The majority of birds of paradise are polygynous – throughout the courting season males will attempt to mate with as many females as possible. To attract the opposite sex, the blue bird of paradise (Paradisaea rudolphi) from New Guinea will fan out its bright blue wings, a spectacular contrast to the green rainforest behind it.

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    The shape of a heart outlines the red bird of paradise (Paradisaea rubra) as it hangs upside down in its performance. This species, from the west Papuan islands, is listed as near threatened on the IUCN red list, but generally birds of paradise are not at threat of survival.

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    The plumage of male birds of paradise is usually bright and bold in colour, like the feathers of this blue bird of paradise (Paradisaea rudolphi). In contrast, the females of this group of birds have retained the dull brown, black and olive colouring of their crow-like ancestors.

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    Such an elaborate tail feather might be a tempting target for predators in other places, but a lack of large mammals in their habitat has allowed many birds to grow long tails. The tail of the ribbon-tailed astrapia (Asprapia mayeri), found in the central highlands of New Guinea, can grow up to 1 m long and is a symbol of health and fertility.

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    It’s possible the plumage of some species inhibit their flying abilities, especially navigating the vine- and foliage-dense jungles where they live. They rarely need to fly far though, as no birds of paradise travel great distances. Pictured is the king bird of paradise (Cicinnurus regius) from New Guinea.

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    The wealth of fruits and insects available in the forests of New Guinea has meant birds can devote their time and energy to courtship instead of constantly foraging for food. The blue-stockinged king bird of paradise (Cicinnurus regius) juggles and swings his tail feathers in an acrobatic mating display for his dull-looking female.

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    To attract females the magnificent bird of paradise (Cicinnurus magnificus), found in the montane forests of New Guinea, opens its fluorescent green mouth and puffs up its chest like a muscular bodybuilder. Like most birds of paradise, after mating the female is left to protect the eggs and raise the chicks on her own.

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    Some birds of paradise have evolved tail feathers completely detached from the act of flying, like this disc-shaped feather of the king bird of paradise (Cicinnurus regius).

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    In another environment, excessive feathers like these that protrude from the King of Saxony bird of paradise’s (Pteridorphora alberti) head, could be a disadvantage to survival. In New Guinea, however, he uses them to impress females, extending them straight while he bounces on his branch.

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    The evolution of the bird of paradise is an example of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection; a comfortable habitat means females can be choosy when selecting a mate, and males are forced to try harder to attract her. The scalloped feathers of the King of Saxony (Pteridorphora alberti) are just one example of an apparently superfluous feature that has evolved to impress the opposite sex.

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    Several species, including the lesser bird of paradise (Paradisaea minor) from northern Papua New Guinea, show off their feathery locks in leks – large groups of males gathering in a competitive mating display. Others species perform solo.

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    The plumes of the raggiana bird of paradise (Paradisaea raggiana) are heavily used in the feathered headdresses of New Guineans, but habitat loss from human development is a greater threat to their survival than hunting.

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    The Wilson’s bird of paradise (Cicinnurus respublica) is one of over three dozen species of the bird which live in the rainforests of New Guinea; there are four species found in north-eastern Australia and just two in Indonesia. Isolated environments have allowed the birds to evolve into many different species.

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    Wahnes’s parotia (Parotia wahnesi), found in the mountains of northeast Papua New Guinea, is one of the few species of birds of paradise listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. It has retained the dark coloring of its crow like ancestors, save for a metallic breast shield and striking blue and white eyes.

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Gallery: PNG’s Birds of paradise

By AG STAFF | April 5, 2011

The extravagant feathers and exuberant displays of birds of paradise are all in the name of love.