This blog was written by Andrew Walker on 11July 2023
The Indonesian province of West Papua* on the island of New Guinea, has been visited by birders in increasing numbers over recent years. There’s one main reason why – the stunning birds-of-paradise (aka, BoPs) that can be found living there. During our West Papua birding tour, we visit the best sites for birds-of-paradise in Indonesia. We make use of bird blinds (hides) where possible to allow a close approach to the birds to give the best views possible without causing disturbance to them, which can give you good photographic opportunities and memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.
Birding in West Papua should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is a remarkable place. It was not too long ago that to see arguably one of the best-looking birds in the world, Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, a two-day hike, and a night in a very basic camp in the forest on the island of Waigeo, was required. Now on our West Papuan birdwatching tours it’s a lot simpler, with vehicle access possible along a 4×4 track and a much shorter hike (sometimes as little as five minutes!), meaning you can leave your comfortable beachside dive resort after a good night’s sleep listening to the waves lapping on the shore and be watching this stunning bird less than an hour later!
It is easy to see why Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise is considered one of the best-looking birds in the world, it is just simply spectacular.
Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise has a very small global range, as does the similarly attractive Red Birds-of-paradise. The latter BoP can also be found on Waigeo Island, though it does seem to move its display areas (or leks) around a little bit more than the first species, so sometimes it takes more effort to track down. But wow, it is worth the effort when required! This bird is always a tour favorite (and some people rate it more highly than the famed Wilson’s BoP even!).
Red Bird-of-paradise hanging upside down during a display sequence.
As ecotourism opens new areas of West Papua to visitors, so there are more areas to visit and more opportunities for improved bird-of-paradise viewing (as well as better protection for forests and the life they support). One such example is the village of Malagufuk in the Klasow Valley. This area has come to prominence for the chance of seeing rare species such as Northern Cassowary, Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, Thick-billed Ground Pigeon, and other denizens of the deep and undisturbed forest. This area also provides birders with great chances of seeing many birds-of-paradise, including Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, Lesser Bird-of-paradise, Trumpet Manucode, Glossy-mantled Manucode, and Magnificent Riflebird.
The local guides in Malagufuk are excellent at finding bird-of-paradise display areas, and so being able to watch Magnificent Bird-of-paradise and other gorgeous birds is now a reality.
We are excited to now be visiting Malagufuk in the Klasow Valley during our West Papua bird tours. We stay in a basic homestay there, run by the local village. Not only does this present us with the opportunity to see and photograph some spectacular birds-of-paradise, but it also enables us to support the local villagers who are protecting their forest, preventing poaching and hunting, and in turn benefitting the birds we’ve traveled across the world to try and see. This is something we at Birding Ecotours are happy to support (you can read more about some of the things we do and support, here). Some of the villagers in this area are excellent local guides and know their forest better than anyone else; they are also extremely proud of the avian gems they have inside it. Waking up deep in the forest and listening to the dawn chorus from this location is certain to be a West Papuan bird tour highlight and a very unique experience.
Birds-of-paradise are some of the strangest-looking birds on the planet, and the Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise certainly ticks that box!
In the famed Arfak Mountains of West Papua, a whole host of endemic birds can be found, including some endemic birds-of-paradise and the famous avian architect, Vogelkop Bowerbird. Our visits to the Arfak Mountains are always a highlight of our West Papua birding tours. The Arfak Mountains have been on the radars of world birders for quite a few years now and it’s no surprise as to why, this place is just incredible (and most people find it’s climate more appealing than the hot and humid lowlands).
The ballet dancing display given by Western Parotia (which always surprises people by being much larger than anticipated), is usually one of the most popular birds-of-paradise during our Arfak Mountains birding tour. Watching the male appear around first light to clear away any fallen leaves from his display area gets the excitement building. Then, he’s likely to sit above his display area and call. If luck is on his (and our) side, the female may come in and check out what’s going on. Then it’s pandemonium as he bounces around making raucous calls, before dropping onto his pristine display area and the chaos becomes calm and graceful – the ballet dancing has started. Transfixed, the female can’t take her eyes off him, and neither can we in our nearby hide. This moment will not be forgotten. With a blink of an eye, it’s suddenly over. Smiles all round!
The female Western Parotia sits above the male watching his incredible ballet dancing display.
Sometimes the ground cleared by the birds-of-paradise for their display antics offers an irresistible foraging ground for other species, and during our 2022 set departure tour we sat open-mouthed as first a pair of Spotted Jewel-babblers walked through the parotia’s display court, shortly thereafter followed by a Pheasant Pigeon, the pigeon actually chasing the parotia away momentarily! Usually, it’s something a little more mundane like the common Green-backed Robin, but you never quite know what to expect when sitting quietly in a bird blind (bird hide) in the Arfak Mountains.
The Arfak Mountains offer several other excellent birds-of-paradise in the middle elevations (which are relatively easy to get at, considering the mountain terrain), and these include Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Black-billed Sicklebird, and Crescent-caped Lophorina (formerly called Superb Bird-of-paradise and referred to as Vogelkop Lophorina by some authorities). If you’re feeling really fit, a tough hike into the higher elevations of the Arfak Mountains (and an overnight in a basic, but improving year-on-year, camp) can yield three of the area’s special birds: Black Sicklebill, which is widespread across highland New Guinea and has a crazy loud call that can be heard for miles – it’s also HUGE, Long-tailed Paradigalla which is still rather “unknown”, and the locally endemic and top target, Arfak Astrapia. The astrapia doesn’t come to a display area so this one must be tracked down as it quietly forages in the canopy.
The Arfak Astrapia can be found foraging high up in the mountains.
Black Sicklebill is another contender for one of the most popular birds-of-paradise we see on our West Papua birding tours, they are just so big and loud!
There are bird-of-paradise highlights all around West Papua and it’s always difficult to pick a favorite. Our West Papua birding tours have been thoughtfully designed to get the most out of the region (in terms of bird-of-paradise viewing and high-quality endemic bird sightings) and they usually fill up quickly, so if you are interested in witnessing the incredible sight of birds-of-paradise up close and personal we recommend early booking to avoid disappointment.
The map above shows our birding tour route around West Papua.
If you want more of a birds-of-paradise fix, you could also read our blog here, about the Papua New Guinea side of New Guinea island, as found on our Papua New Guinea birding tour – Birding Attenborough’s Paradise. The blog (and the tour) features the mouth-watering likes of Blue Bird-of-paradise, King of Saxony Bird-of-paradise, Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia, Queen Carola’s Parotia, and Raggiana Bird-of-paradise.
There are of course a few birds-of-paradise that occur away from New Guinea, and we look for (Wallace’s) Standardwing on our Halmahera birding tour, and find Victoria’s Riflebird and Paradise Riflebird on our Eastern Australian birding tours.
Victoria’s Riflebird is endemic to Far North Queensland.
*Note in late 2022 the Indonesian province of West Papua was split in two provinces. The two “new” provinces are West Papua (Papua Barat) with the capital of Manokwari and Southwest Papua (Papua Barat Daya) which is confusingly named because it is actually to the northwest of West Papua, with Sorong as its capital. Our West Papuan birding tour starts in Manokwari, West Papua and ends in Sorong, Southwest Papua.