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Fact Sheet: Birds
Name: Papuan Hornbill
Scientific name: Rhyticeros plicatus
Size: About 80 cm in length.
Closest Relatives: There are a total of 54 species in the hornbill family, including the Papuan Hornbill. Hornbills are closely related to kingfishers, rollers, bee-eaters, hoopoes, todies and motmots.
Range: The Papuan Hornbill occurs on New Guinea and nearby islands, including the Moluccas to the west, and the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands to the east.
Habitat: Evergreen forest. It generally occurs in the lowlands, but occasionally makes it into the highlands.
Diet: Mainly large fruit, especially figs; also some small animals.
Predators: Humans, hawks, and predatory mammals.
Interesting adaptations: Hornbills have large, downcurved bills, with a structure called a "casque" on top of the upper mandible. Their bills are often brightly colored.
Song: Vocalizations include loud grunts and honks. Also, the wings make whooshing sounds in flight.
Reproduction: Papuan Hornbills nest in natural tree cavities. As in most species of Hornbills, females seal themselves inside the cavity, leaving only a narrow opening to the outside. The female stays inside the nest for several months, brooding the eggs and the chicks. The male feeds the female and the chicks across the narrow nest opening by regurgitating food. There are usually two chicks in a nest.
Threats: While this species is not considered threatened, it has declined in some areas due to heavy hunting by humans, and has disappeared from some areas due to deforestation.
Cultural importance: Hornbills often feature prominently in human culture. The Papuan Hornbill is highly prized by hunters in certain cultures in New Guinea. Its feathers and bill are used in traditional garments, and its head and bill are represented in wooden carvings of religious significance in some cultures. Special powers are sometimes ascribed to the Papuan Hornbill. It is also eaten in some cultures.
- Kemp, A. 1995. “The Hornbills: Bucerotiformes.” Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- del Hoyo, J, Elliott, A, & Sargatal, J, eds. 2001. “Handbook of the Birds of the World.” Vol. 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Pp. 436-523.
- Beehler, BM, Pratt, TK, & Zimmerman, DA. 1986. "Birds of New Guinea." Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
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Name: Birds of Paradise
Scientific name of family: Paradisaeidae
Short description: The Birds of Paradise are a family of 38 species of birds in and near New Guinea that are famous for their spectacular plumages. Some common names of birds in this family include Manucodes, Paradigallas, Astrapias, Parotias, Riflebirds, Sicklebills, Paradise Crow, and Birds of Paradise.
Size: Birds of Paradise range in length from 16 cm [Wilson's Bird of Paradise, Cicinnurus (Diphyllodes) respublica] to 125 cm [male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Astrapia mayeri]
Closest Relatives: The Birds of Paradise are part of a large assemblage of songbirds called the Corvida. Other songbirds in this assemblage include some familiar to you, such as crows and jays, as well as many that are special to Australia and the South Pacific.
Range: Most species of Birds of Paradise occur on the island of New Guinea, or on smaller, nearby islands. However, three species of Birds of Paradise—the Riflebirds—occur in northwestern Australia.
Habitat: Almost all Birds of Paradise require humid forest to live. Most are also restricted to an elevation range, such as lowland, midmontane, upper montane, or subalpine.
Diet: Most Birds of Paradise eat both insects and fruit, but especially fruit. Birds of paradise are important dispersers of fruit seeds. They are more agile and acrobatic than other birds and that allows them to eat more types of fruit. Also, their guts are less destructive to seeds than those of other animals, and they travel further than other fruit-eating birds, so that they're more likely to disperse seeds away from the parent plant. A number of fruit trees are thought to be entirely reliant on Birds of Paradise for seed-dispersal.
Predators: The most important predators of Birds of Paradise are snakes, hawks, and owls.
Interesting adaptations: Many birds of paradise have evolved elaborate male plumages and displays. Special aspects of their plumage include modified feathers, such as flank plumes (elongated feathers coming out of the sides of their bodies), and feathers modified as wires, spatulas, or other shapes that come out of their tails, wings, heads or sides. Birds of Paradise are often very colorful and iridescent.
Male Manucodes—especially male Trumpet Manucodes—have elongated vocal organs that allow them to produce sounds very different from those of females.
Song: Most Birds of Paradise produce loud, harsh vocalizations. Some species produce unique sounds. One sound of males of the Blue Bird of Paradise has been described as resembling an "electric motor humming." Another sound of males of the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise has been compared to radio-static. In comparison to males, females Birds of Paradise are very quiet.
Reproduction: Birds of Paradise have a wide variety of breeding systems. Some species, especially those whose males have spectacular plumage, form leks—large groups of males that display together to females. Females observe the displays, and mate with one male (often the same one or two males are selected by the majority of females). Nest building, incubation, and feeding of young are accomplished entirely by the female.
In other species, particularly those where males and females look practically alike, males and females pair up, and both participate in incubation and rearing of the young. Still, in other species, males' only job in reproduction is to display to females and mate with them.
The nests of birds of paradise are cup shaped. In some species they are placed on the ground or in low vegetation. In others, they are suspended in forking branches.
Threats: The greatest threat to the Birds of Paradise is destruction of their forest habitats, through logging, subsistence agriculture, and population growth and development. While none of the Birds of Paradise are currently endangered, habitat destruction could become a problem. In addition, many species of Birds of Paradise have very small ranges, placing them at particular risk.
Fortunately, trade in Bird of Paradise plumes, which peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, did not drive any of these species to extinction. This is possibly due to the fact that most species that were targeted for the plume trade were lek-forming species, where only males have the beautiful plumage, leaving behind additional males that had less competition to mate with the females.
Cultural importance: Birds of Paradise feature prominently in New Guinean cultures. Their plumes are used in traditional ceremonial dress, and play important roles in traditional tales. Skins of Birds of Paradise have been traded for centuries. Because local preparation of the skins involved removing the feet and wings, early European naturalists who managed to lay their hands on specimens were convinced that Birds of Paradise had no limbs and floated in the air.
Reference: Frith and Beehler, 1998
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