Monday, September 14, 2009

The Magnificent Riflebird

Magnificent Riflebird displaying (Photo by Jim Shiflett)

The loud whistles of displaying male riflebirds cut through the rainforest of the Iron Range on the Cape York Peninsula. Largest of Australia's birds of paradise, the Magnificent Riflebird ranges from northeast Australia to New Guinea. Males are a velvet black, with a shimmering blue-green bib and throat. (The angle to the light determines the exact color that's reflected.)

Male riflebirds claim a display perch on a horizontal limb or the top of a broken stump and solicit the attention of females with loud whistles and a hopping dance. Jim was impressed by a film he recently saw depicting these "lovemasters" and is particularly focused on finding one, which he does.

Not far from the road, a male is displaying from an unusually low horizontal branch, only 8 or 10 feet above the ground. Through a scope we watch the undulations of his glistening breast as he whistles and dances. The next day, Jim and Noel spend hours in quiet concealment near the male, photographing his glittering moves.

When a brown-backed female appears, the male shifts his intensity into high gear, crisply flashing and arching his extended wings, head thrown back, dazzling the female with his shimmering iridescence. If he's impressive enough for the choosy lady, they will mate, and soon he'll be back on his perch whistling for another paramour.

The intensity reminds me of a penguin's ecstatic display––and what better term is there for what this riflebird is doing?!

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