World of Wonder: Superb Bird-of-Paradise -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

The semester is over, my final grades are turned in, and one of the first things I like to do to herald summer is to have a little dance party. This year? I’m partial to the smooth beats of my original Thriller album. This was the first album I bought with hard-won allowance, so I get a wave of nostalgia when I hear “Baby Be Mine,” or “P.Y.T.” Go on and jam out for a bit. I’ll wait.


Ahem. Which is why I thought the Lophorina superba—not the Lesser nor the Greater, but the Superb bird-of-Paradise—would be a fantastic and timely choice for this week’s column. I mean, check out the moves on this guy. Can’t you just picture him boppin’ along to “P.Y.T” too?

The Superb Bird-of-Paradise dances along at about eight inches tall and lives in New Guinea. It eats mostly fruits and berries, but has been known to nosh on the occasional small lizard. Can we please talk about that courtship dance, though? These birds actually lead pretty solitary lives, except during mating season. Perhaps my favorite detail about them is that the male actually clears a “dance floor” before he gets his groove on. Some might lay down leaves or scraps of paper to demarcate where this dance will take place.

If you look carefully, the Superb’s beak is like it’s the blackest-black night in January and you are trying to write a letter on black construction paper with a black swan feather dipped in India ink: it’s pretty black. So when he hoists up his long black nape-feathers, it looks like he is swooshing an elliptical cape around him—one of the most showy displays in the entire animal kingdom. And what are those turquoise eye beads on the black oval shape? Just some iridescent blue feathers on the Superb’s head that flash extra blue as they catch the sun.

I just cannot get over this little guy. Cannot. And is it me, or does the wide, horizontal turquoise stripe look like a giant mouth when the bird is in full dance mode? C’mon, I dare you to not crack a smile at that!

Is there an animal that makes you hear a certain song in your head? Please don’t tell me I’m the only one. Someone out there in Wonder-land must also assign a theme song to various animals on this planet, no? What song do you associate with the slow swim of a narwhal, the quick skitter of a capuchin monkey? I KNOW your cat/dog/iguana has a theme song. Please do share it below, and bonus points for links to the song in question, so I can continue with my “It’s almost-summer!” dance party.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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