The birds-of-paradise have long been recognised as beautiful and spectacular species, thanks to the diversity in ornamental plumage, dazzling array of colours and the exaggerated, often bizarre, courtship displays (4), and Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is certainly no exception. The male is easily distinguished by the brilliant turquoise crown of bare skin on the back of its head, which is criss-crossed by lines of fine velvety black feathers with a coppery-bronze iridescent sheen. A semicircular cape of bright yellow on the upper mantle contrasts with the crimson feathers on the rest of the back, while the upperwings are blackish-brown, with the coverts edged paler brown, and with crimson tips to some of the feathers. The upper throat of the male Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is usually velvety black, and may have a coppery-bronze to purple gloss, while the plumage of the extensive breast shield (the patch of feathers on the upper breast) is a glossy emerald-green, sometimes appearing blue-purple or red-purple. The central feathers of the tail are long and spiralled. The female is much less ornately adorned than the male, with the bare skin on the back of the head a much less radiant lilac-blue, and with olive to reddish-brown upperparts, dull brown wings and buff-coloured underparts, with fine uniform brown-black bars. The female also lacks the spiral tail feathers. Immature males are very similar in appearance to the female (2).
- Diphyllodes respublica.
- Length: 16 cm (2)
- Male weight: 53 – 67 g (2)
- Female weight: 52 – 60 g (2)
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise biology
The peculiar appearance of Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is shown in full splendour during its courtship display. The male performs the display in an ‘arena’, a small, well-lit clearing surrounded by dense forest. The male carefully attends to the arena, ensuring it is free of leaf litter and other unwanted items, and also removing the leaves of sapling stems within the display area. When a potential mate arrives, the male initially adopts a characteristic ‘frozen’ posture on the stem of a sapling, before responding to the visiting female by performing an intricate courtship ritual, exhibiting the attractive breast shield, and accompanying the display with song and calls. Very little else is known about the breeding behaviour of this elusive species (2).
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise feeds mainly on fruit and also some small insects (2).
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise range
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is endemic to the West Papuan islands of Waigeo and Batanta, off the coast of northern West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), Indonesia (2) (4) (5).
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise habitat
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise primarily inhabits hill forest, usually at elevations of around 300 metres, although it has also occasionally been recorded calling in lowland rainforest and in higher montane forests, up to 1,200 metres (2) (5).
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise status
Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise threats
As Wilson’s bird-of-paradise has a fairly restricted range, it is likely that any changes to its habitat will have a serious negative effect in its population. Although the difficult terrain and lack of infrastructure on Waigeo mean that a large proportion of the forest remains intact, selective logging has been reported in the north, and a concession lease held by a mining company may threaten long-term survival of the natural habitat in future. Although Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is known to occur in Pulau Waigeo Nature Reserve, there are worries that this may have reduced greatly in size due to logging and natural causes (such as fire) (5). On Batanta there has been major forest loss due to logging, which has caused significant habitat degradation (5) (6).
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is found within a protected reserve on the island of Waigeo, and it is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that levels of trade in the species are carefully monitored. Conservation measures which are currently proposed by BirdLife International include carrying out further research into the distribution, abundance, and habitat requirements of Wilson’s bird-of-paradise and its response to habitat fragmentation, as well as ensuring that the Pulau Waigeo Nature Reserve is protected from future logging activities (5).
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- Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- In birds, the wings, shoulder feathers and back, when coloured differently from the rest of the body.
- Montane forest
- Forest occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.
IUCN Red List (August, 2010)
del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (2009) Handbook of Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-Shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CITES (August, 2010)
Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
BirdLife International (August, 2010)
BirdLife: EBA Factsheet - West Papuan Lowlands (August, 2010)