Eclectus Parrots - Introduction

A Papuan Red-sided Eclectus male (Eclectus roratus polychloros), which is the most frequently occurring Eclectus Parrot both in the wild and in human care. In Europe it is most often called the New Guinea Eclectus Parrot. No other type of Eclectus Parrot has such an enormous distribution area as this Eclectus Parrot, which is actually "only" a subspecies. Much suggests, however, that it is this subspecies from which all the other types of Eclectus Parrots in the Eclectus genus have developed. The photo shows one of my own birds, "Paw", a very large and beautiful young bird of Swedish origin.


I usually say that the parrot genus Eclectus, in English the Eclectus Parrots, is Oceania's answer to South America's Amazon Parrots (genus Amazona) and Africa's Grey Parrots (genus Psittacus), all of which can be considered "real" parrots. The Eclectus Parrots inhabit large parts of Oceania, which is the continent that consists of a number of island countries in the Pacific Ocean (including Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia), the large archipelagos of New Zealand and New Guinea, as well as Australia, where the northern part of this continent constitutes the Eclectus Parrot's southernmost habitat.

The fascination

As a boy I became incredibly fascinated by Eclectus Parrots, which in many respects surpass both Amazon Parrots and African Grey Parrots. No species (subspecies) from these two genera can match the impressive colour display of the Eclectus Parrots’ plumage. An Eclectus Parrot in top condition can almost appear completely luminescent when the glossy plumage is viewed in sunlight, where it changes into different shades. Conversely, the Eclectus Parrot's imitation talent cannot match either the Amazon Parrots or - above all - the African Grey Parrots; however, over the past few years I have been very surprised that certain domesticated Eclectus Parrots also are able to imitate the pitch of different human voices, so that you actually can hear exactly which family member that has taught the bird to say certain words or short phrases. At the same time, it is my experience that Eclectus Parrots - like cats - "are really their own". Although the Eclectus Parrots also can become incredibly tame, it is my opinion that it is difficult to reach the "soul" of these birds in the same way as you can in relation to tame Amazon Parrots and African Grey parrots as well as pet cockatoos (belonging to the subfamily Cacatuinae). In addition, the Eclectus Parrots differ from both Amazon Parrots and African Grey Parrots by being dimorphic, i.e. by having a very visible colour difference in the plumage between the sexes, which is by far the most obvious among all parrot species. The contrast between the bright green plumage of the male and the deep red and blue (violet or lavender) plumage of the female is so striking that until the end of the 19th century they were considered two different bird species (the Eclectus Parrot male was described by Scopoli already in the early 18th century, whereas the female Eclectus Parrot was first described in 1837). Another contributing factor to the belief that these were two different species was that the beak shape and colour of the sexes are markedly different, cf. below. It is also quite unusual for a bird species that a female's colour splendor so significantly surpasses the male's. It was the ornithologist A. B. Meyer who, in 1884, finally proved that it was actually males and females of one and the same species. It can be mentioned as a curiosity that certain tribal people in the Eclectus Parrot's distribution area are still of the opinion that these are two different kinds of birds.

A number of countries around the world have issued stamps with the Eclectus Parrot as a motif. This also applies to several countries outside the Eclectus Parrot's natural range. Common to most of these stamps is that they do not indicate the specific type (subspecies) of Eclectus Parrot illustrated on the stamp. Above is an example of a stamp from one of the countries where the Eclectus Parrot is not found in the wild, namely the state of Samoa (Western Samoa until 1997), which is a country made up of islands located in the South Pacific. Samoa is almost in the middle of the route from Hawaii to New Zealand. Samoa consists of 9 islands, and approximately 75 % of the population lives on the island of Opulu.

General colour description

In short, Eclectus Parrots are large and powerful birds with a short and angular tail that is approximately half as long as the rounded wings. The nearly 35 cm long Eclectus Parrot has a densely built figure, and is - as already stated - an unusual representative of the parrot family due to the very marked colour difference between the plumage of the sexes, which falls out in favour of the female. The male is predominantly clear green, sometimes with a slightly yellowish tinge - and in a single case with a slightly blue tinge - on the head. It has blue primaries as well as red flanks (body sides) and underwing coverts. Its tail is green on the central parts of the upper side and becomes more blue towards the sides, and the tip of the tail is edged with a narrow yellow band. The underside of the tail is dark grey edged with yellow towards the tip. As a sharp contrast, the female is red with - for most types - blue, violet or lavender coloured areas on the chest and belly and around the neck.

As part of evolution, the Eclectus Parrot - probably as a result of the dense, tropical rainforest areas of Oceania - has developed a remarkably compact body that gives the bird greater mobility in its habitat. In general, the bird is also characterized by a short neck and a nicely rounded head with a large and curved, somewhat protruding beak; the female has a smooth cutting surface in the upper beak, whereas the male has a serrated cutting surface in the upper beak. The female's bill is completely black, whereas only the male's lower bill is black, while the upper bill is yellowish and orange. In both males and females, the nostril is hidden by feathers, and the females of some species have a more or less visible thin blue ring of feathers around the eyes, called an eye ring or periopthalmic ring. The iris of the female is typically pale yellow/whitish, and it is orange in the male. A special feather structure gives the Eclectus Parrots almost hair-like body feathers a smooth and shiny appearance.

In its natural habitats, the Eclectus Parrots inhabit the treetops of the lowland rainforests which is rich in food, and most notably, the female is very difficult to spot among the shadows of the trees, despite her brightly coloured appearance. From below, the female's red and blue (violet or lavender) colours appear completely dark, even almost black, when she is viewed in the shadows of the treetops against the bright sky. At the same time, the male's green plumage matches the rainforest's natural palette of different green colours in the best possible way. This colour difference is extremely practical, since the female spends a large part of the time in a dark nest, whereas the male is relegated to foraging and keeping watch outside the nest among the green vegetation of the treetops. In nature, Eclectus Parrots are thus not "revealed" by their brightly coloured, well-camouflaged plumage, but usually by their loud screams, which frequently echo in the rainforests of these parts of the world. In various contexts, it has been speculated that the colour difference in the plumage between the sexes is due to the fact that tropical bird species generally rely on visual recognition to select a mate, but it is now considered likely that Eclectus Parrots also use their vocal splendor to attract a mate.

Postage stamp from Palau with the motif of a pair of Eclectus Parrots. Palua is a state in Oceania located approximately 500 km east of the Philippines. To the south lies Indonesia and to the east Micronesia. Palau consists of 6 archipelagos with more than 300 islands in the western part of the Caroline Islands complex. Palau, which as a result of past wars only has a population of approximately 25,000 inhabitants, are not part of the Eclectus Parrot's natural range. However, Eclectus Parrots nowadays also live on these islands, since they have been introduced by humans to Palau and the archipelago's fauna.

The origin of the family name

Similar to what applies to certain other parrot genera (e.g. "Agapornis", i.e. the genus Lovebirds), the genus Eclectus Parrots' scientific Latin genus name "Eclectus" (Wagler, 1832) also comes from Greek, as the Greek word " eklectos” means “to choose from different sources”, which alludes to the marked difference in the male and female phenotype (appearance). The Latin species name "roratus" itself means "to be moistened or wet with dew", which describes the brightly coloured shade of the Eclectus Parrots' almost "hair-like" plumage, which can be seen especially on the chest and belly of the females, and which gives these birds an almost "fur-like" appearance. The term "roratus" also reflects the birds' great need for moisture, which is also part of their living conditions in the rainforest. In English, the Latin genus name has been retained, and the birds are therefore called "Eclectus Parrots", whereas in German the genus is called "Edelpapagei". The word "Edel" can be translated in English to "noble", "fine" or "of quality". In Danish - just like in German - the family has also been named "Ædelpapegøjer" from the word "Ædel", which means "of an exquisite quality", cf. precious stones and precious metals.

Palau is so proud that the Eclectus Parrot is part of the country's fauna, so they have decided to mint and issue a few new coins with this bird as a motif (on the left). These coins are part of a series of coins that, through motifs, honour several representatives of the country's exotic wildlife. In 2006, the above silver coin was issued with a face value of 5 Palauan dollars. The coin weighs 28 grams and has a diameter of 38.61 mm. The coin was simultaneously issued in an edition with a face value of 1 Palauan dollar in the copper-nickel metal alloy. Above on the right is the reverse of the silver coin with a face value of 5 Palauan dollars. Palau also has a rather special history, as it seceded from US Micronesia in 1978 after 34 years under American rule. The islands of Micronesia were used by the United States for military purposes. That is why Palau made a constitution which banned nuclear weapons in the country. The country became independent in 1981, after which the US government saw an interest in resuming military activities in Palau, but the proposed agreement was against Palau's constitution. A majority of the population would like the agreement, but a weakening of the provisions of the constitution would require a minimum of 75 % of the vote. After 8 years and as many as 9 referenda, the agreement was concluded on 1st  October 1994, but this was only because the constitution had been changed. Palau's new status is then to be a free state in association with the United States, and the agreement, which is valid for 50 years, entails major economic benefits for Palau.

Introduction to the other articles on Eclectus Parrots on

The following articles about the different types of Eclectus Parrots are accompanied by photos, which for the rarer subspecies typically come from the internet, while the other photos of the birds are mostly taken by myself. As I am also a philatelist (stamp collector), the Eclectus Parrots are also illustrated using some of the stamps that various countries' postal authorities around the world have issued with the Eclectus Parrot as a motif. As a small curiosity, it is also shown that the Eclectus Parrot has been immortalized on a country's coins.

The articles begin with a section that gives an overview of the different subspecies, then an article on species identification which is followed by a general overall article on Eclectus Parrots, as they - even though there are several different types of Eclectus Parrots - have many common features for as far as habitats, breeding biology, behaviour, etc. Then follows a series of articles about the different types (subspecies) of Eclectus Parrots, where their special characteristics are described in more detail.

As a result of the very great similarities between the behaviour of the individual types, etc., the description of the nominate species, Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus), is the most comprehensive, just as something extra has been done to describe it in human care most widespread type, the subspecies Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros). The descriptions of the other types focus primarily on the differences compared to the nominate species. However, it must also be stated that the latest knowledge about the Eclectus Parrot's behaviour in the wild is largely due to relatively recent field studies of the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi), and here it is worth noting that the biotope of this subspecies differs somewhat different from most other types of Eclectus Parrots' biotopes, as its range only includes rainforest along a coastal area to a limited extent.

In my articles I have not - as is the general rule for articles about parrots on - used the colour descriptions of the Eclectus Parrots from the late Dane, J. L. Albrecht-Møller's magnificent book, "The Parrot Book" (1966 - 1973, only published in Danish), as for this genus they do not seem precise enough for all subspecies. Surprisingly, the colour descriptions in Joseph M. Forshaw's work, "Parrots of the World", 1st edition from 1973, (ISBN 0 7018 0024 0), and the same author's book "Australian Parrots", 2nd edition from 1988, (ISBN 1 85391 019 8), are disappointingly very little precise. I have therefore primarily taken as a starting point the colour descriptions of the different types of Eclectus Parrots, which appear in the book "A Guide to ... Eclectus Parrot", the revised edition from 2004, (ISBN 0 9750817 0 5), by Rob Marshall and Ian Ward. This book is also based on a more recent taxonomy (the systematics according to which science has divided the birds into, among other things, genera, species and subspecies), even though the completely up-to-date taxonomy has not been used here either (which was published the year before, namely in 2003), since the subspecies Westerman's Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus westermani), which is not recognized by science, also is included in the book.

The Eclectus Parrot as a pet - a tamed companion - is a separate chapter which will only be covered very briefly in the articles. In this connection, it must be emphasized that tame Eclectus Parrots on a daily basis require a lot of stimuli from their owner in order to thrive in human care over time. Before acquiring an Eclectus Parrot, which you want to keep as a single pet bird, you must therefore think very carefully, so that you are not to blame for the bird eventually running the risk of becoming unhappy and starting to scream unmotivated and/or to begin plucking its feathers. The Eclectus Parrots are said to be able to live up to 30 years old, so with the purchase of a young Eclectus Parrot you can get a very special – and beloved - friend for a large part of your life.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 16.12.2011 / 01.04.2024