Birds of Paradise: Paradisaeidae

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BIRDS OF PARADISE: Paradisaeidae



Birds of paradise are known for their bright and beautiful plumage and unique ornamental tail and head feathers. Males are almost universally more colorful than their female counterparts. Most species have a hooked bill that they use to extract insects from dead wood and tree bark. Sizes range from 6.3 to 43.3 inches (16 to 110 centimeters) in length and 0.11 to 1 pound (50 to 450 grams) in weight.


Eastern Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea and surrounding islands.


The majority of Paradisaeidae species live in the rainforest, ranging from high altitude sub-alpine to lowland; however, one species, the glossy-mantled manucodes, inhabits savanna (or tropical grassland) woodlands as well as rainforest.


Birds of paradise eat fruits and insects.


Although a few species of the Paradisaeidae family are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus; having only one mate), the majority are polygynous (puh-LIJ-uh-nus; one male mates with several females). Males choose a display site from which to attract females, either by themselves or in a group of other males known as a lek. Their display behavior consists of a combination of song and a variety of maneuvers that show off his plumage. Some species spread their wings wide, while others hang upside down. Females approach the solitary or lekking male to mate, then raise and feed their hatchlings on their own.


Many people seek out members of the Paradisaeidae family to witness their elaborate courtship rituals and enjoy their beautiful plumage. Some native New Guinea tribes wear the highly prized feathers of some of the more colorful species.


Four species of the Paradisaeidae family are considered Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, including the blue bird of paradise, Wahnes's parotia, MacGregor's bird of paradise, and the black sicklebill. Eight additional species are listed as Near Threatened, in danger of becoming threatened with extinction: ribbon-tailed bird of paradise, Wilson's bird of paradise, pale-billed sicklebill, yellow-breasted bird of paradise, long-tailed paradigalla, Goldie's bird of paradise, emperor bird of paradise, and the red bird of paradise.


Some female riflebirds decorate the outside rim of their woven plant and stick cup-shaped nests with cast-off snake skins. Researchers are unsure as to exactly why they do so, but one theory is that the snake skin is a decoy of sorts to keep predators away from the riflebird eggs.

Some species, such as the blue bird of paradise and the black sicklebill, are hunted for their beautiful, bright plumage and/or skins; others are hunted for food. The other major reason for dwindling numbers of certain species is habitat loss due to forest clearing for agriculture and logging.


Physical characteristics: As is typical with most birds of paradise, the male of the ribbon-tailed astrapia species is both larger and more colorful than the female. Males average 12.6 to 13.8 inches (32 to 35 centimeters) in body length, and 0.30 to 0.36 pounds (134 to 164 grams) in weight. Their plumage is primarily iridescent green, blue, and olive, with a bright green bib and cap and a band of red across the chest. A dark green tuft sits at the top of the beak.

The male ribbon-tailed astrapia's most striking feature is his long, white tail feathers, which extend an additional 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 centimeters) past his body and are tipped with black at the bottom. Females lack the long tail feathers, and are brown in color.

Geographic range: The ribbon-tailed astrapia lives in the tropical and subtropical rainforests of central Papua New Guinea.

Habitat: The ribbon-tailed astrapia lives in upper montane (mountainous) and subalpine forests and forest edges.

Diet: These birds use their bill to dig insects out of the ground and trees. About half of their daily diet is comprised of fruit.

Behavior and reproduction: Males are polygynous, meaning that they breed with multiple females. They attract mates through a courtship ritual known as lekking, in which they gather together with other male astrapias and sing together, hop from perch to perch, and display their plumage to draw female mates.

Breeding season takes place for the greater part of the year (May through March). Female ribbon-tailed astrapias lay a single egg at a time, which incubates for about three weeks. The females are solely responsible for both building their nest (which is deep and cup-shaped) and feeding their hatchlings.

Ribbon-tailed astrapias and people: Ribbon-tailed astrapias have little contact with humans. However, males are sometimes hunted by native populations for their colorful tail feathers and skins.

Conservation status: These birds are listed as Near Threatened due to habitat destruction and hunting. ∎


Physical characteristics: The male Victoria's riflebird has a curved bill; a bright green cap, throat, and belly; and a black back and breast band. It also sports short, iridescent blue-green tail feathers. The female of the species has a brown back and head, a spotty buff belly and throat, and a buff stripe above the eye. Average length for both is 9.5 inches (24 centimeters).

Geographic range: The species is found in northeast Queensland, Australia between Townsville and Cooktown.

Habitat: The Victoria's riflebird lives in what is known as the wet tropics region of Queensland. It lives in low-lying rainforest and coastal mangroves.

Diet: Like many other birds of paradise, the Victoria's riflebird uses its hooked bill to dig insects (such as insect larvae [LAR-vee], cockroaches, spiders, wood lice, and centipedes) out of tree bark. This species also eats fruit.

Behavior and reproduction: Breeding season typically lasts from August through January. Male Victoria's riflebirds have multiple female mates. They perform an elaborate courtship "dance" of sorts by perching alone on a tree stump, outstretching their wings, bobbing their head from side to side, and calling loudly to potential mates.

The female builds and tends the nest alone, and lays a clutch of one or two eggs, which incubate for up to eighteen days. She also feeds the nestlings alone until they leave the nest about fifteen days after hatching.

Aside from the loud vocalizations of the Victoria's riflebird, the bird's wings also make a unique rustling sound both in flight and when extending and flapping its wings during its display, which helps birdwatchers track the species.

Victoria's riflebird and people: The Victoria's riflebird has a fairly harmonious relationship with people. Although a good deal of the species' rainforest habitat has been cleared for sugar cane plantations and logging over the past century, the majority of the wet tropics area of Queensland is now protected against logging and habitat destruction by the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area Conservation Act and Protection and Management Act.

Conservation status: The Victoria's riflebird is not considered to be threatened. ∎


Physical characteristics: The male king bird of paradise can be spotted by his brilliant red coloring and two long, wire-like ornamental tail feather shafts, which are tipped at the bottom with a circular swirl of bright green feathers. His underside is white, with a green band across the chest. The male also has a black spot over each eye. Both male and female have blue legs and feet; the female's coloring is much more subdued with an olive-brown back, head, and throat and a variegated buff chest. Both are about 6.3 to 7.25 inches (16 to 19 centimeters) in length, not counting the added length of the male's tail, which may be as long as the body.

Geographic range: The species is found on the New Guinea mainland and on surrounding islands, including Aru, Missol, Salawati, and Yapen.

Habitat: King birds of paradise live in lowland rainforests, forest edges, and secondary forests. The female builds her nest in cavities of lower trees, and the male selects short, shrubby trees to perform his display (or courtship ritual) upon.

Diet: The species eats both fruit and insects.

Behavior and reproduction: Males perform their courtship ritual of persistent calling and displaying of plumage in solitude rather than in a lek (or cluster of other male birds of the species). During the display, they pose with their tail wires extended so that the green disks they are tipped with are over their heads. They may also hang upside down from a tree branch.

Male king birds of paradise are polygynous, and once they mate they move on to attracting the next female, while the female goes on to lay her eggs and incubate and feed her chicks by herself.

King bird of paradise and people: The bright feathers and skins of the male king birds of paradise are sometimes sought after by native men of New Guinea, but for the most part the bird enjoys a harmonious relationship with people.

Conservation status: King birds of paradise are abundant and not considered to be threatened. ∎



Dickinson, Edward C., ed. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 3rd ed. Princeton, NJ and Oxford, U.K.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Frith, Clifford B., and Bruce Beehler. The Birds of Paradise. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Harrison, Colin James Oliver. Birds of the World. London and New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.

Simpson, Ken and Nicolas Day. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, 4th ed. Ringwood, Australia: Viking O'Neil, 1993.


Clode, Danielle. "Kicked Out of Paradise." Nature Australia 26, no. 12 (Autumn 2001): 15.

Smith, Dwight G. "On Heaven's Wings." World & I 12, no. 11 (November 1997): 184.

Web sites:

"2003 BirdLife's Online World Bird Database." BirdLife International. (accessed on June 14, 2004).

"Animals of New Guinea: Birds of Paradise." World Wildlife Foundation. (accessed on June 14, 2004).