These unusual birds were spoken of as early as the 16th century. They were admired by European sailors and merchants, to whom the natives were the first to show the unusually beautiful bird feathers. The inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago called these birds "manuk dewata" or "bolong diuata" - the birds of the god. Portuguese sailors called them the birds of the sun, and the name of birds of paradise was probably given by the Dutch traveler and historian Jan van Linschoten, who sailing in the areas where they occurred, was delighted by the colorful birds soaring in the skies.
Birds of paradise are members of the family Paradisaeidae of the order Passeriformes.
Passeriformes are the largest order of birds, comprising about 6200 species - more than half of all bird species found today. They have adapted to life in most terrestrial habitats on all continents except Antarctica.
They are found in the Moluccas (Spice Islands - a group of islands in the eastern part of the Malay Archipelago, part of Indonesia), New Guinea and northeastern Australia.
They are most abundant on New Guinea, with only the genus Lycocorax and Semioptera being endemic to the Moluccas. However, two species of Ptiloris are endemic to Australia. One is found exclusively in New Guinea, the other in New Guinea and Australia. Many species of birds of paradise occupy very restricted habitats, e.g., the Black sicklebill, found only in the middle mountains of New Guinea (1000-2000 m), and the Brown sicklebill is endemic to the Indonesian islands of Batanta and Waigeo.
Most species live in tropical, mist, mangrove forests, and swamps.
Almost all inhabit trees, but they can also be found closer to the forest floor. Manucodes, especially the glossy-mantled manucode, can live in both forests and open savanna. Most birds of paradise live in environments where humans are present.
The birds of paradise are very diverse, but characteristic of them is the extremely colorful plumage and the presence of very ornamental feathers, sometimes on the head and sometimes in the tail.
There is strong sexual dimorphism in birds of paradise - females are less colorful, with grays dominating in their plumage.The purpose of such inconspicuous coloration is to be able to blend in with the environment. Younger males resemble females, and it takes them about 7 years to develop beautiful colors. This makes it easier for them to hide from predators and adult males do not treat them as competitors.
Male birds of paradise often have special tail feathers that resemble swirling strings, wires, or a wide plume.
They may also have a very large crest on their head. Many species also have impressive breast shields and fans on their heads.
Some species have unusual black feathers, which are considered the darkest material found in nature.
They are so dark that they almost completely absorb light (99.95%). This feather blackness is not far behind the blackest manmade material created in the lab, called vantablack (created by British researchers at the National Physical Laboratory).
Male birds of paradise are not monogamous. They use their colorful, fancy plumage to attract successive females.
Most males prepare an arena for mating dance on the cleared of sticks ground or in the treetops. Some strip leaves from branches to make their mating dance clearly visible.A common part of such a dance is "standing on their heads," with their beak tilted as low as possible and their tail raised high and spread out. They also spread their wings, puff out their breasts and perform spectacular turns. They make various sounds: loud chirping, whistling, buzzing.
There are also males, such as the Raggiana bird of paradise, that perform their mating dance in a group of several to as many as 20 individuals.
So the females can choose. Unfortunately, the female is later left alone, the whole effort of raising the offspring falls on her.
Male birds of paradise also cross interspecies boundaries in their amorous conquests.
From eggs hybrids are hatched (quite a rare phenomenon in animals living in the wild). Ornithologists have counted over 20 types of such hybrids in birds of paradise.
Their wings are mostly round.
In some species, they have been modified in such a way that males can use them to generate characteristic sounds.
There is considerable variation in beak structure in birds of paradise of different species.
In some (riflebirds, sicklebills) it resembles a raven's beak, while in others it is thin and small (astrapies). The size of the beak depends on the sex, but there are cases that females have larger beaks (this is most common in insectivorous species).
Monogamists are also found among birds of paradise, Paradisaea apoda and Lycocorax pyrrhopterus for example.
Both females and males have the same coloration, do not differ in appearance, live in permanent relationships and raise offspring together.
Birds of paradise feed mainly on fruits and arthropods, and some on nectar and small vertebrates.
There are species among them that eat only fruit, but there are also typical carnivores. Carnivorous species use their curved beaks in search for invertebrates hidden in the bark of trees. They can tap dead trunks with their powerful beaks like woodpeckers. Fruiteaters are more likely to be found in the crowns of trees, while insectivores feed at lower elevations.
Certain species of birds of paradise prefer particular fruits.
By eating fruits whose seeds they do not digest, they help to spread them.
The seeds are excreted along with the droppings and germinate in moist soil - this makes wonderbirds brilliant jungle sowers.
Birds of paradise make many sounds and are loud singers.
They sing to call a mate, to mark territory, or to alert in case of danger.
Birds of paradise build nests from leaves and ferns, usually in the fork of a tree. The nest resembles a deep cup.
The female takes care of the offspring herself, and the male does not participate in nest building.
It is not entirely known how many eggs the female bird of paradise usually lays, it seems that from 1 to 3.
The eggs are hatched for 16-22 days, and the young leave the nest after 16-30 days depending on the species.
There is no information on the lifespan of birds of paradise in the wild.
In captivity, they survive about 30 years.
The feathers of birds of paradise are used by indigenous people of New Guinea to decorate ritual costumes, plumes, or funeral ceremonies.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, European women eagerly decorated their hats with the colorful feathers of these birds.
Raggiana bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea raggiana) is featured in the emblem and flag of Papua New Guinea.
Fortunately, most birds of paradise are not threatened with extinction.
Only three species are threatened with extinction. Birds of paradise were protected quite early. Thanks to the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the American Audubon Society hunting of these birds for export purposes was banned as early as 1908. Before that, up to 40,000 stuffed birds were sold annually in London alone. In 1917, the import of birds of paradise feathers was banned in England. In later years, New Guinea banned hunting, and finally Indonesia banned the trade in birds and feathers. Birds of paradise themselves are equipped with an instrument of protection from humans, which is the existing polygamy among these birds. The birds that were caught were beautifully colored (this happens at the age of 5-7 years), and they become sexually mature in the second year, so they could reproduce without being harassed by humans.As a result, birds of paradise have survived more than 500 years of contact with Western civilization.
Carl Linnaeus in 1760 named the largest of the birds of paradise Paradisea apoda, meaning "legless bird of paradise."
At the time, no one in Europe had ever seen this marvelous bird alive. Linnaeus possessed only skins and stuffed specimens that were delivered to him from New Guinea. These exemplars did not have legs. Several decades later, Europeans discovered that the superstitious Papuans, after hunting the bird, cut off its legs and buried them as an offering to the gods. And so Linnaeus was fooled.