Twelve-wired bird of paradise
Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
It takes the male twelve-wired bird-of-paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus) seven years to develop that incredible plumage, but with all the gorgeous velvety black, iridescent purple, and yellow underneath, the effort was entirely worth it.
Native to the lowland rainforests of New Guinea and the neighbouring Salawait Island of Indonesia, the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise is a highly territorial bird, each male making sure he’s at least 700m away from all the other males in the area.
This gives him enough space to carry out his dynamic courtship displays, which are performed on a leafless tree stump that pokes up conspicuously over the vegetation.
In 1994, Clifford Brodie Frith, an Australian ornithologist and wildlife photographer, teamed up with Bruce M. Beehler from the Smithsonian Institution’s Division of Birds in the US to report on these courtship displays as part of research for a BBC David Attenborough documentary.
Unusual courtship displays of the birds of paradise
At the time, no other bird-of-paradise was known to perform on such an exposed stage, but a few years later, Attenborough himself witnessed the courtship displays of the tiny Wilson’s bird-of-paradise from New Guinea for the first time to discover that it too prefers a spacious, clutter-free arena.
One of the ‘moves’ in the male twelve-wired bird-of-paradise’s courtship dances goes a long way in explaining the presence of those 12 strange wire plumes that sprout in all directions from his yellow tail feathers. Frith and Beehler called it the ‘wire-wipe display’, which they reported was “performed by a male wiping or brushing a female’s face with highly modified wire-like feather tips. The only other example of this known to us is that of the neotropical wire-tailed manakin (Pipra filicauda).”
Occasionally the wires would get caught in the female’s mouth as she busied herself probing her beak into the male’s dense yellow feathers, but that didn’t stop the male from continuing his swaying dance while the female awkwardly removed them.