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Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise wild 5.jpg
Raggiana bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea raggiana)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Corvoidea
Family: Paradisaeidae
Swainson, 1825

17 genera, 45 species[1]

The birds-of-paradise are members of the family Paradisaeidae of the order Passeriformes. The majority of species are found in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Australia. The family has 45 species in 17 genera. The members of this family are perhaps best known for the plumage of the males of the species, the majority of which are sexually dimorphic. The males of these species tend to have very long, elaborate feathers extending from the beak, wings, tail or head. For the most part they are confined to dense rainforest habitat. The diet of all species is dominated by fruit and to a lesser extent arthropods. The birds-of-paradise have a variety of breeding systems, ranging from monogamy to lek-type[2] polygamy.

A number of species are threatened by hunting and habitat loss.


The family Paradisaeidae was introduced (as Paradiseidae) in 1825 with Paradisaea as the type genus by the English naturalist William John Swainson.[3][a][b] For many years the birds-of-paradise were treated as being closely related to the bowerbirds. Today while both are treated as being part of the Australasian lineage Corvida, the two are now thought to be only distantly related. The closest evolutionary relatives of the birds-of-paradise are the crow and jay family Corvidae, the monarch flycatchers Monarchidae and the Australian mudnesters Struthideidae.[9]

A 2009 study examining the mitochondrial DNA of all species to examine the relationships within the family and to its nearest relatives estimated that the family emerged 24 million years ago, earlier than previous estimates. The study identified five clades within the family, and placed the split between the first clade, which contains the monogamous manucodes and paradise-crow, and all the other birds-of-paradise, to be 10 million years ago. The second clade includes the parotias and the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise. The third clade provisionally contains several genera, including Seleucidis, the Drepanornis sicklebills, Semioptera, Ptiloris and Lophorina, although some of these are questionable. The fourth clade includes the Epimachus sicklebills, Paradigalla and the astrapias. The final clade includes the Cicinnurus and the Paradisaea birds-of-paradise.[10]

The exact limits of the family have been the subject of revision as well. The three species of satinbird (the genera Cnemophilus and Loboparadisea) were treated as a subfamily of the birds-of-paradise, Cnemophilinae. In spite of differences in the mouth, foot morphology and nesting habits they remained in the family until a 2000 study moved them to a separate family closer to the berrypeckers and longbills (Melanocharitidae).[11] The same study found that the Macgregor's bird-of-paradise was actually a member of the large Australasian honeyeater family. In addition to these three species, a number of systematically enigmatic species and genera have been considered potential members of this family. The two species in the genus Melampitta, also from New Guinea, have been linked with the birds-of-paradise,[12] but their relationships remain uncertain, more recently being linked with the Australian mudnesters.[9] The silktail of Fiji has been linked with the birds-of-paradise many times since its discovery, but never formally assigned to the family. Recent molecular evidence now places the species with the fantails.[13]


A genus level phylogeny of the family has been determined by Martin Irestedt and collaborators.[10][14]


Lycocorax – paradise-crows (2 species)

Phonygammus – trumpet manucode

Manucodia – manucodes (5 species)

Pteridophora – King of Saxony bird-of-paradise

Parotia – parotias (6 species)

Seleucidis – twelve-wired bird-of-paradise

Drepanornis – sicklebills (2 species)

Semioptera – standardwing bird-of-paradise

Lophorina – lophorinas (3 species)

Ptiloris – riflebirds (4 species)

Epimachus – sicklebills (2 species)

Paradigalla – paradigallas (2 species)

Astrapia – astrapias (5 species)

Cicinnurus – King bird-of-paradise

Diphyllodes – birds-of-paradise (2 species)

Paradisornis – blue bird-of-paradise

Paradisaea – birds-of-paradise (6 species)



Hybrid birds-of-paradise may occur when individuals of different species, that look similar and have overlapping ranges, confuse each other for their own species and crossbreed.

When Erwin Stresemann realised that hybridisation among birds-of-paradise might be an explanation as to why so many of the described species were so rare, he examined many controversial specimens and, during the 1920s and 1930s, published several papers on his hypothesis. Many of the species described in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are now generally considered to be hybrids, though some are still subject to dispute; their status is not likely to be settled definitely without genetic examination of museum specimens, which will come soon in summer 2021 in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and some birds in an aviary in Central Park Zoo.


Sicklebills such as this brown sicklebill have decurved bills.

Birds-of-paradise are closely related to the corvids. Birds-of-paradise range in size from the king bird-of-paradise at 50 g (1.8 oz) and 15 cm (5.9 in) to the curl-crested manucode at 44 cm (17 in) and 430 g (15 oz). The male black sicklebill, with its long tail, is the longest species at 110 cm (43 in). In most species, the tails of the males are larger and longer than the female, the differences ranging from slight to extreme. The wings are rounded and in some species structurally modified on the males in order to make sound. There is considerable variation in the family with regard to bill shape. Bills may be long and decurved, as in the sicklebills and riflebirds, or small and slim like the Astrapias. As with body size, bill size varies between the sexes, although species where the females have larger bills than the male are more common, particularly in the insect-eating species.[9]

Plumage variation between the sexes is closely related to breeding system. The manucodes and paradise-crow, which are socially monogamous, are sexually monomorphic. So are the two species of Paradigalla, which are polygamous. All these species have generally black plumage with varying amounts of green and blue iridescence.[9] The female plumage of the dimorphic species is typically drab to blend in with their habitat, unlike the bright attractive colours found on the males. Younger males of these species have female-like plumage, and sexual maturity takes a long time, with the full adult plumage not being obtained for up to seven years. This affords the younger males the protection from predators of more subdued colours, and also reduces hostility from adult males.[9]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The centre of bird-of-paradise diversity is the large island of New Guinea; all but two genera are found in New Guinea. Those other two are the monotypic genera Lycocorax and Semioptera, both of which are endemic to the Maluku Islands, to the west of New Guinea. Of the riflebirds in the genus Ptiloris, two are endemic to the coastal forests of eastern Australia, one occurs in both Australia and New Guinea, and one is only found in New Guinea. The only other genus to have a species outside New Guinea is Phonygammus, one representative of which is found in the extreme north of Queensland. The remaining species are restricted to New Guinea and some of the surrounding islands. Many species have very small ranges, particularly those with restricted habitat types such as mid-montane forest (like the black sicklebill) or island endemics (like the Wilson's bird-of-paradise).[9]

The majority of birds-of-paradise live in tropical forests, including rainforest, swamps and moss forest,[9] nearly all of them solitary tree dwellers.[15] Several species have been recorded in coastal mangroves.[16] The southernmost species, the paradise riflebird of Australia, lives in sub-tropical and temperate wet forests. As a group the manucodes are the most plastic in their habitat requirements; in particular, the glossy-mantled manucode, which inhabits both forest and open savanna woodland.[9] Mid-montane habitats are the most commonly occupied habitat, with thirty of the forty species occurring in the 1000–2000 m altitudinal band.[16]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Diet and feeding[edit]

Fruits of the genus Schefflera are an important part of the diet of the ribbon-tailed astrapia.

The diet of the birds-of-paradise is dominated by fruit and arthropods, although small amounts of nectar and small vertebrates may also be taken. The ratio of the two food types varies by species, with fruit predominating in some species, and arthropods dominating the diet in others. The ratio of the two will affect other aspects of the behaviour of the species; for example, frugivorous species tend to feed in the forest canopy, whereas insectivores may feed lower down in the middle storey. Frugivores are more social than the insectivores, which are more solitary and territorial.[9]

Even the birds-of-paradise that are primarily insect eaters will still take large amounts of fruit. The family is overall an important seed disperser for the forests of New Guinea, as they do not digest the seeds. Species that feed on fruit will range widely searching for fruit, and while they may join other fruit-eating species at a fruiting tree, they will not associate with them otherwise and will not stay with other species for long. Fruit are eaten while perched and not from the air, and birds-of-paradise are able to use their feet as tools to manipulate and hold their food, allowing them to extract certain capsular fruit. There is some niche differentiation in fruit choice by species and any one species will only consume a limited number of fruit types compared to the large choice available. For example, the trumpet manucode and crinkle-collared manucode will eat mostly figs, whereas the Lawes's parotia focuses mostly on berries and the greater lophorina and raggiana bird-of-paradise take mostly capsular fruit.[9]


A male Victoria's riflebird displays and is inspected by a female.

Most species have elaborate mating rituals, with at least eight species exhibiting lek mating systems,[17] including the genus Paradisaea. Others, such as the Cicinnurus and Parotia species, have highly ritualised mating dances. Across the family (Paradisaeidae), female preference is incredibly important in shaping the courtship behaviors of males and, in fact, drives the evolution of ornamental combinations of sound, color, and behavior.[18] Males are polygamous in the sexually dimorphic species, but monogamous in at least some of the monomorphic species. Hybridisation is frequent in these birds, suggesting the polygamous species of bird of paradise are very closely related despite being in different genera. Many hybrids have been described as new species in the past,[19] and doubt remains regarding whether some forms, such as Rothschild's lobe-billed bird-of-paradise, are valid.[20]

Birds-of-paradise build their nests from soft materials, such as leaves, ferns, and vine tendrils, typically placed in a tree fork.[21] The typical number of eggs in each clutch varies among the species and is not known for every species. For larger species, it is almost always just one egg, but smaller species may produce clutches of 2–3 eggs.[22] Eggs hatch after 16–22 days, and the young leave the nest at between 16 and 30 days of age.[21]

Relationship with humans[edit]

Societies of New Guinea often use bird-of-paradise plumes in their dress and rituals, and the plumes were popular in Europe in past centuries as adornment for ladies' millinery. Hunting for plumes and habitat destruction have reduced some species to endangered status; habitat destruction due to deforestation is now the predominant threat.[9]

Best known are the members of the genus Paradisaea, including the type species, the greater bird-of-paradise, Paradisaea apoda. This species was described from specimens brought back to Europe from trading expeditions in the early sixteenth century. These specimens had been prepared by native traders by removing their wings and feet so that they could be used as decorations. This was not known to the explorers, and in the absence of information many beliefs arose about them. They were briefly thought to be the mythical phoenix. The often footless and wingless condition of the skins led to the belief that the birds never landed but were kept permanently aloft by their plumes. The first Europeans to encounter their skins were the voyagers in Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the Earth.[23] Antonio Pigafetta wrote that "The people told us that those birds came from the terrestrial paradise, and they call them bolon diuata, that is to say, 'birds of God'."[24] This is the origin of both the name "bird of paradise" and the specific name apoda – without feet.[25] An alternate account by Maximilianus Transylvanus used the term Mamuco Diata, a variant of Manucodiata, which was used as a synonym for birds-of-paradise up to the 19th century.


In recent years the availability of pictures and videos about birds of paradise in the internet has raised interest of birdwatchers around the world. Many of them fly to West Papua to watch various species of birds of paradise from Wilson's Bird of Paradise (Diphyllodes respublica) and Red Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea rubra) in Raja Ampat to Lesser Birds of Paradise (Paradisaea minor), Magnificent Riflebird (Ptiloris magnificus), King Bird of Paradise (Cicinnurus regius), crescent-caped lophorina (Lophorina niedda),[26] and Magnificent Bird of Paradise (Diphyllodes magnificus) in Susnguakti forest.

This activity significantly reduces the number of local villagers who are involved in the hunting of paradise birds.


Hunting of birds of paradise has occurred for a long time, possibly since the beginning of human settlement.[27] It is a peculiarity that among the most frequently-hunted species, males start mating opportunistically even before they grow their ornamental plumage. This may be an adaptation maintaining population levels in the face of hunting pressures, which have probably been present for hundreds of years.[28]

The naturalist, explorer and author Alfred Russel Wallace spent six years in the region, which he chronicled in The Malay Archipelago (published in 1869). His expedition team shot, collected and described many specimens of animals and birds, including the great, king, twelve-wired, superb, red and six-shafted birds of paradise.[29]

Hunting to provide plumes for the millinery trade was extensive in the late 19th and early 20th century,[30] but today the birds have legal protection except for hunting at a sustainable level to fulfill the ceremonial needs of the local tribal population. In the case of Pteridophora plumes, scavenging from old bowerbird bowers is encouraged.

Other examples[edit]

Specimen gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae, Carl Linnaeus spelled the genus name as both Paradisea and Paradisaea.[4] In 2012 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature suppressed the spelling Paradisea.[5][6]
  2. ^ The authority for the family Paradisaeidae has traditionally been attributed to the Irish zoologist Nicholas Aylward Vigors.[7] Vigors was constrained by the quinarian system and his use of Paradisaeae was not intended as a family name.[6][8]


  1. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2022). "Crows, mudnesters, melampittas, Ifrit, birds-of-paradise". IOC World Bird List Version 12.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  2. ^ Ligon, Russell A.; Diaz, Christopher D.; Morano, Janelle L.; Troscianko, Jolyon; Stevens, Martin; Moskeland, Annalyse; Laman, Timothy G.; Iii, Edwin Scholes (2018-11-20). "Evolution of correlated complexity in the radically different courtship signals of birds-of-paradise". PLOS Biology. 16 (11): 9. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2006962. ISSN 1545-7885. PMC 6245505. PMID 30457985.
  3. ^ Swainson, William John (1825). "On the characters and natural affinities of several new birds from Australasia; including some observations on the Columbidae". Zoological Journal. 1: 463–484 [480].
  4. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. pp. 83, 110.
  5. ^ International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (2012). "Paradisaea Linnaeus, 1758 and PARADISAEIDAE Swainson, 1825 (Aves): names conserved". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 69 (1): 77–78. doi:10.21805/bzn.v69i1.a5. S2CID 81167105.
  6. ^ a b Schodde, R.; LeCroy, M.; Bock, W.J. (2010). "Case 3500 Paradisae Linnaeus, 1758 and Paradisaeidae Swainson, 1825 (Aves): proposed conservation of usage". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 67 (1): 57–63. doi:10.21805/bzn.v67i1.a8. S2CID 84064906.
  7. ^ Bock, Walter J. (1994). History and Nomenclature of Avian Family-Group Names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. Vol. Number 222. New York: American Museum of Natural History. pp. 158, 264. hdl:2246/830.
  8. ^ Vigors, Nicholas Aylward (1825). "Observations on the natural affinities that connect the orders and families of birds". Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. 14 (3): 395–517 [449]. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.1823.tb00098.x.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Firth, Clifford B.; Firth, Dawn W. (2009). "Family Paradisaeidae (Birds-of-paradise)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14, Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 404–459. ISBN 978-84-96553-50-7.
  10. ^ a b Irestedt, M.; Jønsson, K.A.; Fjeldså, J.; Christidis, L.; Ericson, P.G. (2009). "An unexpectedly long history of sexual selection in birds-of-paradise". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 9 (1): 235. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-235. PMC 2755009. PMID 19758445.
  11. ^ Cracraft, J.; Feinstein, J. (2000). "What is not a bird of paradise? Molecular and morphological evidence places Macgregoria in the Meliphagidae and the Cnemophilinae near the base of the corvoid tree". Proc. R. Soc. B. 267 (1440): 233–241. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.0992. PMC 1690532. PMID 10714877.
  12. ^ Sibley, . & Ahlquist, J. (1987). "The Lesser Melampitta is a Bird of Paradise" Emu 87: 66–68
  13. ^ Irested, Martin; Fuchs, J; Jønsson, KA; Ohlson, JI; Pasquet, E; Ericson, Per G.P. (2009). "The systematic affinity of the enigmatic Lamprolia victoriae (Aves: Passeriformes) – An example of avian dispersal between New Guinea and Fiji over Miocene intermittent land bridges?" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 48 (3): 1218–1222. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.05.038. PMID 18620871.
  14. ^ Irestedt, M.; Batalha-Filho, H.; Ericson, P.G.P.; Christidis, L.; Schodde, R. (2017). "Phylogeny, biogeography and taxonomic consequences in a bird-of-paradise species complex, LophorinaPtiloris (Aves: Paradisaeidae)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 181 (2): 439–470. doi:10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx004.
  15. ^ Honolulu Zoo "Birds of Paradise". Archived from the original on 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2011-02-03., Birds of Paradise, Accessed Feb 3, 2011
  16. ^ a b Heads, M (2001). "Birds of paradise, biogeography and ecology in New Guinea: a review". Journal of Biogeography. 28 (7): 893–925. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2699.2001.00600.x. S2CID 83592452.
  17. ^ Beehler, Bruce; Pruett-Jones, Stephen G. (1983). "Display dispersion and diet of birds of paradise: a comparison of nine species". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 13 (3): 229–238. doi:10.1007/bf00299927. ISSN 0340-5443. S2CID 21374280.
  18. ^ Ligon, Russell A.; Diaz, Christopher D.; Morano, Janelle L.; Troscianko, Jolyon; Stevens, Martin; Moskeland, Annalyse; Laman, Timothy G.; Scholes III, Edwin (2019). "Evolution of correlated complexity in the radically different courtship signals of birds-of-paradise". PLOS Biology. 16 (11): e2006962. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2006962. PMC 6245505. PMID 30457985. Open access
  19. ^ Koch, André (2018-05-31). "Discovery of a rare hybrid specimen known as Maria's bird of paradise at the Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum in Braunschweig". Zoosystematics and Evolution. 94 (2): 315–324. doi:10.3897/zse.94.25139. ISSN 1860-0743.
  20. ^ Smith, Kimberly G.; Fuller, Errol (1997). "The Lost Birds of Paradise". The Condor. 99 (4): 1016. doi:10.2307/1370166. ISSN 0010-5422. JSTOR 1370166.
  21. ^ a b Frith, Clifford B. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 228–231. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  22. ^ Mackay, Margaret D. (1990). "The Egg of Wahnes' Parotia Parotia wahnesi (Paradisaeidae)". Emu. 90 (4): 269. doi:10.1071/mu9900269a. PDF fulltext
  23. ^ Andaya, Leonard (October 2017). "Flights of fancy: The bird of paradise and its cultural impact" (PDF). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies: 374.
  24. ^ Harrison, Thomas P. (1960). "Bird of Paradise: Phoenix Redivivus". Isis. 51 (2): 173–180. doi:10.1086/348872. S2CID 145329486.
  25. ^ Jobling, James A. (1991). A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-19-854634-3.
  26. ^ "Rare Footage of New Bird of Paradise Species Shows Odd Courtship Dance | Nat Geo Wild". YouTube. 2018-09-14. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  27. ^ Andaya, Leonard Y. (2017). "Flights of fancy: The bird of paradise and its cultural impact". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 48 (3): 372–389. doi:10.1017/S0022463417000546. ISSN 0022-4634.
  28. ^ Laska, Mark S.; Hutchins, Michael; Sheppard, Christine; Worth, Wendy; Hundgen, Kurt; Bruning, Don (Jun 1992). "Reproduction by Captive Unplumed Male Lesser Bird of Paradise Paradisaea minor : Evidence for an Alternative Mating Strategy?". Emu - Austral Ornithology. 92 (2): 108–111. doi:10.1071/MU9920108. ISSN 0158-4197.
  29. ^ Wallace, Alfred Russel. The Malay Archipelago. London: Macmillan, 1869.
  30. ^ Cribb, Robert (1997). "Birds of paradise and environmental politics in colonial Indonesia, 1890–1931". In Boomgaard, Peter; Columbijn, Freek; Henley, David (eds.). Paper landscapes: explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia. Leiden, The Netherlands: KITLV Press. pp. 379–408. ISBN 90-6718-124-2.


  • Laman, Tim; Scholes, Edwin (2012). Birds of Paradise, Revealing the World's Most Extraordinary Birds. National Geographic Society.

External links[edit]