Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 14, 2013

National Geographic exhibit comes to Dennos

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY – What gives at the Dennos Museum Center?

“Dancing. Feathers, Shameless Exhibition,” says one flyer for its newest exhibition that opens Sunday and runs through Sept. 22. “Survival of the Sexiest” claims another.

False advertising? Not at all.

It’s the touring premiere of the National Geographic Society Museum’s popular “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution,” a mix of National Geographic photography and film, science exhibition, art show and high-tech interactive stations that have transformed Dennos gallery rooms into a New Guinea rainforest complete with sounds, light and bird calls.

Four semi trucks hauled in exhibit pieces, artifacts, HD screens and circuitry exhibit two weeks ago for set-up last week. Museum director Gene Jenneman said the presentation is the first of its kind in the Dennos’ 22-year history.

Descended from early crows and ravens, birds of paradise as well as their bizarre male courtship dances have evolved through sexual selection over 26 million years in the dense, mountainous forests of New Guinea, its satellite islands and remote sections of Australia and Indonesia.

Sexual selection is a type of natural selection that affects the traits that influence an individual’s ability to attain or choose a mate, rather than traits that influence an individual’s ability to survive. It is thought to be responsible for the evolution of many elaborate morphological features, such as long plumes in birds, courtship displays, and bright colors. Sexual selection was made possible by the fact that that the birds of paradise in New Guinea had abundant food and no natural predators to be attracted by their striking colors

Little was known about the rare and elusive 39 species of birds of paradise until 2004, when National Geographic photographer Tim Laman and Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes began an eight-year project to film, record and document their activities, calls and intricate dances of the brilliantly colored males to woo their mates, who chose them on the basis of color, feathers, hops, waggles and shakes they like best.

“No other birds in the world go about the business of breeding like this,” Scholes said. “Under harsher conditions, evolution simply would not have come up with these birds.”

Laman and Scholes made 18 expeditions, spent 544 days in the field searching for the birds and their “display” sights with the help of New Guinea guides and translators in 308,000 square miles of rainforest. Laman is the first photographer to photograph all 39 species, a dream he has had since his early college years.

A 13-minute film runs continuously in the Jay Dutmers Theater and shows how Laman and Scholes, accompanied by more than 20 New Guineans tracked down the birds, photographed and filmed them with concealed cameras on the ground or wrapped in jungle leaves and strapped high in trees.

Females in most species lay one egg a year and take on all parental duties of rearing the young. Exceptions are the Pardise crow and five manucode species, which are monogamous. Males and femals form a pair and both parents help rear chicks, according to a BOP 101 placard in the museum.

The original exhibit opened Nov. 1 at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. and closed in May. Traverse City is its first venue in a national tour.

An opening night reception will be held at the museum from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, with an 8 p.m. presentation by ornithologist Scholes and Kathryn Keane, vice president of exhibitions at the National Geographic Museum. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. They also can be purchased at

Museum hours: Mondays-Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sundays 1-5 p.m.

Exhibit admission: Adults (13 and older) $10 and $5 for children 5-12 and museum members.

The Dennos also will host several programs over the course of the show presented on the Northwestern Michigan College campus and in the museum by Saving Birds Thru Habitat in Omena and Wings of Wonders Ambassador Raptors, based in Empire. For details, go to or call 995-1055. To make reservations, call 995-1029.