The San Diego Zoo began exhibiting birds of paradise in 1925; over the years, we have housed 19 species between the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
In 1968, a pair of lesser superb birds of paradise raised a chick at the Zoo, the first successfully reared young of any species of bird of paradise at the Zoo, and the first hatching of this species in the US. The first Raggiana bird of paradise chicks to be raised in North America hatched at the Zoo in 1981. In September 1983, the San Diego Zoo was presented with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Significant Achievement Award of our Raggiana bird of paradise breeding program.
In 1999, a divided aviary opened in the Zoo’s Lost Forest, designed specifically for breeding Ragianna birds of paradise. Guests can see courtship behaviors as keepers rotate males in with a nesting female just before she lays her eggs. In 2001, the Safari Park celebrated the hatches of the first magnificent birds of paradise in our collection.
Come see them
Currently, the San Diego Zoo is home to magnificent, superb, and Raggiana birds of paradise in various aviaries. The Safari Park has magnificent and superb birds of paradise as well, but they are off exhibit in the Park’s Bird Breeding Complex.
Bird of paradise plumes were known and prized in Asia 2,000 years ago. Skins and feathers were very important to European women’s fashion over a century ago and are still used by the native people in New Guinea in their dress and rituals. During the 1880s and 1890s, some bird of paradise species were almost wiped out because of the fashion of using the bird's feathers to decorate hats. Up to 50,000 skins were exported each year. This practice was finally stopped in the 1920s, when all birds of paradise were protected from export.
Today, some hunting is allowed but only to meet the ceremonial needs of the native society.
Humans in paradise
Once the isolated, mountainous island of New Guinea was a bird's paradise. Few predators other than native humans lived there. But contact with the industrialized world has brought the threat of extinction. Islands, by their physical nature, leave many animals with nowhere to go when conditions change for the worse. The biggest problem birds of paradise face now comes from large lumber companies that clear all trees from rain forests for cardboard and hardwood products.
Currently, the blue bird of paradise Paradisaea rudolphi, Wahnes’s parotia Parotia wahnesi, and MacGregor’s bird of paradise Macgregoria pulchra are vulnerable.
We hope there will still be places in the wild for these avian Romeos to continue their courtship dances! You can help us bring bird species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.