Birds of Paradise
January 7, 2014
Travel to New Guinea this spring and discover the exotic birds-of-paradise, an elegant example of extreme evolution, in the new, highly interactive exhibit, Birds of Paradise, at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Found only in New Guinea and parts of Australia, birds-of-paradise are known for their ornate feathers and tail plumes and elaborate mating rituals that include wild calls and crazy courtship dances. Co-developed by the National Geographic Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of Paradise reveals all 39 known species of these elusive birds for the first time. The exhibit will be on view May 3 through Sept. 1 and is free with regular museum admission.
The fascinating story of these remarkable birds is told through stunning imagery, compelling video, soundscapes, artifacts, and engaging interactive activities for both adults and children. Equal parts natural history, photography and science, the exhibit gives visitors an in-depth look at the lives of these birds in an engaging and enlightening way.
“Birds of Paradise is perfect for kids of all ages. Every section has a hands-on activity, video or interactive component,” said Academy Exhibits Director Jennifer Sontchi. “The dance contest is worth coming back for a second visit!”
Birds of Paradise is based on the groundbreaking research of photographer Tim Laman and Cornell ornithologist Edwin Scholes who made 18 expeditions over 8 years to the remote, untarnished rain forests of New Guinea. Through stunning film, video and detailed observations, Laman and Scholes documented one of the most elegant examples of extreme evolution on Earth, a result of millions of years of sexual selection at work in an environment with plentiful food and no natural predators.
Dance, Dance Evolution
As they enter the exhibit, visitors will meet Laman and Scholes through introductory videos and explore a montage of all 39 bird-of-paradise species. Their research, including new information about each species, is presented in an easy-to-understand format.
The bizarre courtship dances that the males perform to attract the females are surely a highlight. Interactive games such as “Dance, Dance Evolution” let people dance along with the birds to learn their signature moves. The first-ever video of the female’s point-of-view of the dances is shown, captured through an innovative use of equipment created by Laman and Scholes.
Photos, videos, bird specimens and a kinetic sculpture of a riflebird (a bird-of-paradise species) show the remarkable transformations that birds-of-paradise undergo to attract their mates and the various moves that make up their mating rituals. Visitors can manipulate artificial tree branches to trigger video footage of different birds displayed on their perches.
The exhibit highlights the importance of birds-of-paradise to New Guinea, where natives still use bird skins as ornaments and currency. Between 1600 and 1914 many male birds were collected for their long colorful plumes, which were widely used in Europe to decorate women’s hats. Today birds-of-paradise are protected from commercial trading, though the birds are still vulnerable.
“Birds-of-paradise live in such narrow ranges that cutting a forest, or digging a mine or even a natural flood could adversely affect them,” said Dr. Nate Rice, the Academy’s collection manager for ornithology. “All the species are considered vulnerable or threatened.”
Numerous mounted birds, bird specimens and a fancy hat, all from the Academy’s collection, are included in the exhibit’s national tour. One special bird-of-paradise in the Academy’s world-renowned Ornithology Collection in Philadelphia was collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, who first reported the displays and postures of the species in 1857.
For more information about birds-of-paradise, visit natgeoed.org/birds-of-paradise. For information about the exhibit and related programming at the Academy, check for updates at ansp.org
National Geographic Traveling Exhibitions
National Geographic is one of the world’s leading organizers of large-scale, traveling exhibitions. Since it launched “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” in 2004, National Geographic has organized two more Egyptian-themed exhibitions, “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” and “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.” Other exhibitions National Geographic has organized include the four-city U.S. tour of “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul.” In 2009, National Geographic traveling exhibitions were seen by more than 6 million visitors.
To download images from the exhibit, visit: http://www.ansp.org/about/press-room/photos/changing-exhibits/