By Pauline Riman

He moves like a small fireball along the green and brown forest floor – a whoosh and a bounce across shrubs and moss beds, an almost fairytale like creature of the most brilliant red, orange and yellow plumage one will ever see on this side of the southern hemisphere.    

This is no mythical animal – it even has a scientific name: Sericulus ardens

Introducing one of Papua New Guinea’s hottest avian bachelors – the male Flame Bowerbird. 

Found in the interior rainforests of Papua New Guinea, particularly in the Western Province, this handsome and iconic bird is highly sought after by a growing number of visiting bird watchers. 

The male Flame Bowerbird is one of the most breathtaking and mesmerizing birds to watch in the wild.  This beautiful creature spends its entire life in the pursuit of love, and the fascinating courtship dances it is gradually becoming known for owes a lot to its place of origin on the island of New Guinea – thanks to geography, evolution and natural selection. 

Several nature films exist online that offer wonderful insights into the romantic pursuits of the Flame Bowerbird.  One can never seem to tire of watching this charming bird – whether in the wild or on screen.  

As observers and novices of nature, one cannot help but be inspired by the life of all organisms living on this planet. 

What can the Flame Bowerbird teach us about its own life, as well as our own life in general? 

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Be Proud of Your Colors

Adult Flame Bowerbirds can grow up to 25 cm long and 18 cm wide.  The males are the most colorful – having flame orange feathers running from head to chest then bright yellow with their tales tipped black.  The females are not as visually striking as their male counterparts – possessing a tawny green color with a golden yellow tummy.  The enchanting colors of the male Flame Bowerbird are the greatest assets of his showmanship.  However, being the brightest thing in the forest can also attract unwanted attention – especially from predators like eagles, hawks and large lizards.  Regardless of this, determined, and undeterred, the Flame Bowerbird never falters from his chosen path in life, he carries on as the star of his bright, bold and beautiful life.      

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Keep Your Home Beautiful and Tidy

The male Flame Bowerbird is an impeccable host.  As a member of the bowerbird family, he is a skilled builder, and known for his bowers that are built solely for wooing his visiting mistresses.  His bower is a small yet unique throne-like structure built out of dry twigs with a protruding wall.  During the male Flame Bowerbirds courtship dance, the female will be seen perched in the bower looking at the performance before her.  He showers her with gifts, which are often brightly colored objects such as berries, leaves, shells, pebbles and more.  These presents are positioned around the bower or placed at his guests’ feet when they arrive. The Flame Bowerbird’s bachelor pad is always kept neat, and the owner can be seen relentlessly clearing fallen leaves and other debris from his stage, as well as adjusting his bower so it is structurally sound for his guests to sit comfortably in.      

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Dance Without Fear

Dancing is what the Flame Bowerbird does best, and he does this with such intensity that he is quite spellbinding to watch.  At first his eyes dilate and contract in odd sequence – like the aperture of a camera lens that also makes one feel like you’re looking at a spiral ‘hypno-wheel’.  His performance transitions to him crouching, then slowly rising as he deliberately waves one side of his gorgeous flame-colored wings.    His courtship dance can take up to 40-minutes – quite a feat for keeping one’s audience enthralled, but it has been a dance his species has taken eons to perfect.  

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Persevere

Female Flame Bowerbirds are incredibly selective and are not easily impressed by their suitors. Males have to work extremely hard to prove worthy of their female’s time and attention. Perseverance is key to their day-to-day existence, and nothing except their species jealous rivalries can hinder their amorous pursuits. Their temperamental behavior often leads to male envy, which involve deliberately interrupting each other’s courtship displays or destroying bowers of their rivals. In their average 20-to-30-year lifespan, Flame Bowerbirds face many threats to their survival such as predators and human impacts on their environment – habitat loss and degradation, and hunting. Although the Flame Bowerbird is listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, their population has been dwindling since their discovery.

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Since appearing on world-renown documentaries like the BBC, National Geographic and the widely acclaimed ‘Dancing with the Birds’ 2019 film on Netflix, the Flame Bowerbird has captivated the world over with its sunset colors and enchanting dances. This extraordinary Papua New Guinean bird deserves to be studied and protected for future generations to admire and appreciate.  

 

See the Flame Bowerbird in the wilds of Papua New Guinea with one of our country’s top bird watching tour operators, Kiunga Nature Tours, click.  

In the Highlands Region of Papua New Guinea, sitting at an elevation of approximately 5,500 feet above sea level, lies the capital of the Western Highlands Province – Mount Hagen.

The cool weather and welcoming natural environment, offers a welcoming and laid-back atmosphere for all visitors to this small township.

Known as the food basket of Papua New Guinea, Mount Hagen is known for its superior fresh food produce – from pineapples, watermelon, strawberries, peanuts, sweet potatoes and more.  These fruit and vegetable delights can be found at the busy Hagen Market in the heart of town.

In fact, gardening is a trait inherent to many Western Highlanders – a United Nation’s Heritage Site is found in the province, known as the Kuk Early Agricultural Site.  Gardening tools were found at Kuk dating back more than 10,000 years, positioning Papua New Guinea as home to some of the world’s first gardeners.

Visitors will find locals very curious but altogether friendly and welcoming.  The lifestyle in Mount Hagen is uncomplicated and laid-back.

There are several eateries that offer a fusion of modern and traditional cuisine. Plus, no meal can be experienced in Mount Hagen without sampling the delicious Hagen ‘kaukau’ or sweet potato.

Beyond the limits of Mount Hagen town, and onwards into the greater Western Highlands territory is where the real unfettered adventure begins.  Bird watching, hiking, and cultural experiences are many.  For instance, nature hikes at the beautiful Rondon Ridge boutique lodge, cultural experiences at Paiya village, and bird watching at the Kumul Lodge.

Visitors come from all over the world to experience the annual Hagen Show every mid-August.  The range of cultural performances at this exciting festival are always a wonderful spectacle to watch, discover local arts and crafts, as well as participate in the ‘singsings’ (cultural dances).

Tourism in the Western Highlands is small but well established.  There are daily commercial flights into Mount Hagen from Port Moresby via the national airlines Air Niugini and PNG Air.  There are also several well-known accommodation providers and tour operators operating in Mount Hagen, including Trans Niuigni Tours, Paiya Tours, Rondon Ridge Lodge, Highlander Hotel, McRoyal Hotel, Kiminiga Hotel and more. 

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A Quick Guide to Mount Hagen

CLIMB UP MOUNT GILUWE

Take a guided trek up to the ancient volcanic summit of Mt. Giluwe. Experience the extraordinary scenery of one of the world’s famous ‘volcanic seven summits’ found right here in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

Sample some fresh garden produce from Mount Hagen’s famous market. From fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and organic spices. Fresh local produce is sold daily.

Join the many tribes showcasing different colorful traditional dressings on display at the annual Hagen Show.  Become a part of the celebration – don the tribal face paints and dance along with the performers.  A great chance to see all cultures from Papua New Guinea in one location.

Explore the history of this archaeological site and its contribution to agriculture in the Western Highlands and the rest of Papua New Guinea.

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WHERE TO SLEEP

Here are some recommended places to stay in Mount Hagen:

  • Rondon Ridge – high-end eco-friendly boutique lodge with well-designed cozy rooms overlooking the town. Owned by Trans Niugini Tours.  Visit: pngtours.com
  • The Highlander Hotel – comfortable and well-provisioned rooms with affordable daily buffets at the on-site restaurant. Visit: https://coralseahotels.com.pg/highlander-hotel/
  • McRoyal Hotel – a stone’s-throw from the airport, this is a popular hotel for many visitors. Known for its spacious rooms and well-stocked bar and restaurant.  Visit: https://www.mcroyalhotelpng.com/
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WHERE TO EAT

Mount Hagen is a haven for food lovers, and there are many great places to sample the local cuisine – from informal roadside food markets to hotel restaurants.  Highly recommended is the popular café: Kofi Kai – a great place to sample some of the best tasting coffee and fruit juices in PNG.    

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WHERE TO HAVE A DRINK

Unwind with a cold beer while gazing at the spectacular emerald mountains of the Highlands.  Mount Hagen’s hotel bars offer both a quiet respite or opportunity for interesting conversations.  The best place for a drink – whether you prefer a beer or a cocktail is at the Highlander Hotel.  You can mingle at the Sports Bar, enjoy your beer with a hearty meal at the restaurant, or relax by the pool side. 

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