Stephanie's Astrapia

Astrapia stephaniae Order: Passeriformes Family: Paradisaeidae (Birds-of-Paradise)
Astrapia stephaniae Order: Passeriformes Family: Paradisaeidae (Birds-of-Paradise)

I’ve never seen a Stephanie’s Astrapia, a bird of paradise found in Papua New Guinea. But this species has made the Guinness Book of World Records:

Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia: Darkest bird. The world’s darkest bird is the adult male of Princess Stephanie’s astrapia (Astrapia stephaniae), a species of long-tailed bird-of-paradise native to the mountain forests of central and eastern Papua New Guinea. The male’s long central tail feathers are entirely, intensely black, so black that their colouration is referred to as “super-black” or “ultra-black” because of how little light is reflected from them. This is due to the fine structure of those feathers, in which their barbules are spiked instead of smooth, and curve upwards instead of lying flat. Four other bird-of-paradise species also exhibit super black plumage, with reflectance levels only marginally higher than the Princess Stephanie’s astrapias. The directional reflectance of its super-black feathers is as low as 0.05%, and they look darkest when viewed from straight ahead. This compares to the directional reflectance values recorded from various human-made super-black materials, such as black silicon and Vantablack.

Researchers believe that the purpose of these super-black feathers is to highlight the brightly hued feathers adjacent to them, making them appear even more vibrant than they actually are when viewed head-on, thereby rendering them extremely conspicuous and attractive to potential female mates that are directly viewing the males.

In the January 2018 study, published in Nature Communications, that revealed the adult male Princess Stephanie’s astrapia to be the darkest bird, the four other species whose males sport ultra-black feathers that were also examined were: the paradise riflebird (Lophorina paradisea), the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus), the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba), and Wahnes’s six-wired bird-of-paradise (Parotia wahnesi). These exhibited directional reflectance values of up to 0.31%, which is still considerably below those recorded from normal black feathers.

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