Filming the Magnificent Riflebird Display

Magnificent Riflebird Bird-of-Paradise (Ptiloris magnificus) male displaying to female.  His display involves very rapidly swinging his head back and forth, alternately hiding it behind one wing and then the other.

Magnificent Riflebird Bird-of-Paradise (Ptiloris magnificus) male displaying to female. His display involves very rapidly swinging his head back and forth, alternately hiding it behind one wing and then the other.

This is one of my favorite Bird-of-Paradise video sequences because the behavior and wing sounds are so amazing, and we captured it from two angles.  The Magnificent Riflebird usually performs his display on a large horizontal vine.  In 2009, Ed Scholes and I, with help from our local guide Zeth Wonggor, located the display vine you see here deep in the forest of the Bird’s Head Peninsula region of West Papua, Indonesia.  The male was visiting the vine fairly often, and calling a lot from this area.  But he only performed his full display when a female came to watch him, which was very rarely.  We had two blinds at this site, in order to film from two different angles, and we spent a ridiculous number of hours – Ed estimated he spents 80 hours, and I also spent a lot but was alternating between this blind and others for King and Lesser Birds-of-Paradise in the same area so my total was a bit less.  That is a lot of time to sit in a dark hut being attacked by mosquitos, but to us, it was worth it because we succeeded in capturing this amazing display.  And being able to see it from two angles just makes it so much richer.

One of the really fascinating aspects of this display is the sound the bird makes with its wings.  This loud swishing sound made every time he shakes his wings we presume is made by the feathers somehow rubbing together, but the exact mechanism of how the this works is one of the biological mysteries of birds-of-paradise that remains to be solved.

Filmed entirely with Canon 5D Mark II cameras and Canon lenses 600 mm f4 and 200 mm f2.0.  The audio which highlights the birds amazing wing sounds was recorded with a shotgun mike placed outside the blind below the display vine.

 

 

 

 

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