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The Lost Birds of Paradise – Errol Fuller

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Old Friday 2nd December 2005, 10:49   #1
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The Lost Birds of Paradise – Errol Fuller

A couple of years or so ago, I treated myself to Errol Fuller’s “Extinct Birds”, and more recently, Flannery and Schouten’s “A Gap in Nature”.

Both brilliant books, in my opinion.

I happened to stumble across “The Lost Birds of Paradise” which is very much of the same vein as the two books above, on a trip to Padstow the day before yesterday, and got hold of it for £3!!!

I went into the same bookstore – The Strand Bookshop – yesterday, and they had replaced my copy with another, although stickered up at £6.

These “lost” Birds of Paradise are so-called because they have been “discovered” as a consequence of the Victorian plume trade (with one exception) and whose existence is limited to very few museum specimens, sometimes just one.

Little else is definitely known of these birds, not even whether they constitute bona fide species, or are naturally occurring hybrids.

Whilst the plume trade, and for that matter the ornithological collection of type specimens by killing the creature are somewhat questionable in this day and age, and in the former case, perhaps even responsible for the demise of Bird of Paradise species before they were known by western science, the subject matter is nonetheless interesting, and if you liked Fuller’s abovementioned book, this will not disappoint you.

If you’re interested, and in the area, get down to the shop… even at six quid, it’s a bargain (at least £16.50 on Amazon)… and look in the “sale alcove” towards the rear of the shop, right hand shelves, on the second shelf down (if I remember) just to your left when facing the shelves.
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Old Friday 2nd December 2005, 21:57   #2
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Hey Mr Birdman,

I agree. "The lost Birds of Paradise" is a great read. I have it too. And I bought it at the full price right after publication ! But the truth must be told, the book is a prime example of ornithological mystification. It has been pointed out a long time ago, I think by Stresemann, that most, if not all of these birds are simply hybrids. The latest monograph on the family written by the world authority Cliff Frith confirms this.
Same thing happened during the plume trade with hummingbirds. Lots of specimens were imported that initially were thought of as species but in the last century they were all "found out". Fuller could easily write a book called "The lost Hummingbirds".
The thing is Fuller sort of acknowledges the fact that they are hybrids, one more than the other, but he desperately wants to believe that the family of Birds of Paradise is in fact a lot larger than is currently accepted. Which in itself is a beautiful thing to wish for. However I would rather rely on searches in the unexplored mountain ranges of New Guinea than looking for new species among hybrids. The former method already has produced one new taxon in the family: an undescribed Paradigalla in the Southern Vogelkop-mountains discovered about ten years ago.

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Old Saturday 3rd December 2005, 19:09   #3
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Hi Hidde,

I'm by no means an expert on the subject, but I do agree that although Errol Fuller fully acknowledges Streseman et al., there does seem to be an underlying desire for more paradise species/families to exist.

I suppose it is possible, and maybe the geography of PNG provides both the appropriate habitat and (sometimes) the difficulty of discovery.

Mind you, he does say (from memory) that one proven species of paradise bird was discovered in 1938, and is the latest genuine species to be described.

I don't know if plume-wearing is a practice that all the indigenous peoples of PNG practice (or have practiced) but if so, then that might be the way to discover any as yet unknown to "The West". If anyone should know where they are, it's the islanders themselves!

I don't even know if there are still serious efforts being mad in this field.

In any case though, and whether one shares Fuller's wish or otherwise... still an interesting read.
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Old Monday 5th December 2005, 17:33   #4
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At current age of DNA tests, hybrids or freak individuals of birds can be easily recognised.

I agree that there may be undiscovered BoP and hummingbirds - both New Guinea and South America have remote places and recently discovered restricted-range birds, rather big mammals etc. unknown to science.
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