|Size:||Length: 6 to 48 inches (15 to 122 cm), including the tail feathers|
|Diet:||Fruit, insects, buds, leaves, flowers, frogs, lizards and snails|
|Distribution:||New Guinea and Australia|
|Young:||1 to 3 chicks, once a year|
|IUCN Status:||See Conservation below for details|
· Not all bird of paradise species have flamboyantly-coloured males.
· There are 43 bird of paradise species.
· The paradise riflebird has a call that sounds like a bullet being fired.
· Males do not breed until they are seven years old.
· Europeans first learned of these beautiful birds in the early 1500s.
These birds are best known for the magnificent plumage of the adult males of many species. Females have dull colours, which protect them from being spotted by predators. One of the best-known species is the greater bird of paradise, which Linnaeus jokingly named Paradisaea apoda, meaning “footless paradise bird,” in 1758. He gave it this name because bird of paradise skins had their legs removed and were used as articles of trade, which led people to believe that the birds had no legs. About the size of a crow, the greater bird of paradise is one of the largest. The male has a glittering green forehead and throat, with a golden yellow head and dark red wings and tail. The lesser bird of paradise looks very similar, but is smaller. The male king bird of paradise has a red head and backside, with a white underside and blue legs. The male emperor bird of paradise resembles a penguin in colouration, but has a blue bill.
Birds of paradise are native to New Guinea and the surrounding islands. Four species can be found in eastern Australia. The island of New Guinea was formed by volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean. Because it is a young island, there are few mammalian predators, enabling the birds of paradise to be at ease both on the ground as well as in trees. They are found in rainforests, mangroves and grasslands. Birds of paradise were introduced to the island of Little Tobago in the West Indies, distinguishing it as the only place in the Western Hemisphere where these birds live in the wild.
Birds of paradise eat mostly fruit and insects, but also buds, leaves, flowers, frogs, lizards and snails.
The males are famous for the elaborate displays they put on in an effort to attract females. These displays take place both on the ground and in trees. Some species perform their displays in groups. In species with brightly coloured males, the females build their nests in a hollow tree and raise their young alone. When the males are drab, they share the nesting duties and both parents care for their offspring.
Females and their young gather in small, social flocks. Males tend to live solitary existences, but during the breeding season, they spend their time eating and showing off, in order to attract a mate.
Plume hunters, who sold the feathers for hat decorations, once killed male birds of paradise in large numbers. Because the populations of these birds dropped drastically, it became illegal to kill a bird of paradise in 1924. There are also laws forbidding the importation of the plumage of birds of paradise into many countries, including the United States. The 2000 IUCN Red List designates eight species as Lower Risk, Near Threatened and four species as Vulnerable.
Bird of Paradise Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US
Oxford Dictionary of Zoology, Allaby, M (ed.). (1999) New York: Oxford University Press