Birds-of-paradise transcend other birds, having such beautiful plumage and spectacular displays of courtship, and Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is no exception to this. Their fabulous colors and fantastic trailing plumes lead to incredible stories about their origins and habits. Males are easily distinguished by their brilliant turquoise skin at the back of their head, criss-crossed with lines of fine black velvety feathers that have a sheen of coppery-bronze iridescence. Females are much less ornately decorated than males, and the bare skin on their head is a much less brilliant lilac-blue. Females have reddish-brown to olive upperparts, brown wings and underparts of a buff color, with narrow uniform bars of brown-black. They do not have the spiral tail feathers that males have. The lifespan of this species is unknown, but birds-of-paradise live 5-8 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is an endemic species of the West Papuan islands Batanta and Waigeo off northern West Papua's coast (formerly Irian Jaya), Indonesia. These birds primarily inhabit hill forest, usually being at elevations of about 300 meters, although calling has also been occasionally recorded in lowland rainforest and higher montane forests as high as 1,200 meters.
Habits and lifestyle
Little is known about the social behavior of Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. Birds of paradise tend to be solitary birds and only come together to mate.
Diet and nutrition
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is an omnivore and eats mainly fruit, along with some small insects.
The distinctive appearance of Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is demonstrated in its full splendor during the bird's courtship display. Males perform their display within an ‘arena’, a small clearing in the middle of dense forest but well lit. The male first carefully clears the arena of unwanted items such as leaf litter and the leaves from sapling stems. At the arrival of a potential mate, the male first adopts the characteristic ‘frozen’ posture while perching on the branch of a sapling, then he responds to the female by performing his intricate courtship ritual, showing off his attractive breast shield, accompanying his display with calls and song. Apparently it is the alluring light green color in the stunning finale that clinches the performance. There are two mating seasons per year for the Wilson's bird-of-paradise: from May until June and again in October. Not much else is known about this elusive species' breeding behavior. It is the female that builds the nest and incubates the eggs.
The main threats to this species are ongoing habitat loss, its limited range and exploitation. Wilson’s bird-of-paradise does occur in the Pulau Waigeo Nature Reserve, but there are concerns that this population may have greatly reduced in size due to natural causes (including fire) and logging. On Batanta, major forest loss has occurred due to logging, causing significant habitat degradation.
No estimate of population size is available for Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. Currently this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) and its numbers today are decreasing.
Fun facts for kids
- The name "Wilson’s" is used because Napoleon’s nephew used this name for an unknown bird that had been purchased by the British naturalist Edward Wilson. In doing this, he beat John Cassin by several months, who had wanted to name this species in honor of Wilson. In 1863, 13 years later, Heinrich Agathon Bernstein, the German zoologist discovered on Waigeo Island the home of the Wilson's bird-of-paradise.
- The Malay phrase for this species, "manuq dewata", means "birds of the gods".
- The male of the species performs an unusual dancing ritual when courting a female. Before he starts, he clears the ground of leaves and other items that may hinder his performance.
- The famous naturalist David Attenborough in 1996 filmed this unusual behavior. He placed some leaves on the ground in front of the bird and observed the reaction. The bird was provoked and immediately cleared the leaves away from his "dance floor".
- For centuries people have used bird-of-paradise feathers as symbols of wealth, power or sexuality.