King-of-saxony birds-of-paradise are species that live in the high elevation cloud forest. The sound that they make is actually one of the defining features of this habitat. If you had to guess what this sound was when you first heard it, I don’t think most people would have bird come to mind. It sounds like something from another planet. So the territorial vocalization of the male king-of-saxony is a way of communicating to neighboring males that this is my territory, but also serves as an advertisement to females. Males typically have one snag or exposed branch above their territory where they’ll sit and call nearly all day long. When a male sees or knows a female’s around he’ll dive down and fly directly into the forest below and usually go directly to the vine that he uses for courtship display. He often lands there and gives the same territorial or advertisement vocalization calling to try to attract the female to where he is inside the forest. There’s a lot of variation in the sounds, especially in the territorial advertisement sounds that the king-of –saxony makes. But one thing that is consistent is this element of building, where it starts off small and then it builds up to this crescendo with increasing intensity and whistling and buzzing and churring all going on at the same time. You can even see his throat pulsing and moving as he’s making that sound and his mouth is wide open. And when you’re up close like we were when we made these recordings, you can really hear the sound of lots of things you can’t hear when he’s high in the canopy. This is the beginning of the courtship display where he starts getting excited and he starts bouncing. There’s no female here, this is just a practice display but you can see the basic components – he’s bouncing up and down, he starts making this really incredible buzzing sound, he inflates himself up and then reaches this crescendo, synchronize at the climax with the visual movement of the head wires as they go forward. That’s really incredible. The voice of the king-of-saxony is like a lot of things about the birds-of-paradise. You can’t really imagine that it really exists until you see it or hear it. And when you do see it or hear it you still can’t believe that it exists. But it’s one of these incredible things that you won’t forget once you do.

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Throughout their evolution, male birds-of-paradise have been under immense selective pressure to win the attentions of females. Even the King-of-Saxony’s extraordinary head wires aren’t quite enough. They’ve had to develop a display that includes waving the head plumes, rhythmically bouncing on a perch, and delivering an extraordinary screeching, buzzing, hissing call that sounds like anything but a bird. Filmed and photographed by Tim Laman. Explore more at