Bird of Paradise & Quetzal

A common thought among naturalists and birders is that the resplendent quetzal is the most beautiful bird in the Americas, and together with the bird of paradise is among the most beautiful on the globe. Thus the bird of paradise invites comparison with the resplendent quetzal with respect to beauty. Additionally, although the birds of paradise live in Papua New Guinea, its closely surrounding islands and eastern Australia, they have certain characteristics in common, such as habitat at high altitude in dense forests, and, in some species, crests and/or long tails.

Both the resplendent quetzal and the bird of paradise were hunted intensely in the 18th and especially 19th centuries. The origin of the name "birds of paradise" relates to its capture. The bird was described from specimens brought back to Europe from trading expeditions. These specimens had been prepared by native traders by removing their wings and feet so that they might be used as decorations. This was not known to the explorers and led to the belief that these birds never landed but were kept permanently aloft by their plumes.

Most species have elaborate mating rituals.

Societies of New Guinea often use bird of paradise plumes in their dress and rituals, and the plumes were very important in Europe in ladies' millinery in past centuries. Hunting for plumes and habitat destruction have reduced some species to endangered status; habitat destruction due to deforestation is now the predominant threat.

Hunting birds of paradise was expensive in the late 19th and early 20th century (Cribb 1997). Today the birds enjoy legal protection, and hunting is only permitted at a sustainable level to fulfill the ceremonial needs of the local tribal population.

It should be noted that the term bird of paradise has come to be applied to dissimilar birds of the region that are merely ornamented birds.

Recommended Video and Website

Birds-of-Paradise Project

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Recommended Further Reading

Beehler, B. M., T. K. Pratt, and D. A. Zimmerman. Birds of New Guinea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

———. A Naturalist in New Guinea. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

Bird of paradise. (accessed September 4, 2007).

Cracraft, J., and J. Feinstein. 2000. What is not a bird of paradise? Molecular and morphological evidence places Macgregoria in the Meliphagidae and the Cnemophilinae near the base of the corvoid tree. Proc. R. Soc. B 267: 233-241.

Cribb, R. 1997. Birds of paradise and environmental politics in colonial Indonesia, 1890-1931. In Paper landscapes: Explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia, ed. Peter Boomgaard, Freek Columbijn, and David Henley, 379-408. Leiden: KITLV Press.

Frith, C. B., and B. M. Beehler. 1998. The birds of paradise: Paradisaeidae. Oxford University Press.
Iredale, T. Birds of Paradise and Bower Birds. Melbourne: Georgian House, 1950.

Mackay, M. D. 1990. The egg of Wahnes' Parotia Parotia wahnesi (Paradisaeidae). Emu 90 (4): 269. Available online at (accessed September 4, 2007).

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