Birds-of-Paradise • Audiovisual Media • New Guinea Ornithology • Evolutionary Biology
I am the founder and leader of the Birds-of-Paradise Project, which uses the tools and technology of natural history filmmaking for scientific discovery, public engagement, and forest conservation in the New Guinea region—one of the largest remaining tropical wilderness areas left on earth.
As a scientist, I have been using audiovisual media to document and study the behavior and evolution of the birds-of-paradise since my first trip to New Guinea as a graduate student in 1999. Since 2004, when I first teamed up with wildlife photographer Tim Laman, my work has gone beyond research to include a substantial education and outreach effort, which aims to share the wonders of birds-of-paradise with people all over the world through popular books and magazine articles, films, websites, museum exhibits, and more. More recently, we have added a conservation media focus to our work, which aims to use the wonders of the birds-of-paradise to bring attention to issues of New Guinea forest conservation that have global significance.
One of the key events that led me to devote my career to researching, exploring, and filming the birds-of-paradise was a BBC documentary film called Attenborough in Paradise, which I saw in 1997 while an undergraduate biology student at the University of Arizona. That film, which was the result of Sir David Attenborough’s lifelong passion for the birds-of-paradise, was the first to capture these birds’ wonder and beauty in any depth. As I watched the film that first time, I became increasingly awestruck and found myself wondering how in the world did those birds evolve to be so beautiful, diverse, and so bizarre? As the credits rolled, I made myself a two-part promise. One, I had to someday see a bird-of-paradise in the wilds of New Guinea with my own eyes, and two, I had to try to use my then-budding career in biology to shed some light on their many mysteries.
Today I am very fortunate to be able to say that I not only kept my youthful promises, but I’ve exceeded any expectations I had back then. I have seen and documented all the species of birds-of-paradise in the wild and I’ve gotten to share their wonders with people all over world. And I have even had the chance to swap stories about filming birds-of-paradise with David Attenborough on several occasions—talk about coming full circle! My work on the birds-of-paradise has been extremely rewarding and I am very thankful that I’m still able to continue it here at the Cornell Lab to this day!