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Nov. 20, 2012

Birds Gone Wild

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
Click on icon in upper right corner of slideshow to enlarge images.
I'm just going to say it: Some birds can be a little much. Overdressed, pairing colors that would anger Stacy and Clinton, sporting accessories of impractical proportions. They're the Lady Gagas of the natural world. Why would anything be born this way? 
 
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The answer, of course, is evolution. Or more specifically a type of sexual selection where one sex's preference for certain traits in a mate influences, over generations, the characteristics of the opposite sex. (Think peacock feathers or giant antlers.)
 
{"input":{"width":490,"photo":"bird05","row":"4518","table":"DOCUMENT"}}
 
Sexual selection is the driving force behind the amazing diversity of colors, feathers and behaviors in the family of birds known as birds-of-paradise, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes. 
 
"The females are going around looking at all the adult males in their home ranges and choosing the ones that are most appealing in some way," says Scholes. "Usually the males that are the most extreme in colors or behavior are fathering the most offspring."  In other words, the flashiest male gets the girl. 
 
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The resulting extremes of color, form and behavior are beautifully documented in Scholes's new book Birds of Paradise: Revealing the World's Most Extraordinary Birdsco-authored with photographer Tim Laman.
 
The pair spent some eight years documenting the birds-of-paradise (family Paradisaeidae) living in the New Guinea region. After 18 expeditions to the area, they accomplished something that hadn't been done before--they tracked and photographed each one of the 39 bird-of-paradise species in the wild. 
 
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Aside from the book, the pair's work is also featured in the December issue of National Geographic magazine, in an exhibition at the National Geographic Museum, and is the subject of the documentary Winged Seduction: Birds of Paradise which airs Thanksgiving day on, you guessed it, the National Geographic Channel
 
Check out the videos below to learn more about the project and to see how photographer Tim Laman set up his shots.
 

 
About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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