The birds-of-paradise have long been recognised as beautiful and spectacular species, thanks to the diversity in ornamental plumage, dazzling array of colours and the exaggerated, often bizarre, courtship displays , and Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is certainly no exception. The male is easily distinguished by the brilliant turquoise crown of bare skin on the back of its head, which is criss-crossed by lines of fine velvety black feathers with a coppery-bronze iridescent sheen. A semicircular cape of bright yellow on the upper mantle contrasts with the crimson feathers on the rest of the back, while the upperwings are blackish-brown, with the covertsedged paler brown, and with crimson tips to some of the feathers. The upper throat of the male Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is usually velvety black, and may have a coppery-bronze to purple gloss, while the plumage of the extensive breast shield (the patch of feathers on the upper breast) is a glossy emerald-green, sometimes appearing blue-purple or red-purple. The central feathers of the tail are long and spiralled. The female is much less ornately adorned than the male, with the bare skin on the back of the head a much less radiant lilac-blue, and with olive to reddish-brown upperparts, dull brown wings and buff-coloured underparts, with fine uniform brown-black bars. The female also lacks the spiral tail feathers. Immature males are very similar in appearance to the female .
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise biology
The peculiar appearance of Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is shown in full splendour during its courtship display. The male performs the display in an ‘arena’, a small, well-lit clearing surrounded by dense forest. The male carefully attends to the arena, ensuring it is free of leaf litter and other unwanted items, and also removing the leaves of sapling stems within the display area. When a potential mate arrives, the male initially adopts a characteristic ‘frozen’ posture on the stem of a sapling, before responding to the visiting female by performing an intricate courtship ritual, exhibiting the attractive breast shield, and accompanying the display with song and calls. Very little else is known about the breeding behaviour of this elusive species (2).