Birds-of-paradise like to show off, but it’s all right. I would, too, if I had teal feathers and stunning eyespots. One specific bird-of-paradise, found only in the western region of New Guinea, Indonesia, has a particular way of showing off that’s recently helped scientists confirm it is actually a new species.
Meet the Vogelkop Superb (Lophorina niedda). A study published this week in the online journal PeerJ concluded that the Vokelkop, named after the Bird’s Head Peninsula where it exists, is its own species within the Lophorina genus, which is found more broadly throughout New Guinea. A separate study last year revealed that the Lophorina birds-of-paradise are likely three distinct species, including the Vogelkop, but now these scientists from Cornell University and Harvard University are sure of it.
How? Well, by the way this bird shows off.
Members of this endemic species use different courtship methods that are subtle enough to have gone unnoticed all this time, but different enough to set them apart from their close relatives. For instance, instead of the male jumping erratically up and down to woo a lady, as most birds-of-paradise do, the Vogelkop fellas do more of an elegant side-to-side glide. These birds also have a signature cape, which, when raised, gives them that odd, kinda’ creepy, but totally beautiful face-like feature.
I’m talking about this:
Turns out that the Vogelkop, however, does its a bit different. The males’ capes don’t round out around the edges, the way the more common Lophorina superba in the above-left image does. They actually pull down on the sides, so the display is more like a crescent than an oval, as shown in the right image of the Vogelkop.
Courtship is about more than the dance or the appearance, though. A guy’s gotta’ spit some game. In bird tongue, that involves singing. The Vogelkop’s vocalizations aren’t all that different than those of its relatives, but its sound is more of a “yiap,” as scientists described in the paper, rather than a “harsh raspy screech.”
What does this all mean? In the words of the authors:
Furthermore, because all the differences described here are directly related to mating preferences of females and have likely evolved through divergent aesthetic preferences of females, it seems probable that niedda and/or superba females would not find males of the other type as attractive as males of their own type.
The realization that this bird-of-paradise is its own species serves as a reminder that many of the creatures around us may not be what they appear. The researchers urge the science community to continue exploring New Guinea’s forests, which faces severe deforestation for logging or subsistence agriculture. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the island covers less than 0.5 percent of the Earth’s landmass but harbors six to eight percent of the world’s species.
The Lophorina birds-of-paradise are just a few of them. What else is waiting to be found?