Sunday, September 28, 2014

Really Weird Birds: King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise

The King-of-Saxony bird-of-paradise is found in the rain forested mountains of New Guinea.  This species was first described and named in 1894.  It received its common name and scientific species name (alberti), to honor the then king of Saxony, Albert of Saxony. 

There are 41 species of birds-of-paradise, mostly found in New Guinea and its surrounding islands.  Males of the species exhibit some of the most unusual and beautiful feathers in the world.  The King-of-Saxony bird-of-paradise has feathers unlike any other.

Illustration from the wikipedia files
The bird’s body is about 8.5 inches long.  Males have a black head, back, wings, and tail, and a white and yellow front.  The most unusual part of the male is the two very long head plumes, or ornamental feathers sprouting from behind each eye.  These feather structures are more than twice the length of the bird’s body, almost 20 inches long!  In the right light, they look light blue on top and reddish-brown underneath.  The plumes have lost their normal feather structure.  There are 40 to 50 small flag-shaped structures positioned on one side of the shaft.  Males have evolved these through sexual selection; yep, girl attractants.  The bland looking brown females choose the male with the most impressive head plumes.
Male King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise (photo: The wikipedia files)
King-of-Saxony birds are polygamous.  During courtship males perform their displays in one large area called a lek.  They are all attempting to impress the on-looking females.  The male’s display has two main parts.  First, he will try to attract females to his spot by “singing” a hissing rattle sound while perched up in the canopy.  He also moves and waves his head plumes and raises the feathers on his neck.  When a female approaches, he flies down to a vine in the under-story where he perches below the female.  He repeats his display and also bounces up and down on the vine.  Click here for a short video of a male King-of-Saxony bird courtship display.  When approaching the female for mating, the male wags his head back and forth while hopping up the vine towards her.  Afterwards, the female leaves and the male continues to attract other females.

Males take no part in the rearing of their offspring.  Females lay only one egg and care for the chick themselves.  This species mainly eats fruit, therefore helping with seed dispersal in their rainforest habitat.  They are not considered endangered or threatened.  They are only found in a small range, but are very common throughout that range.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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