The Red Bird of Paradise

Birds of Paradise are found only in New Guinea and on the neighboring islands. The species presented here is found only on a few islands. In former days very singular ideas prevailed concerning these birds and the most extravagant tales were told of the life they led in their native lands. The natives of New Guinea, in preparing their skins for exportation, had removed all traces of legs, so that it was popularly supposed they possessed none, and on account of their want of feet and their great beauty, were called the Birds of Paradise, retaining, it was thought, the forms they had borne in the Garden of Eden, living upon dew or ether, through which it was imagined they perpetually floated by the aid of their long cloud-like plumage.

Of one in confinement Dr. Bennett says: “I observed the bird, before eating a grasshopper, place the insect upon the perch, keep it firmly fixed by the claws, and, divesting it of the legs, wings, etc., devour it with the head always first. It rarely alights upon the ground, and so proud is the creature of its elegant dress that it never permits a soil to remain upon it, frequently spreading out its wings and feathers, regarding its splendid self in every direction.

The sounds uttered by this bird are very peculiar, resembling somewhat the cawing of the Raven, but change gradually to a varied scale in musical gradations, like he, hi, ho, how! He frequently raises his voice, sending forth notes of such power as to be heard at a long distance. These notes are whack, whack, uttered in a barking tone, the last being a low note in conclusion.

While creeping amongst the branches in search of insects, he utters a soft clucking note. During the entire day he flies incessantly from one tree to another, perching but a few moments, and concealing himself among the foliage at the least suspicion of danger.

In Bennett’s “Wanderings” is an entertaining description of Mr. Beale’s bird at Maceo. “This elegant bird,” he says, “has a light, playful, and graceful manner, with an arch and impudent look, dances about when a visitor approaches the cage, and seems delighted at being made an object of admiration. It bathes twice daily, and after performing its ablutions throws its delicate feathers up nearly over its head, the quills of which have a peculiar structure, enabling the bird to effect this object. To watch this bird make its toilet is one of the most interesting sights of nature; the vanity which inspires its every movement, the rapturous delight with which it views its enchanting self, its arch look when demanding the spectator’s admiration, are all pardonable in a delicate creature so richly embellished, so neat and cleanly, so fastidious in its tastes, so scrupulously exact in its observances, and so winning in all its ways.

Says a traveler in New Guinea: “As we were drawing near a small grove of teak-trees, our eyes were dazzled with a sight more beautiful than any I had yet beheld. It was that of a Bird of Paradise moving through the bright light of the morning sun. I now saw that the birds must be seen alive in their native forests, in order to fully comprehend the poetic beauty of the words Birds of Paradise. They seem the inhabitants of a fairer world than ours, things that have wandered in some way from their home, and found the earth to show us something of the beauty of worlds beyond.

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