Archive Discoveries: Thomas Gilliard and Bowerbirds of New Guinea

Above photo: On a platform 30 feet up in the forest canopy, Dr. E. Thomas Gilliard (back) and filmmaker Armand Denis try to film a bird displaying its plumage 150 feet away, across a gorge.


“In 1964, Gilliard led an eight-month, Geographic-sponsored expedition to remote mountain ranges in New Guinea. As the rain beat down, he collected specimens, made new discoveries and filmed various bowerbirds as they built and decorated their bowers, carpentering here, tidying there, trimming hedges, smoothing lawns, shaping gardens, placing ornaments and singing as they worked. But he never found the one bird he was seeking” — the elusive golden-crested gardener bowerbird (From the NG Library + Archives Timeline)

The featured clip shows one of the bowerbirds that Gilliard observed, in its traditional courtship ritual to attract its mate.  However, this particular bowerbird, you will notice halfway through the clip, finds a unique brightly colored object to enhance his interior decoration.

(Editor’s Note: Motion has been sped up for effect.)

Some other bowerbird species’ photos:

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Recommended reading by Thomas Gilliard:

  • “New Guinea’s Paradise of Birds” (National Geographic Magazine Nov 1951)
  • “New Guinea’s Rare Birds and Stone Age Men” (NGM April 1953)
  • “To the Land of Headhunters” (NGM Oct 1955).


Meet the Author
Karen Buckley Cerka is Director of the Film and Audiovisual Archive and has worked with the Archive since 2008. The Film and Audiovisual Archive dates back to 1901 and houses 770,000 hours of viewing material. Highlights include Louis Leakey and William Beebe, Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.