Why are birds of paradise so spectacular? Plus, do wild animals get cancer?
A There are probably various contributing factors. First, the birds' polygynous mating system, in which a few males monopolise most of the females, leads to intense competition between males. Exaggerated displays advertise male quality to the choosy – and far more drab – females. Second, choreographed movements and bright plumage help females pick out males against the cluttered and complex background of the understorey habitat in which they display.
Despite the astonishing diversity of displays among the 39 species, they are all very closely related, belonging to the same family (Paradisaeidae), so share that propensity for colour and choreography.
The king bird of paradise, found in the lowland forests of New Guinea, is the smallest and most brightly coloured of the 39 species of ‘BoPs’.