BBC Earth

Attenborough's Birds of Paradise


Attenborough's Birds of ParadiseAttenborough's Birds of Paradise

David Attenborough has been fascinated by birds of paradise since he was a child. They inspired him to embark, aged 31, on an epic adventure to the remote island of New Guinea in the hope of filming their bizarre displays for the first time.

He’s not alone in his obsession with these living jewels of the rainforest. From Papua New Guinea tribesmen to European royalty, artists, scientists and collectors, the fascination with these birds has spanned 500 years.

In this film, David Attenborough traces the origins of mankind’s obsession with birds of paradise; to capture, possess, paint and film them. He himself has spent a lifetime filming their displays, (many for the first time) and researching these birds both in their remote forest homes and in the museums and collections of Europe.

He reveals the passion that these birds have brought about in so many human hearts, from collectors and painters to wildlife cameramen. He uncovers the true science behind their extraordinary lives, revealing that, far from being icons of religious virtuosity, the evolution of their beauty has in fact been driven by sex. He also views the latest images of previously unseen displays captured by a new generation of bird of paradise enthusiasts.

And in a final modern twist to this story of obsession and royalty, David Attenborough travels to the desert of Qatar, to a state-of-the-art facility which houses the largest breeding group of these birds in the world; a Qatari sheikh’s very own private collection. There he comes face to face with a display he first witnessed in the forests of New Guinea over 50 years ago.