Birds of Paradise

By Erika, age 13

In the animal kingdom, “it’s usually survival of the fittest, but for Birds of Paradise it’s survival of the sexiest,” as the Perot Museum says. Birds of Paradise are isolated species, so they don’t have to worry about staying alive. They have to worry about passing on their genes. Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes went on several expeditions to record and photograph all thirty-nine species of Birds of Paradise. Each one has developed a unique mating ritual to go with its individual species.

All thirty-nine species live on the island of Papua New Guinea. The ecosystem is rainforests and mountains. Different species live at different elevations. Some, like the Greater Bird of Paradise, live up in the canopy and the males do their mating dances there. Others, like the Wahnes’s parotia, do their mating dances on the ground floor. Species like the Victoria’s Riflebird do their dances in the middle of trees.

Each species of bird has unique traits and a special dance. To give you a taste of the amazing mating rituals of Birds of Paradise, here are a few examples. The Wahnes’s parotia finds a spot on the ground with a branch above for females to perch. The specimen that Laman and Edwin found “… clears the area daily—about six feet across—so he can dance without falling over,” according to Laman. The male dances by spreading his wings and shaking back and forth. To the females above, he will look like a spinning orb. The Victoria’s Riflebird has a different tactic. It moves it’s head back and forth behind its spread wings. To the modern child, it would appear that the bird was dabbing with its yellow mouth open.

The Birds of Paradise are magnificent and unique to Papua New Guinea. They all have interesting mating dances and appearances. I hope to see one in person someday. Imagine if every species was “survival of the sexiest”! We would have one incredible planet.

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