This evening Daegan and I watched a show I had PVR’ed earlier—an episode of PBS’s Nature, entitled Birds of the Gods. It was about birds of paradise, and was absolutely amazing! You can find details about the episode here, and folks in the US can watch the full episode there online as well. It was hosted by David Attenborough, and followed two researchers in Papua New Guinea who are trying to assess the health of various species of birds of paradise, who are under pressure due to hunting (native tribal peoples use the elaborate feathers in headdresses for ceremonies and special occasions), deforestation, and the like. The same episode, entitled Birds of Paradise in the UK, is available off the BBC here, and folks in the UK can watch it there. Sorry, my large Canadian following—you’ll have to PVR it yourself or track clips down on youtube. It will also be available in DVD format shortly: (Canada) (US). (Canadians–note the DVD is substantially cheaper off amazon.ca than amazon.com, unlike how things usually are).
Birds of paradise are such beautiful birds—some with feathers 3 feet long!—and their courtship displays are simply out of this world. The contortions they manage—some species puffing up to a size you wouldn’t believe; the parotia species dancing on tiptoes with feathers flared like a tutu, the iridescent upper body swaying back and forth like a hypnotic cobra; the blue bird of paradise hanging fully upside down, vibrating flared feathers making a sound like and electric razor, but looking much like a bright blue mini-tornado…well, Daegan and I were captivated. Daegan so much so that he at points danced around the room, mimicking the birds. Lovers of birds, nature or science simply must see this for themselves.
Two of my favourite bird displays can be seen in this short clip: