Watch "Attenborough's Birds of Paradise" on Tuesday, June 6 at 9:00 p.m on KCET.
Famed British television presenters David Attenborough has spent his career bringing new insight into the natural world. With "Attenborough's Birds of Paradise," he'll take viewers into remote jungles and beyond to give a glimpse into the lives of birds-of-paradise.
Amongst the most enigmatic creatures on the planet, birds-of-paradise consist of 39 species only found in the wild in and around New Guinea. Some come in spectacular colors, while others have the ability to move their bodies into strange shapes, make unusual sounds and perform wild courtship dances. Their existence has fascinated nature-watchers over the years, prompting extensive studies of the creatures, like Cornell's Birds-of-Paradise Project. These birds have also long informed Attenborough's own work. Below, we take a look at ten of these spectacular species.
1. Greater Bird-of-Paradise
Sexual selection has been crucial to the evolution of birds-of-paradise and, as female birds select their mates, this has resulted in the unusual looks, dances and sounds of the varied birds-of-paradise species. Male greater birds-of-paradise are striking with their brown and yellow feathers and a touch of green on the face, but Cornell's Birds-of-Paradise Project caught video of the entire mating ritual that shows male birds in competition and leads to the winner's odd chirp and pecking dance.
2. Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise
Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise is a strange little creature whose brown and black feathers are juxtaposed with shocks of colors. The top of the bird's head is marked with patches of turquoise blue skin. Meanwhile, the male bird's back is highlighted with red and yellow feathers. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's video on this unusual bird points out that some of the feathers, like on the curled tail and the underside of the body, can appear to change color with different angles. That's important for this creature's mating dance, which David Attenborough and Cornell's documenters Ed Scholes and Tim Laman, recently revealed in "Planet Earth II."
3. Black Sicklebill
The male black sicklebill calls with a squeaky voice that makes a pattern that's more rhythmic than melodic. But, it's not just the voice that this bird uses to communicate. Cornell's Lab of Ornithology explains that it's pretty difficult to figure out exactly how the black sicklebill makes his rapid-fire knocking sound, but from their camera footage, it appears to be coming from wing movement. The black sicklebill is also known for positioning its feathers to create a long, rounded shape that reveals blue feathers.
King-of-Saxony has what Cornell's Birds-of-Paradise project refers to as "modified" feathers. Specifically, these are two very long, skinny feathers that hang from the head. They can flow like ribbons, or stand to form a V-like shape from around the bird's eyes. They're also decorations, used to attract the female birds. King-of-Saxony's feathers aren't their only means of courtship. They also make rattling, screeching sounds to draw female birds towards them.
5. Magnificent Riflebird
The magnificent riflebird is a beautiful bird that is covered in raven-black feathers, but has a secret patch of blue along his neck that changes in appearance as he moves. The magnificent riflebird calls with a loud, high-pitched whoop and also uses his wings to create sound for the female birds. That sound that they make when spreading their wings is part of the dance that the magnificent riflebird does during the courtship ritual. The dance itself involves bouncing back and forth and ticking his head from side to side.
6. Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise
The twelve-wired bird-of-paradise has sunny yellow feathers on the bottom half of its body, but it's the tail that is both odd and crucial for the male bird's development. It's tail feathers are thin and wire-like and, video from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology shows that the birds use these feathers to touch, and hence court, their female counterparts.
7. Carola's Parotia
Carola's Parotia is the John Travolta of the birds-of-paradise; he has serious dance skills. Cornell's Birds-of-Paradise Project has a video detailing this bird's series of moves. The male bird warms up by moving side to side. As he gets into the courtship groove, the dance becomes more complicated, with lots of wing and foot action. The end of the routine is known as the "ballerina dance" because it involves positioning the wings to look like a tutu from a human's vantage point.
8. Blue Bird-of-Paradise
The male blue bird-of-paradise is stunning with its mix of blue, black and brown feathers. It's those bright, blue feathers that garner so much attention and it's part of the reason why this bird is listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The animal conservation group's website notes that these birds have been hunted for their feathers and that, combined with loss of habitat, has contributed to declining numbers.
9. Superb Bird-of-Paradise
From certain perspectives, including the one that the female sees, the male superb bird-of-paradise looks like a jet-black dancing disc with a bright shock of blue underneath the tiny face. Cornell's Birds-of-Paradise Project explains this as a result of the bird's ability to strategically position his unusual feathers, including the feathers that are along the breast plate, on the back and around the bill.
10. Curl-Crested Manucode
The curl-crested manucode is unusual amongst birds-of-paradise in that the male doesn't look drastically different from the female. These birds might be a bit more plain than other birds-of-paradise species, but they make up for that with their unusual calls. Cornell's Birds-of-Paradise project actually captured video footage of this bird's call, which sounds like spaceship noises from old sci-fi movies.