Bird-of-Paradise Species Identified By Sad Face and Sleek Dance Moves

Superb Bird-of-Paradise males are known for their ostentatious displays and mating dances. 

A bird-of-paradise species was identified just last year by its smooth dance moves on the undisturbed island of New Guinea.

The species, dubbed the Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise, looks almost identical to its now famous dancing “smiley face” cousin, the Greater Superb Bird-of-Paradise – the bird (seen above) that captivated millions with its mesmerizing courtship display in the Planet Earth docuseries.

The two look extraordinarily similar, both flaunting jet black feathers and brilliant blue eye spots. However, an observant researcher recently spotted subtle variations in their shape and movements. Instead of the bouncy, erratic stepping seen in male Greater Superb Birds of Paraside, Vogelkop males move side to side in a more smooth, elegant fashion. The shape of the overall cape (back feathers) was different, too. While the Great Superb takes on a distinctive oval shape with the familiar smiley face, the Vogelhop fashions its feathers into more of a crescent — with its eye spots and chest feathers forming something more like a sad face.

Photo by @TimLaman. Here is a still frame from the display of the newly described species, the Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise. There are a couple things about this bird I want to point out that make it really remarkable: Super-black plumage that just soaks up light — you can see no detail in it. Fake blue eye spots – those aren’t his eyes. His eyes are black and lower on the side of his head (you can see them clearly in the video I posted on this feed earlier). If you are interested in the differences between this new species and the well known Superb Bird-of-Paradise of Planet Earth fame, please see the short video in the link in profile at @BirdsofParadiseProject. #shotonRED @reddigitalcinema #newspecies #CornellLabofOrnithology #birdsofparadise #Papua #WestPapua #IndonesiaBiodiversity #WestPapuaBiodiversity #Indonesia #superbbirdofparadise #superb #yearofthebird .

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s biologist Ed Scholes has studied birds-of-paradise in New Guinea for a decade and was the first to recognize that something a little off about one particular male he had stumbled upon in the western (Vogelkop) region of the island.

“There’s something totally different about what it’s doing. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was,” he told Audubon. 

After reviewing footage he captured with his colleague, ornithologist and photographer Timothy Laman, the two agreed there was definitely something unique about this particular animal.

“After you see what the Vogelkop form looks like and acts like in the wild, there’s little room for doubt that it is a separate species. The courtship dance is different. The vocalizations are different. The females look different. Even the shape of the displaying male is different,” said Scholes.

To confirm the find, museum specimens were later analyzed and found to have a great deal of variation in their genetic makeup. The Vogelkop species has now been described in a paper recently published in the journal PeerJ, and has also been added to Cornell’s popular birding app, eBird.

Who knows other new species could be hiding in plain sight?