Friday, August 3, 2007

Cenderawasih- Real facts behind the myth

Cenderawasih/pheonix living among the clouds based on Malay and Chinese believed

Cenderawasih or Fenghuang/Pheonix by some culture refers to a mystical bird which have the power of healing and prosperity also good luck. Among the malay, cenderawasih considered as birds from heavean or bird of paradise due to physical look of the fauna- colourful feathers and unique looking believed to have mystical powers. But what actually are these bird and does it really exist or just a myth?

Cenderawasih or Paradisaea minor is a medium-sized, up to 32cm long, maroon brown bird of paradise (Paradisaeidae) with a yellow crown and brownish yellow upper back. The male has dark emerald green throat, a pair of long tail-wires and adorned with pale yellow and white ornamental flank plumes, the character of males are polygamous, and they perform courtship displays in groups. The female paradisae is a maroon bird with dark brown head and white below and usually lays two pinkish eggs with dark markings in tree nest high above ground. Maybe that's why people especially Malays believed the bird never touches the ground.

These species actually a members of the family Paradisaeidae of the order Passeriformes - the largest and most diverse commonly recognized clade of birds which largely distributed throughout the forests of Misool and Jobi Islands of West Irian Jaya, Torres Straits, Eastern Australia and northern New Guinea. The Passeriformes (or ‘passerine’ birds) are synonymous with what are commonly known as "perching birds"; this group also contains within it a major radiation commonly known as songbirds (oscine Passerines or Passeri). Of the 10,000 or so extant species of birds, over half (~5,300) are perching birds.

Melospiza melodia family

Perching birds have a worldwide distribution, with representatives on all continents except Antarctica, and reaching their greatest diversity in the tropics. Body sizes of passerines vary from about 1.4 kg in northern populations of Ravens (Corvus corax) to just a few grams. Perching birds include some of the most colorful and mysterious of all birds, such as birds of paradise from New Guinea and the bright orange Cock of the Rock from tropical South America. Because of their high diversity, generally small body size and relative ease of observation, collection and field study, perching birds have historically attracted the attention of a wide range of descriptive and experimental biologists, including systematists, behavioral ecologists, and evolutionary biologists. The tradition of recognizing perching birds (Passeriformes) as the most diverse and rapidly radiating clade has been questioned because there are few obvious “key innovations” that should cause systematists to recognize Passeriformes over any other arbitrarily larger or smaller monophyletic group within birds (Raikow, 1986). One point that has been missed in debates on this issue is that the branch leading to the songbirds (oscines), a group comprising 80% of extant perching birds, is the longest internal branch on the DNA hybridization tree produced by Sibley and Ahlquist (1990). This branch has also been one of the few to be well resolved in applications of mtDNA sequences to higher level questions in birds, presumably because it is long. Given the large number of clades that will require names under phylogenetic taxonomy, perhaps the length of branches leading to particular clades should be one criterion whereby systematists decide which of the many clades to name.

The basal lineages of passeriformes have for over a century included two major clades, the oscines and suboscines. Suboscines (sometimes called Tyranni, though this name has confusingly been used also for more restrictive groups within Suboscines) are a largely tropical group of about 1,000 species that reaches its greatest diversity in South America; most suboscines are thought to sing “innate” songs. Oscines (Passeri) include about 4,000 species and are what many laypersons refer to as “songbirds”; they are worldwide in distribution and are distinguished from suboscines by a complex voice box (syrinx) and song learning capacity. The German anatomist Müller first drew attention to the syringeal differences (Müller, 1878), and since then both morphological (Ames, 1971) and molecular (Edwards et al., 1991; Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990) analyses have confirmed this basic division of perching birds. However, it has recently been determined that an even more basal division within passerines is between the diminutive New Zealand wrens (Acanthisittidae; Raikow, 1987) and all others (Barker et al. 2002, 2004).

Male Paradisae Minor

The diet of these species consists mainly of fruits and insects. Paradisaea species having a kind of lek-type mating system ( a gathering of males, of certain animal species, for the purposes of competitive mating display. Leks assemble before and during the breeding season, on a daily basis. The same group of males meet at a traditional place and take up the same individual positions on an arena, each occupying and defending a small territory or court. Intermittently or continuously, they spar individually with their neighbors or put on extravagant visual or aural displays (mating "dances" or gymnastics, plumage displays, vocal challenges, etc).

Others, such as the Parotia and Cicinnurus species, have highly ritualized mating dances. Males are polygamous in the sexually dimorphic species and hybridization is frequent in these birds. Many hybrids have been described as new species, and in some forms, such as Rothschild's Lobe-billed Paradisaidae, even today some doubt remains whether they might not be valid.

Paradisaea apoda on the tree. Note the way of the bird hiding its leg

Male Paradisaea apoda

The largest member in the genus Paradisaea, the Greater Bird of Paradise (above picture) is distributed to lowland and hill forests of southwest New Guinea and Aru Island, Indonesia. The diet consists mainly of fruits, seeds and small insects. A small population was first introduced by Sir William Ingram in 1909-1912 to Little Tobago Island of West Indies in an attempt to save the species from extinction due to overhunting for plume trades. The introduced populations survived until at least 1958 and most likely are extinct now. Paradisaea apoda is a large, up to 43cm long, maroon brown with a yellow crown, dark emerald green throat and blackish brown breast cushion. The male is adorned with large yellow ornamental flank plumes and a pair of long tail wires. The female has unbarred maroon brown plumage. For further information on other genus of these bird, information can be found under the tag- Paradisaea in encyclopedia of birds.

Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist,physician and zoologist who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of nomenclature and also known as the "father of modern taxonomy and ecology which was the most renowned botanist of his time, and was also noted for his fine linguistic skills named the species Paradisaea apoda, or "legless bird of paradise", because early trade-skins to reach Europe were prepared without feet by natives; this lead to the misconception of european that these birds were beautiful visitors from paradise that floated in the air and never touched the earth until death. The same perceptions also similar to the Asianb especially Malays and Chinese stories of the bird origins mystical powers.

Below are some of the genus of the Bird of Paradise:

Genus Lycocorax

Paradise Crow Lycocorax pyrrhopterus


Glossy -mantle Manucode, Manucodia atra

Jobi Manucode, Manucodia jobiensis

Crinkle-collared Manucode, Manucodia chalybata

Curl-crested Manucode, Manucodia comrii

Trumpet Manucode, Manucodia keraudrenii

Genus Paradigalla

Long-tailed Paradigalla, Paradigalla carunculata

Short-tailed Paradigalla Paradigalla brevicauda

Genus Astrapia

Arfak Astrapia, Astrapia nigra

Splendid Astrapia, Astrapia splendidissima

Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Astrapia mayeri

Stephanie's Astrapia, Astrapia stephaniae

Huon Astrapia, Astrapia rothschildi

Genus Parotia

Western Parotia, Parotia sefilata

Carola's Parotia, Parotia carolae

Berlepsch's Parotia, Parotia berlepschi

Lawes's Parotia, Parotia lawesii

Eastern Parotia, Parotia helenae

Wahnes's Parotia, Parotia wahnesi

Genus Pteridohora

King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Pteridophora alberti

Genus Lophorina

Superb Bird of Paradise, Lophorina superba

Eventhough science and zoology already explained what sort of species the bird was, what are the common diets, breeding etc, but still people who are believers of superstitions insist that the proof of the bird really have that power was by looking at the bird carcass which stay fresh eventhough already dead for long time. However this can be explained by using modern science, by injecting chemicals certain chemical into the carcass so that the carcass look natural and fresh. The issue of the bird mystical stories and tall tales still embeded in some culture and it is up to the believer itself either to stay in fantasies or to move on with modern reality.

ParaCrypt Research Team

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