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The mysterious island of New Guinea is
co-inhabited by Indonesia and the independent
nation of Papua New Guinea.
This is the land of birds of paradise, Pesquest's Parrot, Eclectus Parrots, fruit doves, fig parrots, mynahs, hornbills, cockatoos, honeyeaters, cassowaries, and lories galore! Because of its astounding variety of habitats, New Guinea supports over 700 species of birds. There is still a great deal of unspoiled habitat but gold and oil mining accompanied by new reads into remote areas are changing the ways of the tribes who have lived here undiscovered and undisturbed by modern man until the early to mid
twentieth century. Today, it is a country that can be challenging to the traveler and even more so to the bird-watcher! One cannot safely go off driving alone through the countryside nor can one safely stop beside the road, even on a guided tour, to check out a patch of woods. Land is owned by numerous groups who do not look kindly upon strangers on their property! Even with these restrictions, it is still possible to see a dizzying assortment of unusual birds! It is extremely difficult to photograph birds there due to the early morning or late afternoon gloomy light present when the birds can be most easily seen.

However, the Huli Wigmen of the Tari highlands wear a variety of local birds' feathers in their colorful ceremonial wigs. The gentleman at right, playing a mouth harp, has Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo crest feathers, Musschenbroek Lory tail feathers, and Superb Bird of Paradise breast feathers in his wig. These wigs are very expensive for these men and the wigs are carefully maintained. The feathers of certain species, especially those of the birds of paradise, are becoming harder to obtain as the birds retreat deeper into the forest away from human encroachment. These people revere the feathers of the exotic birds that they admire because of their beauty, their singing ability, and their ability to fly and believe that wearing these feathers will impart some of these desirable qualities to the wearer.

This formidable warrior was quite striking in his wig which sported cockatoo crest and wing feathers, lory feathers , and the long tail plumes of the Sicklebill Bird of Paradise. The base of the wig is comprised of human hair that takes nearly two years to grow and is a saleable commodity.  

These dancers are weaning the tail plumes
of the Raggiana Bird of Paradise and they emulated the bird's dance and its sharp call.



A hornbill beak bracketed by pig tusks adorns this man's back. This bill came from the Blyth's Hornbill (Rhyticeros plicatus).




Local boys practice catching birds so they can develop the skills to capture larger birds. This little White Eye (Zosterops) had been caught in the early morning and was nearly dead when our group purchased it from the boy. After a few drinks of sugar water, the bird revived enough to hop away.


Photo by Fran Gonzalez-Sturms

This unfortunate Papuan Frogmouth had been captured in the morning. This is a nocturnal species and it was very stressed from its eyes being exposed to sunlight. We tried to save this bird's life but it was too weakened by the stress.


To many of us, it appears cruel to see birds captured like this and for them to be killed for their feathers. Indeed it can be distressing to see but we must realize that this is part of the culture of these people. The use of local bird feathers has been their custom for many years before modern man intruded upon their world. The impact of the modern world is a much greater factor threatening the survival of rare species in Papua New Guinea.

Although it can be a challenge to see birds in the wild in Papua New Guinea, it is a thrill to see a wild bird of paradise or a flock of wild lories fly overhead. In four wonderous days, our group saw five species of birds of paradise, King Parrots, Painted Parrots, four lory species, Triton Greater Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos, numerous species of honey-eaters, and a huge assortment of small soft-billed species. We left with a greater understanding of how the highland cultures revere the birds in their own way. 


All photos (except otherwise noted) are by Gail J. Worth and are copyrighted and may not be reproduced by any method without written permission.

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