Eclectus – Taxonomy (Species Overview)

A beautiful younger female of the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus that is the most common Eclectus Parrot subspecies in European aviculture.

General about the taxonomy

As a general rule exclusively uses the leading current scientific biological taxonomy, i.e. "Howard & Moore's Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World", Vol. I, from spring 2013 as well as the latest version 4.1 (August 2018), "Errata and Corrigenda to Volume I". This means that the genus Eclectus consists of a single living species – the nominate subspecies – and 8 subspecies, a total of 9 different types, cf. below. In addition, there is another species of Eclectus Parrot, the Oceanic Eclectus (Eclectus infectus), from the islands of Tonga, Vanuatu and possibly Fiji, which was discovered by science in 1989 (but only registered as a species in 2006), but which is believed to have been extinct since the 19th century. It should also be mentioned that Westerman's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus westermani), which is mentioned in other writings, is not recognized as a species nor subspecies by Howard & Moore, as there is a lack of sufficient scientific evidence that it even exists - and has existed - in the wild. I am also fully aware that after the publication of the above-mentioned taxonomy from Howard & Moore, other "bids" for a taxonomy have been published, where some of the subspecies have been elevated to species (a bit like how the taxonomy for the Eclectus genus looked several years ago). Such a taxonomy is used i.a. by BirdLife International, but it is not always that changes to the existing taxonomy can be substantiated with sufficient scientific evidence, so these changes will at present not be used in this article series on the Eclectus genus.

Based on Howard & Moore's taxonomy, the genus Eclectus Parrots (Eclectus) is to be considered a monotypic parrot genus based on the extant types, i.e. a genus consisting of only one species, but with several different subspecies, which as part of evolution have developed on the basis of different living conditions.

Over the years, the taxonomy of Eclectus Parrots has changed a lot. At a certain point, science considered the different types of Eclectus Parrots as independent species, and the genus was not called "Eclectus" but "Lorius" (which directly translated from Latin means "Lori"). If you look at previous scientific classifications, there are also a number of subspecies that are not recognized by science today, which i.a. applies to the Westerman's Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus westermani) mentioned above. This type has never been confirmed to have been seen in the wild, as it has only been determined to species from the skins of dead birds in a museum context. At the same time, there has been quite a lot of uncertainty about the appearance of this subspecies, as the male is supposed to be the only type of Eclectus Parrot without red "flanks" on the sides of the green body towards the closed wings. Conversely, Joseph M. Forshaw states in his book, "Parrots of the World", that this bird has red "flanks", but only to a lesser extent.

A map of Oceania, which is the part of the world where the Eclectus Parrots (genus Eclectus) are native, with by far the largest distribution on New Guinea and surrounding islands. It is believed that the development of all the subspecies is based on the bird’s origin from New Guinea, i.e. the subspecies Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros).

Natural range

Before giving an overview of the different types of Eclectus Parrots, the distribution area in Oceania must be clarified, as the subspecies live in different geographical locations. The distribution area includes the coastal lowlands of the rainforest of New Guinea (also known as Papua) and surrounding islands, the Solomon Islands, the D'Entrecasteaux Islands, the Bismarck, Admiralty and Louisiade archipelagos (an archipelago, also called a “group of islands”, is a "chain" or cluster of islands, corresponding to the best-known archipelago at my latitudes, the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden), the Maluku Islands (formerly known as the "Moluccan Islands" or simply "the Moluccas", which is also the area's best-known archipelago), the island of Sumba in the Lesser Sunda archipelago , the Tanimbar islands, as well as the islands of Kai and Aru in Indonesia and – as the southernmost distribution – the Cape York Peninsula in northern Australia. Within the area of distribution, Eclectus Parrots are most numerously represented in New Guinea.

Since the Maluku Islands, which lie to the west of the mighty island of New Guinea, are home to most species of Eclectus Parrots, this archipelago will also be briefly mentioned in more detail. The Maluku Islands, which have the status of a province in northeastern Indonesia, consist of more than 1,000 islands between Sulawesi, New Guinea and Timor. The largest are Halmahera, Seram, Buru, Obi, Morotai and Ambon, to which are added the archipelagos of Sulu, Bacan, Kai, Aru, Tanimbar and Banda. Many aviculturists will nod in recognition to several of these names, as many different parrot and parakeet species come from these islands. The Maluku Islands cover a total of 74,405 km2 (corresponding to less than 1 % of Europe's area) and have over a few million inhabitants, most of whom live in the main city of Ambon on the island of the same name. Throughout the ages, the islands have been under the rulers of various kingdoms until the Portuguese in the early 16th century took control of the lucrative spice trade (hence the old name "Spice Islands") only for the entire area to be conquered by the Dutch in the 17th century, who in the 19th century had to experience that the spice trade fell drastically. After the Second World War Japanese occupation of the islands, the Netherlands established a vassal state in eastern Indonesia. The Dutch have thus had very special connections to these areas and have therefore also, until recently, found it easy to bring home parrots and parakeets for aviculture in Europe. The population of the Maluku islands consists of, among other things, of Malays and Papuans, who in the main are partly Christian and partly Muslim. Since the end of the 1990’s, several areas have been marked by bloody unrest, especially in the provincial capital Ambon on Ambon, and a large part of the city's inhabitants are internally displaced. Superficially, the unrest is seen as a religious dispute between Christians and Muslims, but behind the conflict lies many years of dissatisfaction with Indonesia's population policy, where Muslims from the densely populated Sunda Islands move to the outlying areas. Access to several of the areas where most types of Eclectus Parrots live is thus - as previously mentioned - in many cases difficult due to geographical, political or religious reasons, and therefore there have only been a limited number of field observations focusing on Eclectus Parrots in this region. It can be decidedly dangerous for people from the West to travel in large parts of the Eclectus Parrots' distribution area outside the Australian continent, which is the main reason for the relatively limited knowledge that one has about Eclectus Parrots in the wild outside of Australia. In fact, it is believed that there may well be more Eclectus Parrot subspecies than those known to science today, but there is only a limited incentive for scientists and the like to do field studies in these parts of the world, as it is simply too dangerous.

The known types of Eclectus Parrots have typically been (sub)specified on the basis of the many skins collected from the wild in the early part of the 19th century. The condition of these skins has deteriorated over the years in a number of museums, but most Eclectus Parrot skins in North American museums are said to be in good condition.

An overview map of the Maluku islands, which lie west of New Guinea, which is the world's second largest island after Greenland. This archipelago is home to a number of subspecies of the Eclectus Parrots as well as to a number of other parrot and parakeet species, e.g. Cockatoos (subfamily Cacatuinae) and King Parakeets (genus Alisterus).

Naming the species and subspecies

As mentioned above always uses the taxonomy from Howard & Moore. However, when it comes to naming this taxonomy primarily deals with naming species and subspecies in Latin and besides only assigns names in English at the species level, whereas the subspecies are not assigned separate English subspecies names.

In relation to the present article series on Eclectus Parrots, the nomenclature in the published articles therefore instead is based on another source than Howard & Moore, namely the publication "2023 Deutsche und Englische Namen der Papageien, Akademie für Vogelhaltung", published in 2023 by Arndt Verlag (Berlin 2023_03-2023-06-05), which contains the most updated species and subspecies names in English (and German) based on the most recently adopted principles for separate naming of e.g. the nominate subspecies of each species.

Many aviculturists will probably not yet be aware that, for example, a subspecies such as Eclectus roratus polychloros is no longer called "Red-sided Eclectus Parrot" or "New Guinea Eclectus Parrot", but henceforth is referred to as "Papuan Red-sided Eclectus".

As you will see from the below overview of the different types of Eclectus Parrots, they are often named after their place of origin (which is typically the name of an island), subsidiarily after the appearance of the birds or one of the prominent personalities of the time.

Eclectus Parrots mainly live high up in the treetops in rainforest areas with dense vegetation. Here is an example of a rainforest biotope where Eclectus Parrots commonly live. In the photo, which is from New Britain Island (which is a rather large island located east of New Guinea), you can see one of the natural hollows that an Eclectus Parrot female uses as a nest. Photo from the internet.

Taxonomy of the genus Eclectus

According to the current scientific biological classification, i.e.  "Howard & Moore's Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World", Vol. I, from spring 2013 as well as the latest version 4.1 (August 2018), "Errata and Corrigenda to Volume I", the genus Eclectus Parrots (Eclectus) consists of one species (formally designated the nominate subspecies) and 8 subspecies that vary in size, shape and colour depending on their geographical origin:

Although the Seram Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus roratus) is to be considered the nominate subspecies, this does not mean that it was the form that first appeared in nature, only that it is the first Eclectus Parrot that has been described of mankind. There are theories that all Eclectus Parrots originally originate from New Guinea, which over time has "colonized" the surrounding islands, which in some cases has happened by traveling short distances over sea areas. From these islands, the Eclectus Parrot has expanded its range further to even more distant islands. Apart from the fact that the birds themselves have been able to search for foreign places, storm winds, cyclones and monsoons have probably "carried" the birds over great distances far away from their original homes. Who can forget the colossally powerful cyclone, Zoe, which devastated a large part of the Solomon Islands in 2002? The changed living conditions brought about by this "colonization" have resulted in the Eclectus Parrot being developed in different ways in both colour and size, which has created a number of subspecies. Having said that, it must be immediately added that within the same species - which especially applies to those forms that have a large distribution area - a not insignificant species variance can occur, which for example results in significant size differences between females of the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), but more on that later.

The large Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) lives in a remote location on the equatorial part of the peninsula, Cape York, in northern Queensland, Australia, where the rainforest area is limited. This subspecies therefore often has to search for other biotopes in order to forage, which means that it has to look for food in more open woodland, where, among other things, Eucalyptus trees are found. The photo shows how the habitat of this subspecies on Cape York can look like. Photo from the internet.

Generally speaking, Eclectus Parrots - with a few exceptions - are not endangered birds, but as a result of human destruction of the natural biotopes the following 3 types are particularly affected:

  • Cornelia's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus cornelia) from the island of Sumba (status in the wild according to BirdLife International: “Endangered”),
  • Tanimbar Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus riedeli) from the Tanimbar Islands (status in the wild according to BirdLife International: “Vulnerable”), and
  • Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) from Australia (does not currently have a separate status with BirdLife International).

The situation of these 3 types of Eclectus Parrots gives rise to concern for its survival in these locations. What characterizes exactly these three types of Eclectus Parrots is their very limited geographical distribution.

As far as Eclectus Parrots are concerned in aviculture, the most widespread types of the Eclectus Parrot in human care in Europe are:

  • Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros)
  • Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis)
  • Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri)
  • Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus) - NB. The nominate subspecies.

Furthermore, over recent years I have sometimes seen the Aru Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis) offered for sale especially in Germany and the Netherlands.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 16.12.2011 / 01.04.2024