Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) – Group: Blue

A pair of the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi), which is by far the largest Eclectus Parrot. If you see this subspecies in reality, there is no doubt that it is the Australian Red-sided Eclectus, as it is much larger than any of the other Eclectus Parrots and because it has an almost square forehead. Note above the particularly long tails of this subspecies, which also characterize the Aru Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis), to which the female has a rather wide blue eye ring. Its aerodynamic shape is, as part of evolution, adapted to its special habitat, which allows for long flights in search of food, since its biotope consists of a relatively limited rainforest area, where it also has to search for food in open woodland with limited tree growth. Photo from the internet.


Mathews, who in 1913 determined and cataloged this subspecies, wanted to honour the renowned ornithologist, Dr. William David Kerr Macgillivray (1867 - 1933) from New South Wales, who organized several expeditions to uncover the Australian fauna. That is why the bird was given the scientific Latin name "macgillivrayi". In other sources, it is erroneously stated that it not was Mathews, but Macgillivray's employee, W. McLennon, who was to be credited with the discovery.

This subspecies is the largest of all subspecies. The male and female have the same colours as the corresponding sexes of the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), but the feathers are generally coarser and less brightly coloured than those of the other subspecies belonging to the blue-breasted group. It has prominent frontal sinuses, giving it a characteristic very broad, square-looking forehead in both the male and female. The combination of the bird's size and the almost square forehead means that there is no doubt when you are faced with this subspecies, which is thus easy to distinguish from the other types of Eclectus Parrots.

Colour description

Adult male: The male is very similar to the male Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros) except that it is much larger and has a much longer tail of approximately 14.6 cm. The bright yellow border along the tail is also wider (over 1 cm). The outer iris ring is orange.

Adult female: Not surprisingly, the female is also very similar to the female Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), except that it is much larger and also has a longer tail of approximately 14.6 cm. Its blue eye ring is also slightly wider. The outer iris ring has a pale yellowish colour.

The juvenile birds look like the adult birds, and for both sexes the upper bill is dark brownish-grey turning into a dark yellow colour towards the tip. Iris brown.

  • Average length: 40 cm, according to "A Guide to ... Eclectus Parrots", revised edition from 2004, by Rob Marshall and Ian Ward (ISBN 0 9750817 0 5).
  • Length: 40 cm, according to "Lexicon of Parrots" (CD version 3.0) from 2008, by Thomas Arndt (ISBN 3-9808245-3-5).


In the wild

This subspecies comes from northern Queensland in Australia around the Claudie River, which flows into Lloyd Bay. It was previously considered numerous within its rather limited distribution area, but over the last approximately 30 years, the population has been reduced. Its true range is the rainforest along the eastern coastlines of central Cape York Peninsula, from the Iron Range and Pascoe River south to Massey Creek and Rocky River, including its tributaries, and inland to the McIlwraith Range. It is sometimes observed outside its usual range, possibly due to seasonal climatic conditions. The same conditions can be the reason why the extent of the natural population visibly can change from year to year, so that, for example, a year, when there has been a lot of rainfall during the breeding period, there are many eggs that have been destroyed and chicks that have died in the birds' nests.

The bird is often observed in the top of dense rainforest along the coastal area, but also in other types of forest growth. It is even seen foraging in open woodland, where it looks for food in Parinarium and Pandanus trees, the fruits of which it is particularly fond of. It feeds mainly on seeds, nuts, fruit, berries and nectar that it finds in the trees.

This bird is very vocal and visible in the wild, and its raucous cry is a common sound heard in the rainforest areas. In the early hours of the morning, pairs and small groups of birds leave the trees with nests and fly to feeding areas, which may be some distance away. Larger groups may gather to forage in fruit-bearing trees. They are vigilant and, if disturbed, fly away or circle high above the area, while those that remain scream loudly. As sunset approaches, the flight back to the nest sites begins in groups of 3 - 4 individuals, typically with a male flying in front. As each group arrives at the nesting trees, they join in the chorus of shrieks and squawks that continue until after dark, until all the birds have settled down for the night.

They are adept at flying and on long flights such as to and from nesting trees, they fly high above the rainforest canopy. Its flight is quite slow and direct with full wing beats sometimes interspersed with short periods of hovering using upwinds. You can typically recognize it in flight, as it does not raise its wings above body level, which gives its flight a distinctive characteristic.

The well-known Australian ornithologist Joseph Michael Forshaw, who today is probably one of the world's top parrot experts, has himself made field studies of this bird, and he has noted that it makes use of 4 different sounds. The common contact sound is constantly given during its flight as a harsh cockatoo-like cry "krraach-kraak". When the birds are foraging, you can sometimes hear a two-part plaintive cry. A soft whistle-like sound is given when it feeds or rests in the treetops. The strange metallic bell-like sound "chee-ong ... cheeong", which many have observed, he believes may only be emitted by the female.

This subspecies also usually moves singly or in pairs, but has been seen breeding in colonies with more than 80 individuals.

There are several reports of nests that gather groups of up to 7 or 8 individuals of both sexes. There are e.g. found a nest with four males and two females, but it is assumed that this is a breeding pair with young from clutches earlier this year or the previous year. An alternative assumption that the females of two pairs use the same nest hole in turn in order to make better use of the number of nest holes, but I find it difficult to believe in light of the generally mutually aggressive behaviour of the female birds. In addition, as previously stated, Eclectus Parrots exhibit polyandrynous behaviour.

The nest is most often found in holes or cavities in a very tall tree at the edge of the forest or in a clearing in the forest. In the Iron Range area there seems to be a preference for giant deciduous trees near streams. The nests are always found at heights that are difficult to access. The lowest nest Macgillivray found in his time was 14 m above the ground, but nests have been found as high as 23 m (in southern New Guinea the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus's (Eclectus roratus polychloros) nests found at a height of approximately 20 m, but also significantly higher). The nest opening is usually 25 - 30 cm in diameter, i.e. considerably larger than the birds actually need, which may give the female better opportunities to keep watch when she is not incubating. The depth of the nest hole varies from 30 - 60 cm and up to 6 m. The usually only two oval white eggs, measuring on average 40.2 x 31.0 mm, are laid from mid-October or during the month of November. The eggs are laid on wood shavings and/or decayed wood remains, which may have the character of dust.

During the breeding period, the female is fed by the male at regular intervals. The male sits on a branch near the nest and calls the female, after which she appears in the nest opening and flies to the male to be fed. The female immediately returns to the nest after feeding, sometimes after the male has preened her plumage a bit, which is not particularly common among the Eclectus Parrots in contrast to other medium and large parrot species, in my own experience. Only the female incubates - moreover very firmly - for approximately 26 days, and she leaves the nest twice a day to be fed by the male. She is thus in charge of feeding the chicks in the nest box, which they leave after approximately 12 weeks.

Also, the huge country, Mongolia, which is located in Asia, where the Eclectus Parrots do not belong either, has issued a stamp with (not subspecies determined) Eclectus Parrots as a motif. The background to this publication, which took place in 1990, is not known, but to my knowledge it is not the country where there are the most aviculturists, so the reason for the publication is perhaps rather to be found in a general fascination with these very brightly coloured birds. Whether it is the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) cannot be said, but the birds look large and have a proportionately long tail.


BirdLife International, the official "Red List" authority for birds on behalf of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), continuously assesses the status of how threatened all kinds of birds are in the wild. However, as a starting point, BirdLife International only operates at the species level and not at the subspecies level, which means that all possible subspecies, including the nominate subspecies, which together make up the species, are grouped together under this. In its descriptions and assessments, BirdLife International makes no detailed distinctions between the nominate subspecies and the other subspecies.

In addition, it must also be stated that BirdLife International uses another taxonomy than Howard & Moore, which means that the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) is considered one of 5 subspecies of the "Red-sided Eclectus" species (Eclectus polychloros), which are treated as one by BirdLife International:

Howard & Moore's taxonomy:

The species Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus (roratus)) have 8 subspecies, among them the following (blue-breasted) subspecies:

• Aru Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus roratus aruensis)

• Biak Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus roratus biaki)

• Australian Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi)

• Papuan Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus roratus polychloros)

• Solomon Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus roratus solomonensis).

Taxonomy used by BirdLife International:

The species Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus polychloros) consists of:

• Aru Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus polychloros aruensis)

• Biak Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus polychloros biaki)

• Australian Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus polychloros macgillivrayi)

• Papuan Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus polychloros polychloros) –

   the nominate subspecies

• Solomon Red-sided Eclectus

  (Eclectus polychloros solomonensis).

Bird Life International's current threat assessment of this species – the Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus polychloros) in nature is categorized in the "Least Concern" category. This obviously covers very large individual differences between the individual subspecies, i.a. because their distribution areas are of very different sizes. The Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) has a rather limited distribution area and far from as colossally large a distribution area (in New Guinea, the world's second largest island, and surrounding islands) as the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus has, which means that everything else being equal, it is probably more threatened in wildlife.

Specifically, BirdLife International reports on field research from 2019 stating that a steep decline in individuals has been witnessed over the last 30 years throughout northern Australia, mainly caused by illegal trapping and trade of this subspecies.

Further reference is made to the article on about the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros).


Nature protection measures

BirdLife International has not listed separate conservation measures for this subspecies, which is listed on CITES, Appendix II. However, the capture and export of these birds - in common - with all other parts of the Australian fauna, has been strictly prohibited for many decades.

Within the last approximately 30 years, the number of this subspecies in nature seems to have been reduced. For many years, humans, especially in the Iron Range area of Cape York Peninsula, have disturbed the nests of this subspecies, but this is not the only reason for its decline. Numbers can also fluctuate in relation to climatic conditions, as is known from a number of other Australian parrot and parakeet species, as periods of drought have a negative effect on breeding performance. The destruction of nesting trees along the edge of the rainforest by forest and savanna fires is also a factor in the decline of this subspecies. As a result of the decline, including seasonally fluctuating numbers in a restricted habitat, the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) must today be considered quite rare, and several ornithologists are of the opinion that the authorities should enforce the measures which the legislation makes possible, for the protection of this bird.

It has already been mentioned that this subspecies, like the rest of the Australian fauna, is protected by Australian legislation, which unfortunately has not prevented bird trappers from robbing their nests over the years. In several places along the roads in its area of distribution, you can observe metal pegs in the trees all the way up to the nest hole, which are used by the bird trappers to gain access to the nest.

See also the article on about the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros).

A large and impressive female of the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) sits guarding her nest. The nest openings are often very large in relation to the size of the bird, which should be instrumental in giving the female bird the best opportunities to keep watch when she is not incubating. Photo from the internet.

In human care

This subspecies is kept as a domestic bird in Australia's Cairns district, which may explain why the bird has sometimes been seen outside its usual range, as it may be birds that have escaped captivity. Australian aviculturists have previously had limited success in breeding this subspecies in human care, but numbers are currently increasing as a result of more knowledge of its breeding behaviour gained from recent field studies comes to the attention of the aviculturists.

In the United States, only a few aviculturists keep this subspecies, which is extremely rare in other countries around the world.

Once acclimated, these birds are hardy and will thrive in a large aviary, but if placed alone in a small cage, it will most likely become sad and cranky. Hand-reared birds of this subspecies can become really tame, but be aware that it is said to be very noisy in human care.

This subspecies can only be kept in a solid and spacious aviary, partly due to the size of the beak, partly due to its nature of flying long distances. It is very important to keep its aviary clean, as it should be very susceptible to infection and disease. There must be good shelter, and the birds must be able to move into a heated indoor house in the evenings during the winter months if it is kept in the northern hemisphere.

Some pairs are said to be easy to breed and regularly raise two clutches of chicks per year. Other pairs will show no interest in breeding at all, or may breed once or twice, then never return to the nest. Some females of this subspecies can pluck feathers from themselves on the chest in order to better release heat to the eggs, but this is completely natural. Only the female incubates, and that is for 26 days. It incubates very firmly, and in human care it also only leaves the nest a few times a day to be fed by the male. The chicks leave the nest approximately 80 days after they hatch.

The nest must be placed as high as possible in the aviary, and the aviculturists who have offered the birds two or more different nest boxes from the start have achieved the greatest success with breeding, so it is important that the birds themselves have the opportunity to choose the nest box they prefer.

Colour mutations

I am not aware of any colour mutations of this subspecies.


See the section on nutrition under the article "Generally about Eclectus Parrots" and the article on the nominate subspecies, Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus).

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 16.12.2011 / 01.04.2024