Birds-of-paradise is a general term used to refer to a collection of 39 species of tropical bird that are endemic to eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Australia. They are typified by some of the most beautiful plumages to be found on birds anywhere in the world, as well as incredibly elaborate courtship rituals to attract mates. The process of natural selection, which involves the traits of better-equipped individuals being passed on to their offspring, is how evolution occurs, and when this process takes place in remote locations, such as where these birds live, the results of thousands of years of evolution is just spectacular. Here is a selection of the most beautiful birds-of paradise:
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1. Lesser Bird-of-Paradise
The lesser bird-of-paradise is native to the forests of northern New Guinea, as well as the nearby islands of Misool and Yapen. The male has an emerald-green throat, a pair of long tail wires and ornamental flank plumes that are deep yellow at their base, becoming whiter at their extremities. The female is maroon-colored and much plainer than the male.
Although similar in appearance to the lesser bird-of-paradise, the greater bird-of-paradise is a different species. It’s the largest bird-of-paradise extant today, with males measuring up to 43cm (17in). The male has a green face and an iridescent yellow-silver crown, with maroon-colored body plumage. Its flank plumes are yellow at the base, becoming whiter towards their extremities. The female is maroon-colored and smaller than the male. This species is found in southwest New Guinea and the Aru Islands of Indonesia.
2. Greater Bird-of-Paradise
3. Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise
This polygamous bird-of-paradise, recognizable by its large reddish-pink flank plumes, is the national bird of Papua New Guinea. Males attracts mates by clapping their wings and shaking their heads, and also feature long, black tail wires. Sexual dimorphism, as with most birds-of-paradise, is also present in this species, with females being comparatively dull-looking to the flamboyant males.
Some ornithologists believe this bird to be the most beautiful in the world. The male performs one of the most elaborate courtship displays in all of the animal kingdom – he hangs upside-down from a branch and proudly displays his violet-blue and cinnamon-colored flank plumes, together with his two ribbon-like tail feathers, to any would-be mates in his vicinity. Females are chestnut-brown in color. Sadly, the blue bird-of-paradise, endemic to Papua New Guinea, is now threatened with extinction, because males’ plumage is highly prized and thus they are hunted.
4. Blue Bird-of-Paradise
5. Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia
This bird is the most recently-discovered of all the bird-of-paradise species. It was first observed by the naturalist and explorer, Fred Shaw Mayer, in 1938. While males can grow up to 32cm long, their tail feathers can measure more than three times the length of their bodies – the longest tail feathers in relation to body size of any bird species in the world. Females are brown, with an iridescent head. The species is endemic to the central highland of Papua New Guinea.
Endemic to the Indonesian islands of Waigeo and Batanta, males have an emerald-green face, a pair of black, corkscrew-shaped tail wires, and ornamental red tail plumes, which take at least six years for the bird to attain. Females look remarkably similar to the males, however they are smaller and have no ornamental plumes. This bird-of-paradise share’s its habitat with Wilson’s bird-of-paradise, which you’ll see further down in this list.
6. Red Bird-of-Paradise
7. Victoria’s Riflebird
Discovered in 1848 and named after Queen Victoria, this bird is endemic to the Atherton Tableland region of Queensland, Australia. Males feature iridescent purple plumages, which are more blue-green on the head and bronze on the lower breast. They also have a curious triangular blue patch of plumage on their necks. Females are brown with white “eyebrows”. The male’s courtship display is fascinating – he curves his wings around his body and dances from side to side, while also puffing out his throat to accentuate his colorful neck plumage.