[MUSIC PLAYING] [CHIRPING]
SPEAKER 1: They go from expected to extraordinary in the blink of an eye.
ED SCHOLES: You're awestricken. They transform themselves to something that you've never seen before.
SPEAKER 1: They swagger and serenade.
They dance and display.
They're unlike any creatures on earth, and one of the most astounding phenomena ever witnessed-- the birds of paradise.
Found here, in the nearly impenetrable mountains and valleys of the island of New Guinea, in the greatest remaining tract of rainforest in the entire Asia-Pacific region, they exist nowhere else on Earth.
ED SCHOLES: The vast, vast majority of the land around here has no road access. They're just looking up into a wall of steep slope. And you can tell that this is just ridge after ridge and valley after valley.
SPEAKER 1: Evolutionary biologist Ed Scholes and wildlife photographer Tim Laman have spent the better part of a decade trekking into this isolated wilderness in pursuit of all 39 species of these miraculous birds.
ED SCHOLES: Oh, I can see him [INAUDIBLE].
TIM LAMAN: Well, The only way to see a king bird of paradise is to climb up into the trees where they love. So I'm heading up to my platform.
SPEAKER 1: They've been photographing, analyzing, and recording their every move, every behavior, in an attempt to comprehend their secrets, and in doing so revealing extreme examples of the miracle of evolution.
ED SCHOLES: Birds of paradise represent one of these singular events of evolution that stand out that are extraordinary. They're something that is without precedent, something that evolved that's so unique and so exceptional that you're driven to say why, or how did that happen, how did that come to be?
SPEAKER 1: The birds of paradise are remarkable not only for their exceptional beauty and almost otherworldly appearance, but as veritable living textbooks on adaptation and sexual selection.
ED SCHOLES: The females are looking at this whole package and can discern something about him by minor variations. The more complex it is, the harder it is to make it look right. If one little feature is out-of-whack, you're going to be able to tell.
SPEAKER 1: What about New Guinea has led to these birds evolving here and nowhere else? What function do their outrageous plumes and ornaments play? And what exactly are they doing?
ED SCHOLES: For me, it still always goes back to the original driving question. And that's how did it happen-- how did the birds of paradise come to be?
SPEAKER 1: Witness diverse strategies of evolution at work and experience one of nature's most extraordinary hidden wonders up close--
--a world where beauty and behavior are intertwined, a spectacle not possible any other place on Earth.
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The Birds-of-Paradise Project reveals the astounding beauty of 39 of the most exquisitely specialized animals on earth. After 8 years and 18 expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and nearby islands, Cornell Lab scientist Ed Scholes and National Geographic photojournalist Tim Laman succeeded in capturing images of all 39 species in the bird-of-paradise family for the first time ever. This trailer gives a sense of their monumental undertaking and the spectacular footage that resulted. Filmed by Tim Laman, Ed Scholes, and Eric Liner. Produced and Edited by Eric Liner.