In search of Birds of Paradise
By Samantha Fergusson
Birds of Paradise are arguably the most beautiful birds to be found on this planet. Their colourful plumage and exotic calls combine with their rarity to make them utterly magical. The Victorian scientist and fellow of Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, said of the birds: “Nature seems to have taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures, may not lose value by being too easily obtained.” This statement may not fill you with hope if your utmost dream is to see them. Indeed, it is probably healthiest to travel to their habitat without the expectation that you will spot them at all and simply enjoy the stunning areas they inhabit.
But you should never give up hope! BBC journalist Frank Gardner pursued his dream of seeing the birds in the wild despite being wheelchair-bound and Cornell University professor Ed Scholes travelled into the wild with photographer Tim Laman, their goal being to document every single bird of paradise. Both succeeded despite many obstacles, and provided you are willing to spend quite a bit of time looking, you will too.
To be in with a good chance, expect to hike for several hours along overgrown rainforest paths, fording bridgeless rivers and all the while wondering how on earth the Victorian naturalists like Wallace managed it when they came in their starched shirts and tightly laced leather boots all those years ago.
If you would like to plan a trip with the chance of seeing them, or at least hearing their call echo through the canopy, then here are the best places to find them.
The lush forests that coat West Papua are home to an enormous array of birdlife - enormous, pre-historic looking cassowaries, New Guinea Eagles with their haunting cries and exotically crowned pigeons that explode from the undergrowth when you’re least expecting them. But of course, every birdwatcher that travels here hopes beyond hope to catch a glimpse of the breath-taking birds of paradise.
It is here that you are most likely to see the Magnificent Bird of Paradise as it dances with its bright, curling tail feathers. The males of this species are a colourful mix of yellow, green and blue while the females are typically dull in colour. If you are incredibly lucky, you might catch one fellow clearing up a little before commencing his elaborate dance in an effort to win a mate. You could also chance upon the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise, which are endemic to West Papua. You would struggle to miss it, with the Bauhaus-esque colouring all along its back and its magnificent spiralling tail feathers (like the most elaborately curled moustache).
Papua New Guinea
Of the 43 known species of bird of paradise, an astounding 38 can be found in the forests of Papua New Guinea. Naturally, this means that bird enthusiasts flock to the area, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of a Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise, or perhaps a crowned Victoria Pigeon.
Head towards Tari Valley, which is not only home to a vast array of flora and fauna (and definitely a bird of paradise or two), but also the famous Huli Wigmen. They are known for their spectacular headdresses and their dances are all based on the mating ritual of birds of paradise – the next best thing to seeing the birds themselves!
There aren’t many varieties of birds of paradise to be found here, but it is still worth a visit if you want to see them but Papua New Guinea seems a little too remote and wild. To see the Paradise Riflebird, head to the subtropical forests of the Australian Great Dividing Range, south from Rockhampton, Queensland, to just north of Newcastle in New South Wales. Alternatively, venture to north-eastern Queensland to see the Victoria Riflebird. Both of these beautiful varieties were named for their colouring, the jet-black plumage with dashes of iridescent green, blue and bronze being similar to that of the British riflemen.
Make it happen
If you would like to venture into the wilds of Indonesia to seek the elusive birds of paradise, then look no further. Our local experts are only too happy to put together whatever itinerary fits your bill, they even have one that already includes a birding trip to inspire you. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call 0117 325 7898.