History of the Bird of Paradise

Up to the Present Day

Habitat, Appearance and Courtship Dances of the Bird of Paradise

First European History of the Bird of Paradise in Magellan's Circumnavigation

History of the Bird of Paradise up to the Present Day

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Continued from The First European History of the Bird of Paradise in Magellan's Circumnavigation

It may well be that even before Magellan's Voyage that Birds of Paradise were known to Europeans, for history shows that the Portuguese reached the Moluccas in 1510, to say nothing of the possibility of skins being imported by Eastern traders at a much earlier period.

Belon, who travelled in the Levant between 1546 and 1549, mentions (Observations de plusieurs singularitez [etc]. livre iii. chapter 25), among the feathery adornments of the Janissaries, plumes which could hardly be other than those of these birds, and expressly states that they were obtained from Arabs (He said that they belonged to birds called Rhintaces, which some modern writers identified with the Apus of classical authors, though he himself thought they were the feathers of the Phoenix. A plausible case might indeed be made out for connecting the legend of the Phoenix with that of the gods and of paradise).  His statement was first published in 1553, and in the same year appeared the work of Cardanus, De Subtilitate, wherein (lib. x,) the Manucodiata, as the Bird-of-Paradise now began to be called, is made to support the author's argument (the adoption of its Malay name showing that knowledge of it was derived from Spanish or Portuguese navigators).

In 1555 it was again treated of by Belon, as well as by Gesner, who figured what seems to have been a specimen of the Lesser Bird of Paradise, Paradisea minor, both of them expressing doubt as to the truth of the stories which were already rife on the subject. Some of these were touched upon in 1557 by J. C. Scaliger in his reply (Exotericarum exercitationum Liber XV. ccxxviii. 2) to Cardanus, while in 1599 Aldrovandus (Ornithol. lib. xii.), rejoicing in these fables, severely took to task some of those who doubted them - among them Pigafetta himself, who is rated for declaring that Birds-of-Paradise had legs, for it was clear from the authorities cited that they had, or ought to have, none. Aldrovandus professedly figured five species, but only three of them can be referred with any certainty to the genus Paradisea.

Many false assertions were made by some of the older writers concerning these gorgeous and singular birds.  The first naturalist who was able to observe anything of them in their own haunts seems to have been Lesson, who in July and August 1824 spent a fortnight at Dorey in New Guinea (Voy. Coquille, Zoologie, ii. page 436).  Mr Alfred Russell Wallace, in the course of his long sojourn and wanderings in the Moluccas and neighbouring islands made the personal acquaintance of nearly every species then known, and indeed first brought to the notice of naturalists one most curious forms, Wallace’s Standardwing, Semioptera wallacii. His admirable account of their habits was written in his Malay Archipelago.

In 1873 Daniel Elliot completed a fine Monograph of the Paradisaeidae Family.  In 1881 Professor Salvadori enumerated 39 species, as occurring within the scope of his elaborate Ornitologia della Papuasia e delle Molucche.  Today in the 21st century there are 40 or so species of the Bird of Paradise.
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