Birds & Birding

Boucher’s Birding: Standardwing Bird of Paradise

September 29, 2014

For birders, seeing Wallace’s Standardwing is like winning a lottery jackpot.

Now you can see it, too — take a look above at the video I shot of a displaying Wallace’s Standardwing (Semioptera wallacii) on a recent trip to Indonesia.

It is a bird of paradise species discovered by and later named for Alfred Russell Wallace, whose biological surveys of the islands of the Malay Archipelago led him to develop the same concepts of natural selection and speciation that Darwin was cooking up over on the other side of the world.

Wallace’s observations of the abrupt differences in the sets of fauna between the western islands of the archipelago (which were basically Asiatic species) and those of the eastern islands (which were similar to Australian species) became the basis of biogeography.

What is now known as Wallace’s Line runs between Borneo and Sulawesi. So what are you seeing in this video? The Wallace’s Standardwing engaging in what is known as “lekking” (displaying) behavior.

The males assemble each morning just before dawn. They display for the females, who observe and choose the “best” male to sire their offspring.

In the case of the standardwing, this involves loud screeching as the birds take up their positions. They start by flying upwards and “parachuting” down with their wings spread.

They then choose a perch, lean forward, and shake the long white pennant-like plumes that extend from the shoulder area of the wing. They spread an iridescent green shield of breast feathers.

After about 15 minutes, the show is over. The birds disperse through the forest.

To get to this site, we had to travel to the island of Halmahera, in Indonesia (well east of the Wallace Line). We were up well before dawn and drove about 30 minutes from the small dive resort near the town of Weda.

We then entered the forest and slipped and sloshed through ankle-deep muck (knee-deep in some places), along a slick downhill trail. After about 20 minutes, we reached a small opening in the forest where the property owner had built a rudimentary bench.

We could already hear the birds, so we sat down and waited in silence for a bit of daylight.

We could barely see the parachute display; in the dim light, we strained to see the birds through the dense foliage. Two birds were right over our heads and displayed vigorously.

Yes: we had indeed won the jackpot.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

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1 comment

  1. I read your reviews of iPad software and it sounds like Audubon’s is the one to pick. However, it’s North American birds. Is there one that’s global, or does Audubon or anybody make ones for various countries? My wife and I are shortly to visit national parks in India and would like to use such a guide.

    BTW I am a regular supporter of The Nature Conservancy.

    Thank you!