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National Geographic


Birds of Paradise

Learn About the Evolutionary Power of Sexual Selection

Photographs by Tim Laman

In 2004, Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes and field biologist and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman set out to complete the first comprehensive study of all birds-of-paradise. After 8 years and 18 expeditions they have amassed photographic and video coverage of all 39 known species and documented several new behaviors. 

Found only in New Guinea and parts of Australia, the birds-of-paradise are a case study in the evolutionary power of sexual selection. Their fantastic plumes and bizarre courtship displays are a result of millions of years of sexual selection at work in an environment with plentiful food and no natural predators. 

Natural selection is widely considered to be an integral topic in biology, but sexual selection is a facet of natural selection that is often glossed over or not mentioned at all in biology classes. This collection includes lessons, content videos, maps, student-friendly encyclopedic entries, and a robust interactive to help you and your students explore all of the science behind the birds-of-paradise.


Birds-of-Paradise Project

Use this interactive website to immerse yourself in the world of the birds-of-paradise. Learn about evolution, adaptation, and the science behind the birds' use of color, sound, and dance. Explore high-definition videos of the birds in action, see jaw-dropping photographs, and find behind-the-scenes footage of this 8-year expedition.


Science in Paradise

How did the scientists involved in the bird-of-paradise expedition apply the scientific process while studying the birds? Why are the birds-of-paradise of interest to evolutionary biologists?

Sexual Selection

What is sexual selection? How can understanding sexual selection lead to a deeper understanding of the processes of natural selection and evolution?

Heritable Behaviors

How can behaviors be genetic traits that can be passed on from one generation to the next? How can environmental factors further influence the development of these traits?


Watch and listen as Ed Scholes and Tim Laman describe their experiences studying the birds-of-paradise.


Birds-of-paradise are found in New Guinea and surrounding islands; some also dwell in Australia. Get high- and low-tech maps related to the bird-of-paradise range, including interactive maps, large-format printable maps, and black-and-white outline maps.

Australia & Oceania

Download, print, and assemble maps of Australia & Oceania in a variety of sizes. The mega maps occupies a large wall, or can be used on the floor. The map is made up of 128 pieces; download rows 1-8 for the full map. The tabletop size is made up of 8 pieces and is good for small group work.

Papau New Guinea

Customize one-page maps and download, email, print, or share!

Article Spotlight

Animal Farm

Who can visit an eco-tourism hotspot that used to be a cattle ranch? You can, toucan.

In Partnership With

In Partnership With

Museum Events

Visit the Birds-of-Paradise Exhibit

This exhibition takes you and your students on an expedition to the New Guinea rainforest to witness birds-of-paradise. Click here to download an educator's guide that includes activities for students in Grades 4-8 to do before, during, and after the exhibit.

Learn about NG Live! speaker events

National Geographic Magazine

Paradise Found

Read the feature article, view a photo gallery, and learn about the Bird's-Eye View.

Meet the Team

Tim Laman


Ed Scholes

Evolutionary Biologist