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New species of superb bird-of-paradise has special dance moves

  • Until recently, researchers thought that the island of New Guinea was home to a single species of the superb bird-of-paradise, the bird with the now-famous “smiley face” dance routine.
  • Now, researchers have confirmed yet another species of the superb bird-of-paradise in the Indonesian Bird’s Head or Vogelkop region of the island, called the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise.
  • The males of the two species have different dance moves and calls, and the females look different too, researchers have found.

Birds-of-paradise have some of the world’s strangest and most elaborate courtship displays. In the rainforests of New Guinea, for instance, the male superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) puts on the now-famous bouncing “smiley face” dance routine, spreading out its black feather cape in an oval shape, until all that’s visible in the pitch blackness of its body are its bright blue-green breast plate and shining blue eyes. The male then hops around the female in circles, hoping to win her over.

Until recently, researchers thought that the island of New Guinea was home to a single species of the superb bird-of-paradise. Now, researchers have confirmed yet another species of the superb bird-of-paradise in the Indonesian Bird’s Head or Vogelkop region of the island.

This new species, called the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda), differs from the more widespread superb bird-of-paradise species, now named the greater superb bird-of-paradise, in a number of ways, researchers report in a new study published in PeerJ.

The greater superb bird-of-paradise, left, and the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise in courtship displays. Image by Tim Laman/Macaulay Library.

For example, when the male Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise is ready to woo a female, it spreads out its black cape into a crescent shape, its iridescent blue breast feathers giving the bird a “frowning face” look, in contrast to the smiley face of the male greater superb bird-of-paradise.

The two species also have different dance moves, the researchers write. While the greater superb bird-of-paradise is known to vigorously bounce around the female, the newly described Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise glides from side to side in smooth, quick steps.

The calls also of the males also differ between the species, as does the appearance of the females.

“After you see what the Vogelkop form looks like and acts like in the wild, there’s little room for doubt that it is a separate species,” lead author Edwin Scholes, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds-of-Paradise Project at Cornell University, U.S., said in a statement. “The courtship dance is different. The vocalizations are different. The females look different. Even the shape of the displaying male is different.”

The Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise is now the fourth species of bird-of-paradise known from the Bird’s Head region, joining Astrapia nigra, Paradigalla carunculata and Parotia sefilata.

“With full species status, niedda becomes the fourth endemic bird-of-paradise to the Bird’s Head region of Indonesian New Guinea (i.e., the Vogelkop Peninsula), a fact that underscores the importance of this region as a center of endemic biodiversity worthy of enhanced conservation protection,” the authors write in the paper.

The Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise. Image by Tim Laman/Macaulay Library.

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