At the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo Paprika, a male red bird of paradise, presented a challenge for senior wild animal keeper, Patti Cooper. Upon his return from another zoo, Paprika came back with increased human imprinted behaviors, including speaking some English words. While entertaining to some, this wasn’t helping him attract a female of his species. Not wanting to give up on him, Patty enlisted the aid of Carolyn Fuchs in WCS’s exhibit shop. Together Patty and Carolyn came up with the idea to create a female red bird of paradise puppet to broaden Paprika’s horizons and give him another chance at love. It took hardly any time for Paprika to redirect his attention and to become interested in “Spice Girl,” the well-designed wire mesh and epoxy puppet. Paprika is now exhibiting the proper courtship behaviors. Meanwhile, the Bronx Zoo is searching for a real live female breeding partner.
Red birds of paradise are endemic to the rain forests of New Guinea’s western islands. It’s long ornamental red plumes require at least six years to fully develop. The male has an emerald green face, a pair of elongated legs, black corkscrew-shaped tail wires, dark green feather pompoms above each eye, and glossy crimson red plumes with white tips at either side of the breast. Females are smaller in size with a dark brown face with no ornamental red plumes. The male red bird of paradise has an elaborate courtship display. While in full display, he performs what is known as the “butterfly dance” by which he spreads and vibrates his wings like a giant butterfly. Sadly, because of habitat loss and poaching, the red bird of paradise is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.