We think of Birds-of-Paradise as these visual, visually amazing creatures, but they use sounds. [Sound] It’s a jungle out there. When most people think of Birds-of-Paradise or look at pictures of them or video, they’re not thinking about them as being interesting acoustically. But yet, when you step back and you bother to pay attention to sounds of Birds-of-Paradise, you realize that the kinds of sounds that the males make in courtship, or prior to courtship, are nearly as phenomenal as the way that they look and behave. This usually is something that begins as a long-distance way of attracting females to the display site, so males have a vocalization I always think of it as their primary vocalization or their main territorial vocalization or their main advertisement vocalization. And that’s the one that we use even as researchers or scientists or birders to locate them. It’s the most conspicuous thing that they do, and that’s by design. That’s how the females find them as well. Then in the process of courtship display, there’s a whole range of other sounds that are also given but they’re much less conspicuous, much less commonly heard by us. Sometime these are the same sounds but much more commonly they’re not, they’re a totally different set. Just like all thirty-nine species look distinct, they do all sound distinct. Now some of the ones that are more closely related that also look more similar, they also sound more similar. But when you find two species that look extremely different, like a lot of Birds-of-Paradise do from one another, they actually sound as extremely different as they look. Even though there’s a huge amount of diversity in the types of sounds Birds-of-Paradise make, I would say most people still think of them as being these more crow-like caw caw caw kind of sounds. And no doubt, a lot of species do make a plain, not-that-interesting, sounding kind of crow-like, squawk. Parotia’s do that, a handful of other things do that. But, that being said, the ones that do have interesting sounds, they sound nothing at all like even a bird. In fact, many of them don’t even sound like things made by a living organism. They sound like a sound that would be from a human machine. Several good examples come to my mind as being the classic or the best examples of those extreme sounds of Birds-of-Paradise. The Brown Sicklebill, in particular, makes this very non-bird-like machine gun sound. Another one of the greatest sounds, is the male King-of-Saxony. It gives this very unnatural sound that’s just unlike anything you’ve heard before, certainly coming out of the mouth of a bird. Then there are a number of species that are kind of reminiscent of a bird-like sound. Some of these would be the Curl-crested Manucode, which in my mind often sounds a little bit like a UFO landing. And then things like the Magnificent Riflebird, which has a nice musical quality to it. Even though it’s called the riflebird, it doesn’t sound like a gun. A handful of species have very conspicuous non-vocal sounds that they make, usually in the context of close proximity display to a female. The best examples of that are the riflebirds. All three species, when they lift up their wings and they’re moving them back and forth, and the males are usually hiding their head behind their wing. All three of them have this sound that sounds like some kind of rustling fabric or paper. Swoosh, swoosh, back and forth, that moves with the wings and that’s actually being produced by the wings themselves, that’s not a vocal sound. The Superb Bird-of-Paradise is another really great example where during the main display there’s this snapping sound. He’s doing something with his wings and it looks like with his tail where he’s moving them out quickly, creating like a whip-like “snap”. I think the thing that I find the most intriguing or interesting about sounds of Bird-of-Paradise is that for literally centuries, people have been so focused on the way that they look, and that’s obviously for good reason ñ they’re pretty awesome, pretty extraordinary. But sound is just another extreme thing, just like the colors and the behaviors, in that they’ve evolved as much diversity in the way that they use sound for courtship and for attracting females, as any other kind of ornament that Birds-of-Paradise have. And that’s what really makes the sound special in Birds-of-Paradise.

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The 39 species of birds-of-paradise look very different from each other, and they also also sound very different from each other. But researchers are only beginning to investigate their calls in detail. The sounds they make run the gamut from basic squawks, to seemingly mechanical noises, to melodious whistles, to sounds that don’t involve their voices at all. Filmed and photographed by Tim Laman. Explore more at www.birdsofparadiseproject.org