Members of the Bird of Paradise family Paradisaeidae are known around the globe for the male’s intense plumage and magnificently long feathers extending from the beak, wings or neck. These feathers come in a range of bright colours and styles, making them highly collectible worldwide. There are around forty species in fourteen genera, with the majority found on the island of New Guinea, with a few species found in the Maluku Islands west of New Guinea, as well as in Eastern Australia. The Bird of Paradise lives in dense rainforest canopy and its diet is dominated by fruit.
One such Bird of Paradise species is called the Superb Bird of Paradise, Lophorina Superba, which lives throughout the rainforests of New Guinea. The Superb Bird of Paradise is around 25 centimetres (10 inches) long. The female birds of this species have reddish-brown to brown feathers, while the males have a more elaborate display, with black feathers, a dazzling green crown, a bluish-green breast shield and a long, black cape covering their back. This complex and intense appearance of the male is due to the Superb Bird of Paradise’s mating courtship display, which is one of the most bizarre and extensive courtship displays in the avian world.
The Superb Bird of Paradise species has an unusually low population of females, which has led to an intense and fierce competition for mates among the males. The Superb Bird of Paradise male must first select an area on the forest floor or on a branch and carefully and meticulously clean it for preparation. This includes scrubbing and sweeping the dirt or branch smooth with leaves. All debris is cleared, such as rocks, sticks and dead leaves, making a nice clear ‘dance floor’. As a female approaches, the male’s black cape and blue-green breast shield becomes erect and creates a wide oval shape around the male’s head, the effect resulting in a large colourful display, with the feathers and plumage creating a pattern that looks like a big coloured smiley face.
The male then rhythmically snaps its tail feathers against the ground, and jumps around the female, increasing in intensity as he moves around her in a frantic circle. However, even with this elaborate display, because of the imbalance in ratio of males to females, the female Superb Bird of Paradise can choose to be picky, and will on average reject fifteen to twenty potential suitors before consenting to mate. The video below, narrated by the amazing David Attenborough, shows the male Superb Bird of Paradise’s mating and courtship display in action.
The Bird of Paradise family is considered to be of significant cultural importance in New Guinea. The inhabitants there collect and trade feathers and the skins of the birds, a practise that has been going on for two thousand years. While some Bird of Paradise species are under threat from hunting and loss of habitat, thankfully the Superb Bird of Paradise is one of the most common and widespread birds in the New Guinea Rainforests, and is listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.