When it comes to wooing, humans might want to take inspiration from birds of paradise.
Instead of using vocal tactics, males of one species perform an elaborate dance, which has now been captured for the first time from the perspective of females watching above.
Captured by Ed Scholes from Cornell University and photographer Tim Laman, this clip shows how males transform their shape: they suddenly fan out their feathers to morph into a ballerina-like figure that skips back and forth to lure females above.
But although the male looks like a ballet dancer from the side, viewed from the top, the dance appears as a wobbling disc occasionally flashing an iridescent patch. The video reveals that the ballerina shape, which was the focus of the few prior sightings in the wild, is irrelevant from a prospective mate's point of view.
Although females prefer some dances over others, the reason for their choice is a mystery. There are many elements of the dance that could play a part: the precise shape of the disc, the iridescent hue or the speed of the flashes or head waggle. "With this level of ornamental complexity, it's very hard to make appropriate measurements and carry out the right kind of study," says Scholes.
This video is part of a groundbreaking project that launched online last week, capturing all 39 bird-of-paradise species for the first time. It showcases the unique displays of sound, colour and motion that these birds have evolved through sexual selection in combination with their isolated habitat. Using graphics, it analyses certain behaviour in detail: for example, breaking down how one species uses its feathers to turn into a psychedelic smiley face. "The displays of several of these species had never been documented until our project," says Scholes.
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