The Spectacular Great Argus

In "Into the Heart of Borneo," Redmond O'Hanlon describes hearing a loud call in the Borneo rainforest and being convinced that it was made by gibbons. I too have heard this call, in the forests of Batang Ai, Sarawak, and it sounds like this.

Last weekend, hiking through the forest of Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra we heard the call several times again, our guide saying that it was coming from a couple of kilometres away.

After a long hike involving some very steep descents and ascents we heard the call again, but closer. Then, walking on, a large elongate form in a dense thicket became visible. As I walked around, I found a small gap in the leaves and took the following photograph of the brilliant blue head of the originator of the call, a male Great Argus pheasant.

We watched for a while and then backed off as he moved out into a more open area where we could appreciate the spectacular form and design of the bird - and it's astonishing size.

Argusianus argus is the name given to the the Great Argus by Carl Linnaeus in reference to the appearance of numerous eyes in the pattern on the wings, reminiscent of Argus Panoptes, the hundred-eyed giant in Greek mythology.

Males like this reach 2 m in length. They perform an elaborate mating dance when presented with a female, much as we witnessed recently for the Malaysian Peacock-pheasant at Taman Negara back on peninsular Malaysia.

It's really quite a joy to encounter in person the exuberant pheasants of this region.


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