'Tis the season for many birds to begin the mating game. You may notice some of your wild avian neighbors beginning to build nests and engage in breeding behavior—for example, the relentless arias of male mockingbirds and sparrows sparring with any rival they see, including their own reflections in car windows and mirrors. At the Zoo, the cassowary pair has been reintroduced in their habitat near Australia House, California condor pairs are laying eggs, Cape vultures are showing nesting behavior, and, in the Avian Conservation Center (ACC), Animal Keeper Lori Rogalski reports that Raggiana birds of paradise Hans and Gaston have been strutting their stuff to see who will win the affections of female Esmeralda this year.
"They spur each other on by vocalizing and dancing; each male tries to outdo the other," Rogalski explains. "The vocalizations can get so loud that we humans sometimes cover our ears, but it is a good attempt to get the female to pay attention to them. The dance moves have really evolved from when the birds first arrived at the Zoo a few years ago. Hans was young, so he learned a lot by copying Gaston. Now they both know even more impressive moves that they picked up from each other and through experimentation.
"They can flip upside down and extend all their feathers like a gorgeous fan all while singing. Many times, it looks as though one bird is dancing in front of a mirror as they move in complete unison. My mind is blown by both males' performances, while Esmeralda seems to be less enchanted. She spends time working on her nest site, eating, or preening herself and occasionally sitting on a perch to watch the show. Fingers crossed that one of these gentlemen catches her eye so all their hard work gets rewarded."
Over the years, Esmeralda has laid multiple clutches of eggs, but most were infertile. Last year, she produced two fertile eggs, but both chicks unfortunately died part way through incubation. It often takes a few seasons for breeding pairs to succeed in hatching offspring. This species is distributed widely in southern and northeastern New Guinea, where it is known as kumul or cenderawasih. The name “Raggiana” commemorates Francis Raggi, a 19th century Italian aristocrat who was a patron of explorer/naturalist Luigi Maria D’Albertis, who obtained the first specimen of this bird in 1872. The genus Paradisaea includes 39 species, most native to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Australia.
"While many animals at the Zoo thrive under the attention, sights, and sounds of our daily visitors, the ACC is a haven for sensitive birds like these that need quiet space or unique conditions for breeding and other activities," comments Director of Conservation Dr. Jake Owens. "Other birds who make their home in the ACC, like the Bali myna and blue-throated macaw, are critically endangered, and the individuals cared for in the ACC represent an essential contingency against total extinction of the species. This facility is just one of many examples of the important, behind-the-scenes settings where the L.A. Zoo is working to save species from extinction."