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The standardwing inhabits, and is endemic to North Maluku in eastern Indonesia and is the westernmost species of the true birds of paradise. It can be found on the islands of Halmahera, Bacan, and Morotai. Its diet consists mainly of insects, arthropods and fruits.
The males are polygamous. They gather and perform a spectacular aerial display, "parachuting" with wings and its vivid green breast shield spread, and the wing "standards" fluttering above its back.
The standardwing was filmed for the first time in 1986 for the BBC nature documentary Birds for all Seasons, when a cameraman stationed in the canopy captured footage of a male bird displaying. Ten years later, David Attenborough observed a mass display of dozens of males for the BBC Natural World film "Attenborough in Paradise," leading him to speculate that the reason for their extravagant behaviour is to establish the hierarchy for breeding rights, rather than to directly impress the females.
The first introduction of a bird-of-paradise to Europe was a result of Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the Earth. When the voyagers were at Tidore in December 1521, they were offered a gift of beautiful dead birds by the ruler of Bacan to give to the King of Spain. Based on the circumstances and description of the birds in Antonio Pigafetta's account of the voyage, they were likely standardwings. An alternate account by Maximilianus Transylvanus introduced the term Manucodiata (a corruption of the Malay manute-dewata; Bird of the Gods), used for birds-of-paradise up to the 19th century.
George Robert Gray of the British Museum named this species in honor of Alfred Russel Wallace, British naturalist and author of The Malay Archipelago, who discovered the bird in 1858. Following its original discovery, the standardwing wasn't seen again for nearly 60 years, and then only a handful of times until 1953. No further sightings were reported until the British ornithologist David Bishop rediscovered the species in 1983 and began making the first detailed observations of its behaviour.
The standardwing is medium-sized, approximately 28 cm long, olive-brown. The male has a gloss violet-and-lilac colored crown and emerald green breast-shield. Its most striking features are two pairs of long white plumes coming out from the bend of the wing that can be raised or lowered at the bird’s will. The unadorned olive-brown female is smaller but has a longer tail than the male.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Semioptera wallacii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Produced by Jeffery Boswall and narrated by Magnus Magnusson (1986-09-28). "Everlasting Heat". Birds for all Seasons. BBC. BBC Two.
- Written and presented by David Attenborough (1996-04-08). "Attenborough in Paradise". Natural World. BBC. BBC Two.