THE BIRDS OF PARADISE.

THE far-distant islands of the Malayan Archipelago, situated in the South Pacific Ocean, the country of the bird-winged butterflies, prices of their tribe, the “Orang Utan,” or great man-like ape, and peopled by Papuans and Malays — islands whose shores are bathed perpetually by a warm sea, and whose surfaces are covered with a most luxuriant tropical vegetation — these are the home of a group of birds that rank as the radiant gems of the feathered race. None can excel the nuptial dress of the males, either in the vividness of their changeable and rich plumage or the many strangely modified and developed ornaments of feather which adorn them.

The history of these birds is very interesting. Before the year 1598 the Malay traders called them “Manuk dewata,” or God’s birds, while the Portuguese, finding they had no wings or feed, called them Passaros de sol, or birds of the sun.

When the earliest European voyagers reached the Moluccas in search of cloves and nutmegs, which were then rare and precious spices, they were presented with dried skins of Birds so strange and beautiful as to excite the admiration even of these wealth-seeking rovers. John Van Linschoten in 1598 calls them “Avis Paradiseus, or Paradise birds,” which name has been applied to them down to the present day. Van Linschoten tells us “that no one has seen these birds alive, for they live in the air, always turning towards the sun, and never alighting on the earth till they die.” More than a hundred years later, Funnel, who accompanied Dampier and wrote of the voyage, saw specimens at Amboyna, and was told that they came to Banda to eat nutmegs, which intoxicated them and made them fall down senseless, when they were killed by ants.
      In 1760 Linnaeus named the largest species Paradisea apoda (the footless Paradise bird). At that time no perfect specimen has been seen in Europe, and it was many years afterward when it was discovered that the feet had been cut off and buried at the foot of the tree from which they were killed by the superstitious natives as a propitiation to the gods. Wallace, who was the first scientific observer, writer, and collector of these birds, and who spent eight years on the islands studying their natural history, speaks of the males of the great Birds of Paradise assembling together to dance on huge trees in the forest, which have wide-spreading branches and large but scattered leaves, giving a clear space for the birds to play and exhibit their plumes. From twelve to twenty individuals make up one of these parties. They raise up their wings, stretch out their necks and elevate their exquisite plumes, keeping them in a continual vibration. Between whiles they fly across from branch to branch in great excitement, so that the whole tree is filled with waving plumes in every variety of attitude and motion. The natives take advantage of this habit and climb up and build a blind or hiding place in a tree that has been frequented by the birds for dancing. In the top of this blind is a small opening, and before day-light, a native with his bow and arrow, conceals himself, and when the birds assemble he deftly shoots them with his blunt-pointed arrows.

The great demand for the plumage of Birds of Paradise for decorative purposes is causing their destruction at a rapid rate, and this caprice of a passing fashion will soon place one of the most beautiful denizens of our earth in the same category as the great Auk and Dodo.
                                 — Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette.

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