The exotic island of New Guinea is one of the planet's last natural frontiers. As the second largest island in the world it encompasses more than 303,000 square miles, 90% of which is still covered in forests. The humid lowlands, dry woodlands and dense, lush highlands support an astounding abundance of plant and animal life, including more than 360 endemic species of birds. |
The most famous of these is the magnificent bird-of-paradise. The best way to encounter it is on professionally-organised bird tours of New Guinea in renowned wildlife watching areas like Rondon Ridge, Varirata National Park, Lake Murray and the Ambua Lodge, in the central highlands.
The 42 species of birds-of-paradise make up the family Paradisaeidae. Their vividly-coloured plumage has earned them a reputation as one of the world's most distinctive and beautiful birds. Even amongst a host of other exotic endemic species they are the real superstars of bird tours to New Guinea.
The iridescent green, yellow, blue and red feathers of its plumage include oversized head plumes and fans, as well as decorative breastplates, dramatic neck ruffs and long, trailing feathers known as streamers. The tails of the males are usually longer and in some species the female doesn't have the iconic brightly coloured plumage, instead sporting very plain feathers for camouflage. For the same reason, in certain species males don’t develop their plumage until they reach sexual maturity, to increase their chances of surviving to mate.
A solitary bird, it lives in the tropical rainforests, swamps and mangroves of New Guinea. The Raggiana Bird-of-paradise can be seen in the eucalypt forests of Varirata National Park, not far from Port Moresby; several species dwell in the surrounding lowland rainforests of the Karawari River; and the high altitude habitat of the Western Highlands is the home of the iconic Superb and King of Saxony Birds-of-paradise.
The magnificent plumage of the males is put on full, brilliant display during the elaborate courtship process. They preen, dance, strike poses and generally do anything at all to catch and win the attention of the females. The courtship can go on for hours before they have any success. The ritual is an astonishing sight to behold and witnessing the performance in its full splendour is a highlight of bird tours to New Guinea.
Demand for their spectacular feathers saw many species hunted to extinction up until the early twentieth century, both for use in the rituals and dress of the local people and in the millinery trade abroad. Today they are protected, although sustainable hunting is still allowed to support traditional ceremonial uses.
Bird Tours to New Guinea
New Guinea's diverse, unspoilt habitat is a bird watcher’s dream come true. Professional bird tours during the dry season between June and October afford the opportunity not only to come face-to-face with a host of the island's iconic avian species, but also to experience a taste of one of the most mysterious and exotic cultures on Earth.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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