OCR Interpretation

Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, May 31, 1936, Image 70

Image and text provided by Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1936-05-31/ed-1/seq-70/

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That’s the bird of paradise when he
goes a-wooing: A fiery cascade of color against
the jungle background. Here a scientist
tells of braving the wilds to watch the strange
lovemaking of this finest thing in feathers
by Lee S. Crandall
Curator of Birds, Now York Zoological Park
Men have risked their lives in the
jungles of New Guinea fora chance
to see the sights pictured here and
on the cover of this magazine the
brilliant and scintillating fireworks of the bird
of paradise in display.
As far as I know, these are the first photo
graphs ever taken of the courtship display of
several of these birds of paradise. The birds
themselves are in the collections of the New
York Zoological Park, the largest exhibition of
birds of paradise in the world. Six months of
daily watching and waiting went into the
making of this series of photographs. We had
to be on hand at the magic moment when the
male bird was beginning the stiff-legged dance
that culminates in a fiery cascade of plumes.
These pictures show only a few of the typical
display postures; a complete series showing
every phase of the birds’ antics would run to
half a hundred. For the courtship of a bird of
paradise is as definitely ' set” as the steps of
an old-fashioned square dance, with an almost
unvarying routine of gorgeous postures lasting
from a few seconds to several minutes.
The English sparrow that ruffles his feathers
and hops about the lawn while chattering and
fighting with every nearby male of his kind is
obeying the same urge that causes the birds of
paradise to go into display. But what a dif
ference in the effect!
Not only are the birds of paradise generally
considered the most beautiful birds in the
world, but their beauty reaches its apogee in
the courtship display of the males. The pea
A pair of blue birds of paradise came to us
about fifteen years ago, and the male began
his moult almost as soon as he arrived. It was
some weeks before his plumage returned to its
electric blue and mauve. And then, one morn
ing soon alter the moult was completed, an
excited keeper burst into my office with the
news that the male Blue was "in convulsions.”
Unbelievable! We had carefully nursed the
bird through the critical period of its first
moult in captivity, and it had been in the best
cock, when he spreads his train and shakes it
until every “eye” dances and shimmers, is the
only close rival of its beauty. However, long
familiarity has staled the peacock’s show for
most of us, and there is nothing else in nature
to approach the eccentricity and loveliness of
the bird of paradise display.
The loveliest of all, and one that has been
photographed with only partial success, is
that of Prince Rudolph’s Blue Bird of Para
dise. Our first sight of it at the Zoological
Park, incidentally, was accompanied by a
minor sensation in the Bird House.
of health the day before. I hurried to the
cage outside my door, and the first glance was
completely reassuring. I was seeing something
that civilized man had probably never seen
before—for the “convulsions” were the in
tricate gyrations of the bird’s full display.
It was hanging head downward from its
perch, its head at the apex of an inverted
triangle of shimmering, rippling blue. An oval
patch of velvet black on the abdomen was
crowned by a mulberry row of feathers and a
glowing aureole of blue and white, flanked by
the browiysh-mauve inner surface of the
Copyright, 1934, United Newspapers Magazine Corporation
wings. Above the tail
feathers the long
“wires" rose to half
their length and drop
ped gracefully out
ward, with their little
tabs on the ends danc
ing as the bird moved
its body. Every mo
tion caused waves of
color to roll across the
breast feathers.
While that inverted
form is typical of the
blue bird of paradise
and some others, the displays of most of the
birds in our collection are quite different. One
of the handsomest is that of Count Salvadori 's
Bird of Paradise, which we have in the collec
tion. I shall never forget the first time 1 saw
that species displaying.
It was in 1929, when the New York Zoologi
cal Society's New Guinea expedition was on
the way back to Mekeo from the mountain
regions where most of our present collection
had been captured. We were crossing the slope
of a hill when I heard the harsh calls of Count
Salvadori's Bird of Paradise somewhere close
Covrtoty N. y. Zoological Society
by. My only companion was Koi, a native boy.
We were well behind the rest of the party and
Koi was impatiently trying to hurry me along;
but I insisted on turning aside from the trail
for one last look at the bird in its native
1 was rewarded with one of the greatest
thrills of the expedition.
Eelow me on the slope a tree some fifty feet
tall reared its bare trunk, with a dense canopy
of green leaves at the very top. A few dead
limbs jutted from the trunk, and on them
were four of the Salvadori Birds of Paradise in
full blaze of color. They were working up to
the height of their courtship dance as I crept
through the bush and stared down at them
from a distance of only a few yards.
Their bodies stiff and horizontal, their red
brown wings spread in gracefully curved fans,
their plumes of w ine and red arching above
their backs and falling in a tremulous cascade,
they hopped in staccato time back and forth
along the branches and pecked at imaginary
enemies. For a few seconds each would be
come quiet and then, with a sudden outburst
of harsh calls, expand its wings and resume its
I could have stood there for hours, oblivious
to the heat and my utter fatigue; but Koi
would not lag behind an instant longer, and
reluctantly I tore myself away.
Many times since then I have seen our
Count Salvadori's Bird of Paradise ecstati
cally treading the measures of its courtship
dance in its solitary cage in the Zoological
Park. It is always a marvelous sight, but it
will never seem as lovely as that first and only >
glimpse of the four birds in the heart of the
For a time that chance vision provided me
with a major mystery. I knew that the court
ship season was over for the birds of paradise
of that particular group- and yet they were
certainly going through their courtship dance
(Continued on pogo IS)

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