The greater bird-of-paradise lives deep in the rainforest of western New Guinea and nearby Aru Island. Like most birds-of-paradise, these creatures have evolved complex courtship displays. And, like scientists, Tim and Ed have always wanted to better understand these unique birds and their mechanisms of sexual selection. But how do you study a bird, the size of a crow, that displays at the top of a tree, one hundred feet above the ground? Most scientists have used cameras with long lenses and heavy tripods anchoring them to the forest floor. These efforts often resulted in blurred or obscured images. Ed and Tim’s solution to this: record displays up in the canopy. With the greater bird-of-paradise they knew they couldn’t put a blind in a tree where the birds are without disturbing them. Instead they located a nearby tree that’s strong enough to hold Tim and provides a clear line of sight into the display area. Tim is an expert tree climber. He hauls himself up into the neighboring tree, builds a sturdy concealed blind, and mounting the same long lens that he uses on the ground, gets stunning close ups. These images led Tim and Ed to wonder if a camera could be hidden in the display tree right next to the birds, providing an unprecedented view from within their world. To crack this challenge they invented the leaf cam. Tim took a small GoPro camera and sewed it between two large leaves using a thin vine as thread, climbed the 100 feet, assessed which branches were suitable, and mounted the camera just above the display branch. — [Tim] Right here, you see the main display branch of the greater bird-of-paradise. There’s my blind over there. And right here, the leaf camera is ready to capture bird-of-paradise display. — The birds were unaffected and the images were a great surprise. But the techniques needed improvement. The inability to effectively control the recording and the poor image quality forced them to consider a more sophisticated digital camera. Tim installed this heavier gear and ran 60 feet of USB cable to the blind in the nearby tree. With this refined solution he could sit in his blind, observe the display branch from his perch and actively control the leaf cam by adjusting focus and exposure from a laptop. Take a look at his image. Tim worked for years to capture a view of a greater bird-of-paradise displaying in the foreground with the rainforest in the background. A lot of engineering and effort went into getting these stunning images. Two 100 foot tall trees side-by-side, climbing ropes hung from both trees, a solidly constructed blind perched on one tree, a leaf cam mounted high in the display tree, the two trees feathered together with computer cable. Tim spent eight days scrambling up and down the trees in order to capture the perfect shot. The light was ideal. The animals were unaffected by the technology. Most importantly, Tim and Ed had captured behavior from a perspective that no scientist had ever seen before.

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The extraordinary display of the Greater Bird-of-Paradise is a very hard thing to witness: the birds perform at dawn, high in the rainforest canopy. To capture the details of the display and the females’ responses, Ed Scholes and Tim Laman devised an ingenious remote camera they could place in the display tree, at eye level with the birds. Filmed and photographed by Tim Laman. Explore more at