Courtship in Birds; Same Old Song and Dance?

  “Everyone likes birds,” Sir David Attenborough.

Wilson's Bird Of Paradise

The birds-of-paradise, (Paradisaeidae), are pretty close to our shores. These colorful little birds (especially the males with their long plumes) are actually found in rainforests in surrounding islands of Indonesia and New Guinea.

Perhaps, even closer to home, is how close their mating behavior is to the courtship behavior in human beings.

The Birds-of-Paradise have developed a social mating system based on arenas or leks. Essentially, this is a stage that is cleared for the male to do his song and dance; a highly elaborate courtship display that features the magnificent plumage.

Wilson’s Bird of Paradise’s elaborate courtship ritual

The star of the video above is actually of the species of the Paradisaeidae, the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise (Cincinnurus respublica). He starts by actually clearing the arena, of twigs and leaves. This allows his magnificent color coat of feathers and unusually long plumes to be more visible to the potential female mate. At one point of time, it even displays its distinctive breast shield.

The video below features another, not so magnificently colored male species of the Paradisaeidae, using a similar stage or arena, for courtship behavior. Similarly after clearing away leaves and twigs, the stage is set for the male to put on his phenomenal dance show. Taking the ritual very seriously, he evens warms up before beginnings his elaborate display as this may last up to a few hours!

Beautiful Plumed Bird of Paradise

Studies have also shown that there is a strong correlation between achieving female preference if they were more conspicuous as possibly indicates a higher survival and fecundity for the female.

Interestingly, these elaborate displays seems to be learned behavior as the younger males stay on the fringes of the arena to practice clumsily before the star of the show takes over in the centre stage.

Does this parallel post modern society’s courtship rituals? Sir David Attenborough would probably beg to differ:

“These birds are so romantic and they have legends surrounding them. They all do the most extraordinary things, each with its individual dance and display.”

Beautiful Plumed Bird of Paradise's Dancing Ritual

Works Cited

Research Articles:

Davies, G. H. (n.d.). Meet Sir David. Retrieved March 31, 2010, from The Life Of Birds:

Irestedt, M., Jonsson, K. A., Fjeldsa, J., Christidis, L., & Ericson, P. G. (2009). An unexpectedly long history of sexual selection in birds-of-paradise. BMC Evolutionary Biology .

Kirkpatrick, M., & Ryan, M. J. (1991). The evolution of mating preferences and the paradox of the lek. Nature , 33-38.


BBC Wildlife. (2007, June 12). David Attenborough finds the rare exotic Wilson’s bird of paradise. Retrieved April 07, 2010, from YouTube:

BBC Wildlife. (2007, June 12). David Attenborough finds the rare exotic Wilson’s bird of paradise. Retrieved April 03, 2010, from YouTube:

Pictures Taken From:

Kirby, R. (2003). Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. Retrieved April 01, 2010, from Arkive: Images of Life on Earth: