[TOUCH] [Interviewer] You get to a point in the courtship where the female, now, right, we had calls, she came in from a distance, he brought her down to the perch, she’s looked at him, she’s seen his maybe shape shift or maybe dance. She’s still there. What are the final phases of attraction? What are the things that males and females are doing, in the end, to sort of seal the deal? — [Ed] If the female’s interested in mating then there’s one final phase out of the whole series of things that happen. Almost every species has some series of specialized behaviors that happen as pre-mating behaviors. And sometimes they’re pre-mating displays, you might even think of them as pre-mating dances. But they happen in very close proximity to the female and a lot of them involve components of touch. This might happen with special feathers that the male is moving back and forth across the female’s body in someway, like the wires of a Twelve-wired or the wires on the tail of a Paradiseus are also rubbed on the female when she’s in close and inspecting. Usually right before mating there’s something even closer where the male is pecking at the nape of the female in some ritualized way, sometimes showing off his colors on the inside of his mouth. And sometimes there’s a clapping or other kind of motion with the wings as the male gets closer and closer and starts touching her body with his body. And then if everything is successful that’s when it all ends and you actually have mating. That’s what all that other behavior has been about. That whole period of deep scrutiny and evaluation by females, it happens at several levels. There’s pretty serious scrutiny that can still happen from a little bit further away. The male is doing parts of his display and she can still keep her distance. But then there’s this close scrutiny when the females get in really close and you can sometimes actually see what it looks like, the process of selection happening. You see a female turning her head and looking at something very specific. In some cases they’ll even peck or probe at the male with their own bills. There’s a whole complex series of motions and things that the males are doing and the females are moving in and inspecting them. And the males that are responding appropriately at that point in time and not overeagerly turning around and trying to jump on the female before she’s made her choice, those are the males that are going to be more successful. And I think that’s probably why you see so many of these behaviors where the male is essentially in such a strange compromising position with his feathers in weird places or holding some weird pose or hanging upside down while the female is evaluating them, because it gives her a lot of opportunity to respond to his either appropriate or inappropriate, as the case might be, behavior back towards her. — [Interviewer] So, this kind of end game that the birds do with each other including the sort of strike a pose inspection. Do you see this in other birds? — [Ed] There’s good reason to have close inspection before you decide who you’re going to mate with. You’re looking for signs of disease or parasites. A lot of the things that we would think about for ourselves before we wanted to get too close to somebody are the same kinds of things that are going on certainly broadly in the bird world. It’s just in the Birds-of-Paradise we have such ritualized displays and such strong selection for females to spend time evaluating males for those different traits and behaviors and displays, that this period of close inspection is sort of drawn out and has become elaborate in and of itself. Females are calling the shots. And the females are calling the shots on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis about where this display is going to go and if it’s going to end up with mating. But, more importantly they’re calling the evolutionary shots. Meaning, thousands of generations of female preferences past have basically determined that whole course of events that we’re seeing there. Everything that male’s doing, every bit about the way he looks, and also all those behaviors that the females are doing while they’re making their choice. This is all the result of the driver’s seat that females have in Bird-of-Paradise evolution.

End of transcript

Courtship has distinct phases. It begins with a male’s loud calls for attracting females to his display site, and ends when females decide whether to mate or leave. The final phase, just before the female chooses, is critical. This stage includes close inspection by females and sometimes even physical touch. It all leads up to a crucial moment of female choice. Filmed and photographed by Tim Laman. Explore more at www.birdsofparadiseproject.org