WASHINGTON (Sept. 10, 2012)—Extravagant plumage, crazy courtship dances and bizarre behaviors are just a few of the characteristics associated with birds of paradise, a famous family of birds found in Papua New Guinea. This fall, for the first time, world-renowned photographer Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes, a leading ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, reveal all 39 species of these extraordinary animals. In their new book BIRDS OF PARADISE: Revealing the World’s Most Extraordinary Birds (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0958-1; on-sale date: Oct. 23, 2012; $50 hardcover), Laman and Scholes share groundbreaking research and stunning photography from their trips to the remote wilderness of Papua New Guinea.
Their partnership began in 2003 with an email from Laman to Scholes, asking Scholes for information for Laman’s National Geographic-funded research on birds of paradise; Laman had an article in National Geographic magazine on the subject slated for July 2007. The partnership grew as Laman asked Scholes to join him as his scientific adviser and photography assistant. By 2006, they had captured 22 species of these elusive birds. Deciding to go beyond the scope of the article, Laman and Scholes received funding from the National Geographic Expeditions Council and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to finish what they had started — creating a “family portrait” of all 39 species. In 2011, after 18 expeditions, the two completed documenting all 39 species of birds of paradise, capturing both still images and video footage.
Featuring 150 stunning photographs of all 39 species, BIRDS OF PARADISE is an in-depth look into the lives and looks of these peculiar birds. The book is divided into four sections, each looking at a different aspect of the birds and their natural habitat. “Most Beautiful & Most Wonderful” delves into the history of the species, how it has captivated scientists for decades and its evolution throughout time; “Rugged Paradise” showcases the splendor of New Guinea and how the authors used the landscape to capture footage of the birds; “Extreme Selection” focuses on how Laman and Scholes studied the birds’ mating rituals and dances and how the process of sexual selection has shaped their evolution; and “Absurd” features the gorgeous, colorful feathers, extravagant ornamentation and bizarre courtship behaviors.
Detailed looks into the science behind Laman and Scholes’ fieldwork are sprinkled throughout the text, giving readers a chance to understand how the photographer and ornithologist were able to document and study all 39 species for the first time. Illustrations of Laman’s treetop canopy where he was able to photograph the birds from new angles are featured as well as field notes and drawings from Scholes’ insightful knowledge and understanding of the birds. A comprehensive atlas shows where each of the 39 species lives throughout the region, giving context to Laman and Scholes’ whereabouts as they hunted for each species. In addition, related quotes from such avian enthusiasts as Charles Darwin and Sir David Attenborough show the importance of birds of paradise and their part in today’s conservation and biodiversity efforts.
“People are primarily drawn to the birds of paradise for two reasons: the remarkable appearances of any given species and the incredible diversity among them,” Laman and Scholes write in the book’s first chapter. “We find the birds of paradise intriguing because they stray far from our mental image of a normal bird. They remind us of mythical creatures from another age and challenge our preconceptions of nature. The birds of paradise seem paradoxical because they contradict the common view of nature that is, as Tennyson writes, ‘red in tooth and claw.’ We’re left wondering how natural selection, with its emphasis on efficiency, could even permit creatures as overtly extravagant as the birds of paradise to exist at all.”
BIRDS OF PARADISE is part of a National Geographic Society-wide effort and a collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including an exhibition at the National Geographic Museum opening Thursday, Nov. 1; a documentary on the National Geographic Channel, “Winged Seduction: Birds of Paradise” airing early November and releasing later on DVD; National Geographic Live lectures across the country; an article in the December issue of National Geographic magazine, which includes bonus materials in the iPad edition; and an education portal at www.natgeoed.org/birds-of-paradise.
About the Authors
Tim Laman, rain forest biologist affiliated with Harvard University, is one of the most accomplished wildlife photographers in the world. From the rain forest canopy to the coral reef depths, Laman documents the biodiversity of Earth’s richest realms and is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. Laman holds a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Edwin Scholes, a Ph. D. ornithologist and biodiversity video curator at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has studied birds of paradise for more than a decade and is a leading authority on their behavior and evolution.
About National Geographic Books
National Geographic Books is a global publisher of 125 new books annually in Adult and Children’s combined, as well as a publisher of digital content and services with more than 50 partners who translate our books.
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 400 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; school publishing programs; live events; interactive media; merchandise; and travel programs. For more information on National Geographic Books, visit facebook.com/NatGeoBooks and nationalgeographic.com/books.
About the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is nonprofit, member-supported organization with the mission to interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Founded in 1915, the Lab is supported by 45,000 members and engages 200,000 citizen-science participants and 6 million bird enthusiasts who connect online at www.allaboutbirds.org. As a proud unit of Cornell University, the Lab has a leading team of faculty, educators, conservation scientists and engineers continuing a strong history of excellence in science, technological innovation and outreach. Learn more at www.birds.cornell.edu. For questions, please contact Pat Leonard at Cornell Lab of Ornithology (607) 254-2137 or PEL27@cornell.edu.