Birds of Paradise: An Astounding Resource for Science Education

I would like to invite all people interested in science and the natural world—with a special invitation to all young science lovers—to spend time at an extraordinary web site. You should know that I am not given to raving about websites. I’m a somewhat even-tempered guy, but I have to say I am astounded by the Birds-Of-Paradise Project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The design of the website is elegant, and exploring the site is an easy way to get an in-depth science education about a beautiful family of birds.

The power of the videos and still images left me flummoxed with joy, and I guarantee that all of you, young and old, will be thrilled by your visit.

This site presents information on a family of birds commonly called birds of paradise. This is a family of birds, the Paradisaeidae, known for the brilliant plumage of the males and courtship displays of mind-boggling beauty. There are 39 species of these birds, all of which live in the dense rainforests of New Guinea and surrounding areas. Prior to this project many of these birds had never been filmed in the wild.

Enter two men of unusual tenacity: Ed Scholes, an evolutionary biologist who is Curator of Video and Research Associate at the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Tim Laman, a biologist with a gift for climbing trees and wild photography. These two biologists committed themselves to photographing every bird of paradise species. Listen to these facts about the work that went into this website: They spend 8 years photographing these birds, took 18 expeditions to remote, nearly inaccessible rainforests, build 109 blinds in the dense forests, took over 39,000 photographs, took 58 boat trips up rarely-visited rivers, flew 33 bush plane flights to remote areas, spent over 2000 hours in blinds waiting for birds, and. climbed 146 trees into the high canopy—and waited countless mind-numbing hours to take one good video.

This effort is itself is worthy of the great biological explorers of the past, but the results have brought to us photographs of some of the world’s most spectacular birds.

The site contains photograph detailing the life and courtship displays of these birds, and the resulting videos makes one’s jaw drop open. You can explore the calls, feathers, shape shifting, dance patterns, and natural habitat of all 39 species of birds of paradise. The elegant organization of the website belies and enormous amount of information. For the more scientifically minded parent, teacher, or student there explanations of natural selection (especially sexual selection) and evolution in isolation—it appears that all 39 species evolved from only a single crow-like ancestor species. Included is a link to Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library archive were any budding ornithologist can view thousands of videos of birds.

Educators and parents can download lessons based on this website, using the extraordinary biology of these birds as a springboard to teaching important principles of biology.
This is not a website; this is an unparalleled opportunity to connect a young science student to the glory of life itself. It is inspiring too, that two dedicated scientists pulled this knowledge, enduring hardships von Humboldt would be proud of, out of remote dense rainforests. Then, in an act of real graciousness, handed it to all of us on an Internet silver platter.

Image via Wikipedia/CC 2.0

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