Beautiful Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise
The beautiful Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, found exclusively on the tiny islands of Waigeo and Batanta in West Papua. The bird belongs to the family Paradisaeidae, which are considered the most beautiful birds in the world. But like an unattainable muse, the stunning Wilson’s bird-of-paradise (Cicinnurus respublica, Diphyllodes Respublica) from New Guinea remains one of the most poorly known species of the family. The Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is unmistakable with its bright crimson back, yellow cape, shimmering green chest, blue feet, and most of all, its remarkable turquoise crown. That turquoise cap isn’t made of feathers – it’s actually a patch of very brightly colored bald skin, and together with the species’ spiralled twin tail feathers, plays a crucial role in its complex courtship displays.
Male birds of paradise the pretty ones, males alone carry this suite of striking colors, while the females are more plainly dressed in a light brown plumage with a darker blue crown.
To capture a female’s attention, a male will create an arena, or court, on the forest floor by clearing away leaves and other debris. Against this suitably plain background, he will perch in front of an interested female, flitting from one vertical sapling to another, as he calls, chatters, and buzzes at her, distorting his body shape in various ways by puffing up his iridescent plumage. He’ll flick his head, stretch his neck, and cock his tail and sometimes gape at her in an effort to win her affections.
While the species has been known since 1850, when it was named by Napoleon’s nephew Charles Lucien Bonaparte, after British ornithologist Edward Wilson, it’s so elusive that it took almost 150 years for its courtship displays to be recorded in the wild. This was achieved by none other than Sir David Attenborough, and he did it by scattering leaves in a male’s arena, prompting the fastidious individual to come out into the open, clear them away, and begin his elaborate dance.
Due to ongoing habitat loss, limited range and exploitation, the Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is evaluated as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES.