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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Birds - The Bird Of Paradise

( Originally Published 1894 )

The Bird of Paradise is one of the most beautiful of living birds. Mr. Wallace thus describes the paradisea apoda which is the largest species known: " The body, wings, and tail are of a rich coffee brown, which deepens on the breast to a blackish-violet or purple brown. The whole top of the head and neck is of an exceedingly delicate straw-yellow, the feathers being short and close set, so as to resemble plush or velvet; the lower part of the throat up to the eye is clothed with scaly feathers of an emerald green colour, and with a rich metallic gloss, and velvety plumes of a still deeper green, extend in a band across the forehead and chin as far as the eye, which is bright yellow. The beak is pale lead blue, and the feet which are rather large and very strong and well formed, are a pale ashy pink. The two middle feathers of the tail have no webs, except a very small one at the base and at the extreme tip, forming wire-like cirri, which spread out in an elegant double curve, and vary from twenty-four to thirty-four inches long. From each side of the body beneath the wings, springs a dense tuft of long and delicate plumes, sometimes two feet in length, of the most intense golden orange colour, and very glossy, but changing towards the tips into a pale brown. This tuft of plumage can be elevated and spread out at pleasure so as almost to conceal the body of the bird. These splendid ornaments are entirely confined to the male sex; the female is a very plain and ordinary looking bird. The male is generally seventeen or eighteen inches from the beak to the tip of the tail."

In catching the Bird of Paradise, the natives take advantage of the apparent vanity of their victims. "In May when they are in full plumage," says Mr. Wallace, "the males assemble early in the morning to exhibit themselves in a most singular manner. This habit enables the natives to obtain specimens with comparative ease. As soon as they find that the birds have fixed upon a tree upon which to assemble, they build a little shelter of palm leaves in a convenient place among the branches, and the hunter ensconces himself in it before daylight, armed with his bow and a number of arrows ter minating in a round nob. A boy waits at the foot of the tree, and when the birds come at sunrise, and a sufficient number have assembled, and have begun to dance, the hunter shoots with his blunt arrow so strongly as to stun the bird, which drops down, and is secured and killed by the boy, without its plumage being injured by a drop of blood. The rest take no notice, and fall one after another till some of them take the alarm." The Bird of Paradise is found in New Guinea and the Papuan Islands.

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