Superb Bird-of-Paradise: Psychedelic Smiley Face


This is the male suburb bird-of-paradise. While he might not look all that suburb at
first glance, he’s capable of one of the most jaw-dropping transformations which is unrivaled
even among the other shape-shifting birds-of-paradise. People who’ve seen this display have called
it everything from a space alien to my personal favorite, a psychedelic smiley face. But how did he get here? How does he go from something otherwise birdlike
into something so unusual and extremely different? In order to better understand what’s going
on we need to become more familiar with the basic parts of this bird. The most obvious of course is this delta shaped
iridescent breast shield, and that, of course, becomes one of the key features of the ultimate
transformation. The other features that help make this transformation
complete, which are a little bit difficult to see here, are the feathers on the back
of the neck, or nape. I call these the cape feathers. Beyond that, there’s a series of blue iridescent
feathers that are on the top of the head, or the crown. And then there’s another set of feathers that
really makes the illusion complete, these special feathers that emanate from the sides
of the bill. So with the delta shaped breast shield, the
cape feathers that lie across the back, the crown, and the special feathers along the
bill, all of these are going to interact to make this illusion work. And here’s how it happens. When he sees a female coming near his display
site, one of the first things he does is lift his iridescent breast shield up and extends
it out. He also pushes the iridescent feathers on
the top of his head forward so that they’re also visible to the female. Now here is where the real transformation
begins. He takes those feathers that are lying across
his back, the cape feathers, and he rolls them forward so that they form this black
cone or ovoid shape that’s framing the breast shield and the crown feathers. When the cape is pushed forward, he actually
lifts his head up so that his bill bisects the blue iridescent feathers of his crown. So now you have two parts of these crown feathers
that have been divided by the bill. Now here’s where the real illusion takes hold
because it’s these little feather tufts that come off the side of the bill that curve around
at that point and actually make the crown feathers look more circular, like eye-spots. So what we have when we’re done is really
just an optical illusion of what appears to be eyes and a mouth in this black oval face. And it’s all the result of this interaction
between these specially modified feathers. Now if we move away from the female’s perspective
in the front and take a look at the bird from the side, we can actually see how all these
components are working together to create this fantastic transformation. You get a good look at how the cape feathers
are lifted forward from the back of the neck to create this ovoid shape. And you can clearly see where the tuffs extend
off the sides of the bill to create those eye-spots. So as if the transformation from something
birdlike to something so otherworldly wasn’t enough, as he’s bouncing and dancing back
and forth along the log, every time she moves he has to move to counter her to maintain
the illusion and keep presenting the proper perspective. So when the female goes to the other side
here and stops, this presents a really interesting opportunity for us because we can actually
see something that the female never gets to see. On the backside of the cape there, you can
actually see how it’s composed of many different individual highly modified feathers, perfectly
orchestrated to create that ovoid cape presentation. I also like how he’s frozen here, you can
actually see him breathing heavily. He’s trying to hold so still and maintain
the illusion, he’s trying to gage what the female’s going to do but he’s actually quite
exhausted. But alas, even the most impressive transformations
don’t end successfully and he’s left alone on the log (laughter).

44 thoughts on “Superb Bird-of-Paradise: Psychedelic Smiley Face

  1. Fascinating and excellently done. I read on Wikipedia that this species has a highly skewed sex ratio but I could not find any other resources either supporting or refuting this claim – is this true?

  2. I wonder if any ancient tribes discovered this bird and thought it was some type of menace or demon or even a message from the gods….

  3. Is this supposed to lure the female? I don't see how it's used for mating since the female looked confused and tried to get away. What is it's purpose?

  4. Of all the birds of paradise, this little guy is my favorite. That clicking is from him beating his feathers on the log faster than the eye can see.

  5. One of my all-time-favorite birds. Lots of good information here. I have a comment about 3:19. It looks more like the male is herding the female around, rather than reacting to her movements. Look at it in slow motion. Also, I have a comment about 3:50. Saying the male is exhausted just because you can see that he is breathing is not a logical scientific conclusion. Birds breathe. They fly (long distances!), they hop (a lot!), and they breathe.

  6. But why? Why does the male have to do that to seduce the female? Why has the female evolved to be seduced by that?

  7. You know whats really interesting is that a lot of these types of birds showcase to females very similar patterns, mainly the huge black roundish disc and something iridescent within the disc. The ballerina bird from top view is similar to the horizontal view of this smiley-face bird.

  8. I've been wondering how they do this transformation. That laugh at the end was kinda mean, though, right after you told us how exhausted he is. Poor little guy.

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