First European History of the Bird of Paradise

Magellan's Circumnavigation and Pigafetta

Habitat, Appearance and Courtship Dances of the Bird of Paradise

First European History of the Bird of Paradise in Magellan's Circumnavigation

History of the Bird of Paradise up to the Present Day

Continued from...Habitat, Appearance and Courtship Dances of the Bird of Paradise

The term Bird of Paradise has been used in many European languages since the return (6 Sept. 1522) of the first ever expedition for circumnavigating the globe by Magellan.  In December 1521 the voyagers, then at Tidore, one of the Moluccas, were offered by the ruler of Batchian, as a gift to the King of Spain, two very beautiful dead birds, as we are told by Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the voyage (Primo Viaggio intorno al Globo, ed. Amoretti Milano: 1800, page 156), who is generally believed to have been the first to introduce these birds to the notice of Europeans.

Pigafetta's account of the Bird of Paradise

Pigafetta's account contains some details worthy of attention. It describes the birds as being as big as Thrushes, with a small head, a long bill, and slender legs like pens used for writing, about as long as a palm. They had no wings (which were doubtless cut off) but in their place long feathers of different colours like great plumes (pennacchi), the tail like a Thrush's, and all the rest of the feathers, the wings excepted, of a dull colour. Much of this description fits the only species of Bird of Paradise that inhabits Batchian, from where the ruler of the island gave the birds.  However, that species remained unknown to naturalists until Alfred Russell Wallace procured examples in October 1858 (Malay Archipelago, ii pages 40-41), and it was subsequently described as Semioptera wallacii.  This latin name still remains today (at the date of creating this page in April 2006) for the particular species, known also by the English name of Wallace’s Standardwing.

Maximilianus Transylvanus

Although Pigafetta's account as discussed above was thought to have been the first record introducing the Bird of Paradise to general European knowlege, it is now certain that he was anticipated by Maximilianus Transylvanus, a young man who was residing in the Spanish court.  On the arrival of the survivors of Magellan's company, Maximilianus Transylvanus promptly wrote to his father, the Archbishop of Salzburg, an account of their discoveries and spoils, and moreover, sent to him one of the wonderful birds they had obtained. This account, De Moluccis insulis [etc] was published at Cologne in the January following (a facsimile reprint, together with a translation of it, is given by the late Mr.Henry Stevens of Vermont in his Johann Schoner [etc], edited by Mr. C. H. Coote (London: 1888)), and the native name of the birds, of which it seems that five examples were brought home, is given as Mamuco-Diata, a variant of Manucodiata, meaning the Bird of the Gods, a name which seemed to have remained in use up to the 19th Century (cf. Crawford, Malay and English Dictionary, page 97).
Previous...Habitat, Appearance and Courtship Dances of the Bird of Paradise Next... History of the Bird of Paradise up to the Present Day


Home to the Wonder of Birds

This page ©