Q&A

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - Stu­art Blackman

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’.

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