Thomas MacGillavry, MSci

PhD Student

Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

I attended the University of Glasgow (Scotland) starting in 2016 and graduated with an integrated masters degree in Zoology in 2021, for which I spent a placement year at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology in Munich (Germany).

I have been fascinated by courtship and sexual selection for many years, specifically in polygynous birds, where the evolution of female mating preferences and choosiness is – in my opinion – one of the most fascinating and perplexing puzzles in biology. My current research therefore focuses on the evolution of courtship displays and mate-choice in the birds-of-paradise (family Paradisaeidae), once referred to by Alfred Russel Wallace as “the most beautiful and most wonderful of living things” due to their astounding sexual ornaments.

The birds-of-paradise have been adored by naturalists and scientists for centuries for their elaborate sexual ornaments and courtship ‘dances’. In spite of this, rigorous studies of the courtship behaviour in birds-of-paradise are lacking, as the vast majority of species (39 out of the currently described 43) are found exclusively on the remote island of New Guinea and neighbouring islands – places riddled with “blood-sucking leeches, headhunters, and other distractions” (Andersson, 1994). My research therefore primarily concerns the Victoria’s riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae; pictured below), one of three paradisaeids found in the more accessible tropical forests in North-East Australia.

A male Victoria’s riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae) perched atop a dead tree in its courtship stance. Image credits: Tim Laman ( 


Andersson, M., 1994. Sexual selection. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, p.80.

Wallace, A. R. (1869). The Malay Archipelago: The land of the orang-utan and the bird of paradise; a narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature.  North Chelmsford, MA: Courier Corporation. p. 354.

Funded by Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Doctoral College Cognition and Communication 2