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This video was filmed on November 1, 2012 as part of the National Geographic Live! Lecture series at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In 2004, Cornell University 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.


  • Ornithologist Ed Scholes tells the story of how the Birds of Paradise got their name (start-03:15 min.)
bird of paradise

family of birds (Paradisaeidae) mostly native to the jungles on the island of New Guinea.

Ferdinand Magellan

(1480-1521) Portuguese explorer whose expedition (though not Magellan himself) was the first to circle the globe.


study of the biology and behavior of birds.