The magnificent bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) is known for its “Vantablack” plumage, which is so dark that it absorbs 99.95 percent of sunlight when confronted head-on (technically vanta black absorbs 99.96 percent). According to recent research published in PeerJ, it is not one, but two separate kinds of bird.
The “new” species has been dubbed the Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise, while the more common species has been renamed the Greater Superb Bird-of-Paradise.
“When you see what the Vogelkop form looks like and performs like in the field, there’s little doubt that it’s a different species,” said Ed Scholes, an evolutionary scientist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology’s Birds-of-Paradise Project.
“The courting dance is unique. The vocalizations are distinctive. The ladies have a distinct appearance. The exhibiting male’s form is also different.”
Footage collected by Scholes and Timothy Laman, an ornithologist and wildlife photojournalist at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, provides the first solid evidence that the Vogelkop, which only exists in New Guinea’s far-western Bird’s Head (or Vogelkop) region, is a distinct (though closely related) species from the Greater Superba, which is found throughout New Guinea’s rainforests.
Aside from having different addresses, the two birds seem (subtly) different. Males in both species have demonically black feathers with nearly fluorescent turquoise patterns, but when the Vogelkop exposes his plumage to court surrounding females, he forms a crescent shape with a pointed tip and the appearance of a frowning face. The Greater Superba, on the other hand, has a rounded shape and the appearance of a smiling face.
When Scholes and Lamon approached a possible mating partner, they noted discrepancies in their behavior. The Vogelkop does not fully open his “cape” until the female has advanced, and he deliberately obscures his breast shield to highlight his “headlight-like” eye-spot patterns.
The mating call and dance routines of the birds also differ. The Vogelkop’s song is a piercing whistle, unlike the Greater Superba’s gruff shriek, according to the experts. Their dancing moves are smoother, more akin to a waltz than the Greater Superba’s jive.
But it isn’t only the men. Females are also distinct. They, like many other species, are plainer. Both have brown wings and a striped body, but the Vogelkop’s head is black, whilst the female Greater Superba’s head is white with a brown marking around the eyes (a lot like a Zorro mask).
Cornell’s Birds-of-Paradise Project discovered the Vogelkop Superb Bird-Of-Paradise.