the mating season in the same place and in the same manner.
Most species of Birds of paradise are polygynous. They mate with more than one female. Only nine species are monogamous and mate with one female, often for life. In these species, the males and females are both drab in color and do not have the elaborate plumage of the other species of Birds of Paradise.
Once the female has chosen her mate she retreats to her nest to hatch and raise her chicks alone. Females make nests in trees, as other birds do, but also in thick foliage and on the ground. The build soft and thick nests of vine tendrils, fern leaves, moss and slender grasses. Birds of Paradise usually only lay egg clutches of one egg, though some of the smaller species will lay two to three eggs.
There is no doubt about it; the Bird of Paradise is an amazing creature. From its importance in the ecosystem to its elaborate mating rituals to the brightly color feathers so artfully arranges on its body, it is obvious why hunters and poachers have begun to threaten the existence of this fine bird. Native tribesmen also hunt the birds for the ceremonial use of their feathers, feet and bones.
Some of the species are near extinction because of the hunting. However, recent legal provisions have recently been made and the Bird of Paradise enjoys special legal protection from hunters. Only a small amount of hunting can be done by native tribesman for religious purposes only. Humans are the Bird of Paradise’ only natural enemy other than when they are small chicks and preyed upon by larger birds and mammals.
Loss of habitat may be the more realistic culprit for a decline in this bird’s population. In recent times, large quantities of the rain forests in New Guinea and Australia have been converted to farm land or logged for profit forcing the birds out of the area. With less places to live there are less Birds of Paradise. An unjust fate for so regal and elegant a bird.