The birds-of-paradise are among the most beautiful creatures on earth—and an extraordinary example of evolutionary adaptation. On this site you can find what few have witnessed in the wild: the displays of color, sound, and motion that make these birds so remarkable. Then you can delve deeper, examining the principles that guided their evolution and the epic adventure it took to bring you all 39 species.
The Birds Adaptations for Attraction
Male birds-of-paradise are precision-tuned performers. Their unrivaled displays combine extreme feathers, dazzling colors, piercing sounds, and precise movements. These are all adaptations with a single function: to attract mates. This section explores the wide range of traits that males have evolved to conform to the picky preferences of females.
They may be known for their variety of appearance, but the birds-of-paradise are equally impressive for the diversity of their sounds. Males use their voices to broadcast their location and entice distant females to come and look. When females approach, males turn on the visuals, which often come with their own more intimate sounds.
Birds are some of the brightest, most eye-catching animals in the world. How do they do it? Birds-of-paradise use pigments to grow vivid feathers as well as iridescence to produce a shimmering, glittering effect. Differences between these two types of color influence how males use them during display. Learn more about the inner workings of color in this section.
Birds use their feathers for three basic purposes: flight, protection from the elements, and displays. Male birds-of-paradise add to their brilliant colors with specially modified feathers that flutter conspicuously or allow them to transform their shape as they court females. This section explores how these extreme feathers evolved and are put to use in displays.
Many birds fluff out their feathers as part of a display—think of cooing pigeons or strutting turkeys. But birds-of-paradise take it much farther than most birds. The males extend specially shaped feathers, lining them up precisely to change the bird's outline into a new shape. In this section we'll explore different ways and feathers that some species use to get the job done.
By the time a male bird-of-paradise reaches adulthood, he's got all the building blocks of a display. But he won't be successful until he learns how to put all those sounds, colors, and display feathers into the correct sequence that a female is looking for. This section examines how males choreograph their displays, from early practice sessions to mastering the finest details.
Inspection & Touch
It seems incredible, but even males with loud calls, brilliant colors, the ability to shape shift, and perfect dance moves are not guaranteed to win a mate. At the end of a male's display, females move in to inspect closely and sometimes touch the male before making a final decision. This is one reason why birds-of-paradise are so extraordinary: the extreme choosiness of females.
The Human Endeavor The Effort Behind the Images
Being a scientist isn't all lab coats and test tubes. An undertaking like the Birds-of-Paradise Project demands an explorer's passion, a scientist's curiosity, an inventor's ingenuity, plenty of patience, and endless hard work. See how Ed Scholes, Tim Laman, and their guides met these challenges through preparation, dedication, and creativity.
Methods & Technology
Birds-of-paradise don't display in convenient places. They dance on the dim forest floor, strut in the tangled subcanopy, or pose in the highest, most inaccessible branches. And they vanish at the first sign of disturbance. To capture them in full detail required inventing new equipment, connecting remote cameras to computers, and building nearly invisible blinds from which to watch and film.
Evolution in Isolation The Science Behind the Beauty
Two evolutionary forces have combined to shape the extraordinary birds-of-paradise. The males owe their exotic plumes and dances to sexual selection—the subtle power of females choosing mates over millions of years. And the bewildering diversity of the 39 species is the result of geographic isolation. Learn more about these forces to understand how, why, and where the birds-of-paradise evolved.
About the Project
The goal of the Birds-of-Paradise Project is to advance knowledge and promote conservation through exploration, research, and education focused on the birds-of-paradise. In this section, learn more about the project's past, present, and future.