Many birds-of-paradise “shape shift” to create a black oval shape that accentuates their bright colors. The Victoria’s Riflebird has a simple way of doing this, by fanning its wings and fluffing its breast feathers. In other species, the shape shifting is more complex.
The Magnificent Riflebird has a similar display but incorporates more movement. This long exposure captures the movement as well as the effect caused by the brilliant blue throat patch.
The five Parotia species all perform dances at courts on the rainforest floor. When they fan out their flank feathers it looks from the side like a tutu. But the females watch from a perch above the male. To them the feathers create a dark oval shape. See how Ed and Tim captured this perspective in this video.
Despite what it looks like, many of the shape shifters don’t use their wings to create their unusual display shapes. The Black Sicklebill erects and fans out long breast feathers to create the hoodlike effect around its head. His wings are still folded behind him. Watch this video to learn more.
Probably the strangest of all shape shifters is the “psychedelic smiley face” of the Superb Bird-of-Paradise. Again, the black oval is not formed by wing feathers, and the bright blue “eyes” are actually feathers on the top of the bird’s head, not the bird’s eyes. See the transformation in this video.
The Black-billed Sicklebill is one of the least-known birds-of-paradise. Very few images of their displays exist. Males fan out their flank plumes to create a brown, not black, oval shape when seen from above.
The Blue Bird-of-Paradise will occasionally search for fruit while upside-down. When it’s time to display the bird flips over and fans its filmy plumes to create a feather-duster effect. Note that once again, the wings are not involved in the display.
The Red Bird-of-Paradise has one of the most visually pleasing displays. It combines colorful plumes and a fluttering, upside-down pose, capped off with long, twisting wires that outline the pose, giving it a heart shape.
Sometimes it seems birds-of-paradise just don’t know where to stop. The King Bird-of-Paradise is vivid orange-red, with blue feet and unique emerald-tipped tail wires. But during its display yet another ornament appears: these fan-shaped green breast feathers.
The main ornaments of the Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise are its shimmering green breast shield and curving tail wires. It accentuates this by shape shifting: drooping its belly feathers and raising neck and back feathers to create a golden hood.
Shape Shifting Gallery
A displaying bird-of-paradise often changes its shape so much that it doesn't look like a bird at all. This gallery features before and after images to help you follow how the bird achieves its transformation. Typically the birds use specialized feathers on the flank and back—not the wings or tail—to produce the effect. Can you see how it's done?