Wild Courtship Moves of the Carola's Parotia

No 57

Whether a male Carola's parotia (Parotia carolae) enjoys dancing for appraising females, scientists and philosophers may never know. But dance he does. He'd better. His ability to procreate hinges on whether he can get the elaborate choreography of his species exactly, irresistibly, right.

Here's how it happens. Before performing, the male prepares his stage by clearing the floor of debris. A series of feather-ruffling warm-up moves helps gather an audience. With the females in attendance, the real dancing begins. It is a series that Cornell ornithologist Dr. Edwin Scholes, who has observed such elaborate displays in the field, refers to as “the bow, walk, pause and waggle." The male first extends his wings out to form a sort of hoop skirt, a remarkable muscular feat in itself. Feathers flared, he proceeds to perform the “Ballerina Dance" and the “Waggle."

It is an exhausting process, this courtship boogie, and the result of considerable training. Young males learn the moves by watching their elders, and before reaching sexual maturity spend hours a day practicing the sequence—either by themselves or with another young male, who for the sake of authenticity plays the role of the observing female.

Once he gets his adult plumage, a male Carola's parotia is ready for showtime. The end goal of this remarkable display is not mere adulation. If it doesn't result in mating, then—evolutionarily speaking, at least—it doesn't really serve a purpose.

This short film, one in a three-part Jungles in Paris series, is presented in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For more, see the Birds of Paradise Project. All footage is used with permission.

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