The Fascinating Birds Of New Guinea

The Greater bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic species of birds native to New Guinea.
The Greater bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic species of birds native to New Guinea.

A Birdwatcher’s Paradise

New Guinea, a large island in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, is famous for its incredible diversity of flora and fauna including birds. Occupying only about 0.5% of the world’s land area, New Guinea hosts 5% to 10% of the Earth’s species. The island hosts 760 species of birds and nearly half of them are endemic to the island.

Reasons For Such High Avian Diversity

The fact that New Guinea has not yet been heavily exploited by humans and has fortunately managed to evade the evil eyes of human greed (to some extent, though the scenario is rapidly changing) has kept the fauna in New Guinea thriving to this date. With the relative isolation of the island of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, the species on this island evolved in their own way. Very little predatory pressure was experienced by the birds here. The availability of elevated land allowed many of the birds to occupy habitat at higher elevations that were less disturbed by other species including humans and there was also less competition for food and other resources.

Endemic Birds of New Guinea

A large number of bird species are endemic to New Guinea, implicating that these birds are found nowhere else in the world. Parrots like purple bellied lory, Pesquet's parrot, white-naped lory, are endemic to the island. Nocturnal species of owls and nightjars like the golden masked owl, the manus owl, spangled owlet-nightjar, New Britain hawk owl, are also endemic to the island. Species of fantails like the Manus fantail, Bismarck fantail, Matthias fantails, pigeons like knob-billed fruit dove, pied cuckoo dove, the Finsch's imperial pigeon, 15 species of honey-eaters, 9 species of birds-of-paradise, 3 species of bower-birds, 4 species of waxbills and allies, 2 species of cuckoos, and a number of other birds are also endemic to New Guinea.

The Birds of Paradise

New Guinea is famous for hosting the most attractive and dramatic birds in the planet, the birds-of-paradise. True to their name, the birds delight all those who are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of these birds. These birds belong to the family Paradisaeidae with 42 species belonging to 15 genera. All but two genera of birds-of-paradise are found in New Guinea. The birds adorn bright plumage with striking colors like red, blue, green, and yellow. The feathers of these birds are usually extraordinarily arranged. Some birds have amazingly long feathers appearing like streamers or wires while others have a vibrant colored headdress of feathers. It is not only the appearance but also the way the male birds use their feather, is what makes these birds-of-paradise truly distinct. The males use their dramatic feather displays to impress the females and engage in courtship dances that are a spectacle to watch. Examples of some of the most notable birds-of-paradise in New Guinea include the Greater bird-of-paradise, Wilson’s bird-of-paradise, the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise, and others.

Interactions Between People and Birds in New Guinea

In the past, the indigenous people of New Guinea would use the feathers of the birds to create impressive headgear or other adornments. They would also use bird body parts for other purposes like creating weaponry such as with the cassowary’s tibiotarsi, or for consumption of bird flesh as meat. However, the ruthless poaching of birds as is seen in modern times was absent. The people held birds as animal manifestations of the human spirits. They regarded the birds with respect as they held them to be their ancestors. The killing of birds during such times was thus conducted in a controlled fashion. However, with the arrival of the Europeans and the demand of bird feathers from Europe for hat-making for the European ladies, the birds of New Guinea began to be visualized as commodities. Now, an economic aspect was associated with the poaching of birds and this led to the disrupted relation between the people and the birds of New Guinea.

Threats and Conservation

Despite the relative isolation of New Guinea and the lack of a significant volume of developmental projects in the country, the place is no longer a paradise for its birds. Encroachment of human settlements into virgin forest land, large scale commercial logging, and the clearance of forests for agriculture are some of the factors threatening the life and existence of birds and other fauna of New Guinea. Birds like the cassowary, the New Guinea harpy eagle, and the black honey buzzard are also hunted for their meat and feathers.


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