Birds of paradise are famed for their elaborate plumage and fascinating, often bizarre, courtship displays, and the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) is no exception (4). As in other species, the male and the female superb bird-of-paradise differ greatly in appearance, with only the male possessing the spectacular ornamental plumage while the female is rather drab and cryptically coloured (4).
The feathers on the upper breast of the male superb bird-of-paradise, known as the ‘breast shield’, are a particularly striking iridescent, metallic greenish-blue, and can be erected as part of the courtship display (5). The head is a velvety jet black, although the scale-like crown feathers are a metallic green-blue (2) (5). The rest of the plumage is black, with variable sheens of purple, copper, magenta and green appearing in places (2). Long, black feathers on the back of the neck can be erected to form a cape during courtship. While the bill of the male superb bird-of-paradise is black, the inside of the mouth is bright yellow to green (2) (5).
Much duller in comparison, the plumage of the female superb bird-of-paradise is a mixture of browns and greys, with black barring on the underside (5). The female is also much smaller than the male, with noticeably shorter wings. While the juvenile superb bird-of-paradise resembles the female in appearance, its plumage is softer and fluffier, and the feathers of the crown are darker. Immature males can be distinguished by their longer wings, and the gradual appearance of their brighter, adult plumage (2).
The call of the male superb bird-of-paradise is generally a loud series of screeching ‘shre’ or ‘scheee’ notes, and is used to attract females to the male’s territory (2) (5).
There are currently five recognised subspecies of the superb bird-of-paradise, which vary slightly in appearance and also in their location: Lophorina superba superba, Lophorina superba niedda, Lophorina superba feminina, Lophorina superba latipennis and Lophorina superba minor (2).
- Also known as
- Superb bird of paradise.
- Male length: 26 cm (2)
- Female length: 25 cm (2)
- Male weight: 60 - 105 g (2)
- Female weight: 54 - 85 g (2)
Superb bird-of-paradise biology
One of the most striking behaviours of the superb bird-of-paradise is the extraordinary courtship display of the male. Courtship displays have been observed between August and January, and the male establishes and displays from a territory (2). The display begins with the male in a slightly crouched position, before alternately flashing the iridescent breast shield or flicking up the black cape feathers, while watching the female (5).
After this initial display, the male fully expands the spectacular breast shield and flicks the cape feathers forward, over and around the sides of the head. The result is a complete circle of black, broken only by the iridescent breast shield feathers and eye spots. With the feathers in this position, the male then begins an animated dance around the female (5). During this dance, the male superb bird-of-paradise may also produce a series of clicking noises created by sudden movement of the wings (2).
The male superb bird-of-paradise is polygamous and may mate with many females. The female alone is responsible for building the nest and caring for the young. Nests have been observed to be cup-shaped, and constructed from plant material, including fern fronds. A clutch can contain 1 to 2 eggs, and in captivity the female incubates these for 18 to 19 days, with the young fledging 18 days after hatching (2).
Hopping between branches and trees, the superb bird-of-paradise forages by probing among moss and other epiphytic growth in search of food. The diet of the superb bird-of-paradise varies with seasonal availability, although it feeds mainly on invertebrates and fruit (2).
Superb bird-of-paradise range
The superb bird-of-paradise is found only on the island of New Guinea, in both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (6).
Superb bird-of-paradise habitat
Inhabiting montane rainforest and forest edges, the superb bird-of-paradise can be found at elevations between 1,000 and 2,300 metres above sea level (2) (5). However, it most commonly occurs between elevations of 1,650 and 1,900 metres (2). The preferred territory of the male is steeply sloping mountain ridges (2).
The superb bird-of-paradise is also known to inhabit disturbed forest, as well as forest patches between cultivated areas such as gardens (2).
Superb bird-of-paradise status
The superb bird-of-paradise is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
Superb bird-of-paradise threats
While not considered globally threatened (2), the superb bird-of-paradise is hunted for its plumes for use in traditional costume (7).
There are currently no known specific conservation measures in place for the superb bird-of-paradise. However, it is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that any trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3).
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- Cryptic colouration
- Colouration that makes animals difficult to detect against their background, so serving to reduce predation. The colouration may provide camouflage against a background, break up the outline of the body, or both.
- A plant that grows on another plant, typically a tree, using it for physical support but not drawing nourishment from it.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
- Mating with more than one partner in the same season.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
IUCN Red List (February, 2012)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-Shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CITES (February, 2012)
Irestedt, M., Jønsson, K.A., Fjeldså, J., Christidis, L. and Ericson, P.G.P. (2009) An unexpectedly long history of sexual selection in birds-of-paradise. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 9: 235.
Frith, D.W. and Frith, C.B. (1987) Courtship display and mating of the superb bird-of-paradise Lophorina superba. Emu, 88: 183-188.
BirdLife International - Superb bird-of-paradise (February, 2012)
Healey, C. (1990) Maring Hunters and Traders: Production and Exchange in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.