The Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus)

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This #BeakoftheWeek riddle was one for the performers. An undisputed king of the dancefloor, the twelve-wired bird of paradise is truly a sight to behold.

If you’re struggling to find a signature move then maybe a watch of some birds of paradise will set you on the right path.  Either that or you will find yourself drawn into the black-hole that is watching bird of paradise videos. Perhaps I should add a NSFW tag on this post as these videos can be seriously detrimental to work place productivity, you have been warned.

This passerine species is from the relatively small Paradisaeidae family, consisting of 40 species of truly stunning birds from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Eastern Australia. It is well worth taking a look at every single one of these species as they each have something to offer the casual bird lover. If I had to point you in the direction of just three I would go for Wilson’s Bird of Paradise, the King of Saxony and Lawes’s Parotia.

Sir David Attenborough narrated a fantastic documentary on this family recently (“Paradise Birds”) which included some beautiful drawings of how artists thought the birds displayed their feathers before they were seen in the wild. How wrong they were! These remarkable displays have got to be seen to believed so I strongly encourage you to do some exploring into them yourselves.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty you can see what species are closely related to this one, thanks to OneZoom, below.

  • As shown below, this species is found almost exclusively on the island of New Guinea, which is Papua New Guinea in the East, and part of Indonesia in the West. This species is presumed to be a resident and not migratory,

    12 wired BOP range map

    Twelve-wired bird of paradise range map.

    These birds are found up to 180m in flat lowland rainforest, especially in swamp-forest.

  • This sexually dimorphic species ranges in size from 33cm for males to 35cm for females. Males weigh slightly more at 170-217g with females weighing 160-188g.  The differences between the two sexes can be clearly seen in the picture below.  Females are in fact smaller than males but their much longer tails gives them a slightly longer measurement.

    Females are dull-coloured especially in comparison to males,although they do have slightly dull-purple iridescence on their head and upper mantle. Males, with their bright, blood-red irises, are far more showy with their velvety black head with its iridescent olive-green shine and iridescent purple crown. Their throat and breast is also velvety black with olive-green iridescence. Iridescent emerald-green feathers border the lower breast before the remaining lower-parts become brilliant yellow. Lastly but not least the male has 12 recurved “wires” emerging at it’s tail, giving it it’s name.

    12wired BOP 2

    Male (top) and female twelve-wired birds of paradise.

    If you get to see one of these I am extremely jealous, and if you are going into their range you should arm yourselves with all you can to help you spot one. The first steps after knowing what they look like is to discover what they sound like. Over to you Xeno Canto for another useful sound clip:

  • This polygynous species breeds almost all year round (January – early November). You will not be disappointed to hear that the males display, which occurs at traditional perches, is pretty special.  Males finds leafless, vertical, typically dead tree stumps that stand out from the forest canopy and vocally advertise. They have their favourite perches that they defend and they will typically only display on these.

    The display can be seen in the earlier youtube link but if you’d rather read my attempt to describe it – The male endeavors to prove his genetic prowess with a feast of dance moves that would dazzle even the most skeptical of females. Their displays includes perch dancing, bill-fencing and an up-close and personal avian version of twerking – the “wire-wipe display”- where the male attempts to titillate the female by wiping his flank wires across his face.  Just to make sure that he gets his display bang on the money he practices when he thinks no-one is watching.

    Here is a nice video explaining how the male is using his wires.

    Two male twelve-wired birds of paradise

    Two male twelve-wired birds of paradise.

    After all the effort that goes into this display perhaps it is unsurprising the male doesn’t get involved with the nest, which is entirely the female’s responsibility. The nest, built in pandanus or sago palm trees, is a shallow cup made of stems inside pandanus bark and vines atop a base of leaves and sticks. It is lined with plant fibres and can be built up to 14m from the ground.

    Typically 1 egg is laid, sometimes 2, with incubation taking 20 days and the nestling leaving the nest at 3 weeks.

    Diet

    This species forms mixed-species flocks, when it is foraging, with other birds of paradise and pitohuis. Their diet is roughly 50% fruit (mostly pandanus) and 50% animals. They tend to feed on arthropods, nectar and small vertebrates such as frogs and lizards.  They are acrobatic feeders, hanging upside down to probe inside holes in trees to find tasty morsels.

  • This species is listed as “Of Least Concern” on the IUCN species redlist due to its extensive range and habitat, with the population thought to be stable.

    Hunting is not the same problem that it used to be back in the 19th and early 20th century with legal protection against hunting helping to prevent population declines.  Although some hunting is permitted to tribes for ceremonial purposes.

    Alfred Russell Wallace was a famous collector of these species and his collection exploits are detailed in “The Malay Archipelago”.

    Alfred Russell Wallace's Malay Archipelago.

    Alfred Russell Wallace’s Malay Archipelago.

  • I am going to use this section to point you in the direction of a fantastic resource for all things bird, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and in particular their “Bird of Paradise Project“. The project has gone to great lengths to get pictures of every single species and there is a great deal of information on this site about the different species, how they collected data, female choice, natural & sexual selection and much more.

    What’s that you say? I forgot to mention that this magnificent specimen is also featured on stamps? All the best birds get their own stamps and the twelve-wired bird of paradise is no exception.  Here is a lovely stamp from Indonesia featuring our feathered friend.

    Indonesian stamp.

    Indonesian stamp.

References

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Seleucidis melanoleucus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/03/2016.

BirdLife International. 2012. Seleucidis melanoleucus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22706233A38419655. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22706233A38419655.en. Downloaded on 30 March 2016.

Frith, C. & Frith, D. (2016). Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/60661 on 29 March 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Seleucidis melanoleucus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-3

LabofOrnithology. 2012.Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise. Online. 30/03/2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7E-2bqwvPU.

Male and female twelve-wired birds of paradise by Daniel Giraud Elliot is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Twelve-wired bird of paradise stamp by Post of Indonesia is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Two male twelve-wired birds of paradise by Bowdler Sharpe is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Audio

Bas van Balen, XC141153. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/141153.