The five species in the genus Parotia are on the complex end of the choreography spectrum in the birds-of-paradise. They combine their shape-shifting abilities with incredible foot work and exhibit a repertoire of dance steps that is without equal. While each species dances during courtship, none has a set of moves as complex and extensive as Carola’s parotia. With up to six different dance moves, Carola’s parotia is the undisputed king of the dance. Here’s what he does. [Perch Pivot] First up is the “perch pivot”. It’s called a pivot because the male is pivoting back and forth from side to side, left to right. Males always do this on a horizontal branch somewhere above the display court. In this case, the male’s also carry a leaf sort of as a prop, which it looks like he’s using to kind of add to the effect here. [Head Tilt] The next move is the “head tilt”. This display takes place on the horizontal perch, where the male hops up and gets next to the female. And he tilts his head from left, to the right. Sometimes he holds it to one side and flutters his throat feathers a little bit. It may not look like much at first glance, but it’s a regular component of the courtship display. [Court Hop] Next up is a move called the “court hop”. Typically a female will be watching from the display branch or very nearby at this point The male starts on one end of the court and he does a sudden quick hop across the court in one direction, pauses and then hops back. [Swaying Bounce] Next up is a move called the “swaying bounce”. This is one of the more complex and physically demanding of all the dance moves. It begins with the male standing in one place, usually right underneath the horizontal perch where the females are looking right down at him. And he starts to bounce vigorously back and forth, back and forth while fluttering his wings. Tim got a really cool photograph of this when he was using a slow shutter, but with a burst of flash. And what we saw was that the male was actually moving his head in this near perfect figure eight or an infinity sign. And this behavior goes on for a long period of time. The male does another version of the “swaying bounce” where he closes his wings and then bounces more vigorously up and down, side to side. [Hop & Shake] Now comes the “hop and shake”. Here the male stands in one place, dips down, lifts up, does a little hop, and he ruffles and shakes his flank plumes. Also see how he shakes his head and flutters those whisker feathers under his chin. The main thing about the “hop and shake” is that it’s the lead in into the quintessential parotia display – the “ballerina dance”. [Ballerina Dance] The “ballerina dance” is so complex it’s actually a composite of four very distinct moves. First of these is the bow, then comes the walk. Then there’s a dramatic pause. And finally come the waggle. Now it’s important to note that what we’re seeing here is precision choreography. These aren’t just a bunch of random moves arbitrarily thrown together to impress the females. Rather male parotias have a specific set of dance moves that have to happen in the proper way and in the right sequence in order for them to be successful. In other words, if the male parotia has four dance moves, he has to perform those moves in the right way and in the right sequence every time. First move has to come before the second, the second before the third and so on. Another way of thinking about it is that a male can’t just show up and go right to the “ballerina dance” if he expects to be able to mate. On one hand, all of these moves can be rather amusing, sometimes quite funny. But it’s also mind blowing to think that these birds have evolved the capacity to dance in such a complex and ritualized way for no other reason than for courtship display. [Explore more at,]

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The dance of the Carola’s Parotia is the most complex of all birds-of-paradise. The male has to go through five introductory dance moves before starting the main event, called the “ballerina dance.” All the while, four or five females may be perched above him, examining every detail of his performance before deciding whether to mate. Filmed and photographed by Tim Laman. Explore more at