WASHINGTON (Oct. 22, 2012)—This fall, take a journey to New Guinea and the exotic world of birds-of-paradise with “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution,” a new exhibition at the National Geographic Museum that reveals all 39 species of these elusive birds for the first time. Highlighting the groundbreaking research of photographer Tim Laman and Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes, the exhibition, born out of the duo’s important scientific achievement, features the extravagant plumage, crazy courtship dances and bizarre behaviors of the extraordinary birds. The exhibition will run from Thursday, Nov. 1, through early May 2013.
Since their partnership began in 2004, Laman and Scholes have been dedicated to documenting and understanding the lives of birds-of-paradise. During 18 expeditions over eight years, the two were able to capture photographs, videos and detailed observations of these important species of birds. Known for their unique looks and mating rituals, the birds-of-paradise are a prime example of sexual selection and are surely one of the most elegant examples of extreme evolution on Earth. The birds are found in one of the most untarnished environments in the world: the remote rain forests of the New Guinea region.
Equal parts natural history, photography and science exhibition, “Birds of Paradise” gives visitors an in-depth look into the lives of birds-of-paradise. Visitors will meet Laman and Scholes through introductory videos as they enter the exhibit, where they will also be greeted with natural soundscapes, traditional wood carvings and a montage of all 39 birds-of-paradise species. They will be able to dive into their groundbreaking research and learn brand new information about each of the 39 species, all finally photographed for the first time in history.
In addition, visitors can examine the bizarre courtship dances that the males perform to attract the females. Interactive games such as “Dance, Dance Evolution” let people dance along with the birds to learn their signature moves. The first-ever video of the female’s point-of-view of the dances is shown, captured through an innovative use of equipment created by Laman and Scholes. Photos, videos, bird specimens and a kinetic sculpture of a riflebird (a bird-of-paradise species) also show the transformations that birds-of-paradise undergo to attract their mates and the various moves that make up their mating rituals. Visitors can also manipulate artificial tree branches to trigger video footage of different birds displayed on their perches, with commentary from Scholes.
The exhibition highlights the importance of birds-of-paradise to New Guinea. Maps and diagrams of the birds’ ranges across the country explain how the country’s environment allowed the birds to adapt and evolve over time. Legends and folklore are shared from generations past.
Visitors to the exhibition can also explore old and new scientific knowledge about the birds-of-paradise, including previous misconceptions, vintage illustrations and information on how the giants of evolutionary studies, including Charles Darwin, were fascinated by the birds. Modern science and conservation efforts are featured, with findings from Laman and Scholes as well as other well-known figures such as evolutionary biologist and author Jared Diamond. Interactive games teach visitors how sexual selection works, and a Species Atlas app offers information on all 39 species.
The “Birds of Paradise” exhibition is part of a National Geographic Society-wide effort focusing on these birds and was developed with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A companion book to the exhibition, “BIRDS OF PARADISE: Revealing the World’s Most Extraordinary Birds,” by Laman and Scholes, goes on sale Oct. 23; a documentary on the National Geographic Channel, “Winged Seduction: Birds of Paradise,” will air on Nov. 22 and be released later on DVD; National Geographic Live lectures on the birds will be presented in venues across the country, including in National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium on Nov. 1 and 3; an article on birds-of-paradise will appear in the December 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, with bonus materials in the iPad edition; and an education portal can be found at www.natgeoed.org/birds-of-paradise.
The National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed Dec. 25. Admission is $8 for adults; $6 for National Geographic members, military, students, seniors and groups of 25 or more; $4 for children ages 5-12; and free (reservation required) for school, student and youth groups (age 18 and under). Tickets may be purchased online at www.ngmuseum.org; via telephone at (202) 857-7700; or in person at the National Geographic ticket office, 1600 M Street, N.W., between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. For more information on group sales, call (202) 857-7281 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography exhibitions in the museum’s M Street gallery and outdoors are free.
For information on the “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution” exhibition or the museum’s other fall exhibition, “1001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization,” the public should call (202) 857-7588 or visit www.ngmuseum.org.
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, visit nationalgeographic.com.
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 50,000 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.