For years, people mistook the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise for the wider spread and closely related Superb Bird-of-Paradise. Recently, ornithologists recognized differences in the two birds and classified the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise as its own species.
“After you see what the Vogelkop form looks like and acts like in the wild, there’s little room for doubt that it is a separate species,” said Ed Scholes, evolutionary biologist with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds-of-Paradise Project. “The courtship dance is different. The vocalizations are different. The females look different. Even the shape of the displaying male is different.”
Both birds are endemic to New Guinea, but the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise is found only in the island’s far-western Bird’s Head, or Vogelkop, region. The more widespread superb bird-of-paradise – known for its bouncy “smiley face” dance routine – was renamed the greater superb bird-of-paradise.
Now, for the first time, newly released audiovisuals support the claim that the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise is its own distinct species. The audiovisual data was documented by Scholes and Timothy Laman, ornithologist and wildlife photojournalist at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and published April 16 in the journal PeerJ.
Video footage reveals that when expanded for courtship display, the Vogelkop male’s raised cape creates a completely different appearance – crescent-shaped with pointed tips rather than the oval shape of the widespread form of the species. The way the Vogelkop male dances for the female is also is distinctive, his steps being smooth instead of bouncy.
The Cornell Lab’s Birds-of-Paradise Project is a research and education initiative to document, interpret and protect birds-of-paradise, their native environments and other biodiversity of New Guinea, one of the largest remaining tropical wildernesses on the planet.
Pat Leonard is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.