Birds of paradise have evolved into very conspicuous animals with orange, red and turquoise plumage and ornate wire-like feathers that have captured the imagination of scientists and bird enthusiasts alike.
Their showy features are a delight to behold, but they would also make them an easy target for hungry cats and other predatory mammals -- if there were any around. The absence of such predators is precisely what allowed these otherwise impractical species to evolve.
"There was an evolutionary opportunity to develop that kind of extravagance," ornithologist Ed Scholes of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said. "They're a quirk of geography."
More than 20 years ago, wildlife photographer Tim Laman saw his first birds of paradise, the Standardwing and the Red Bird of Paradise, while traveling in Indonesia. He started imagining a project to photograph every species of these birds in their natural habitats of New Guinea and parts of Australia.
"It was one of the dream assignments on my list," said Laman, who's also a rainforest biologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Laman, whose work often focuses on conservation, finally pitched the project to National Geographic in 2003. He teamed up with Scholes, and during the next three years the pair made five trips to New Guinea and managed to photograph about half of the 39 species of birds of paradise.
Video and continued: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/12/birds-of-paradise/