A female Eclectus parrot Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi. Photo: EHP
Common name: Eclectus parrot
Scientific name: Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi (Gk. eklektikos = select, pick out, L. rorare = bedewed, macgillivrayi = after the ornithologist who discovered the species in Queensland)
Family: Psittacidae (parrots)
Conservation status: This subspecies is listed as vulnerable in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and is ranked as a low priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection Back on Track species prioritisation framework.
Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi is the largest of twelve subspecies of eclectus parrot, with males measuring 420-480 mm and females 400-450 mm. The parrot weighs approximately 615 g. Females have a wing span of 890 mm and males have a slightly longer wing span at 900mm.
Plumage between the sexes is markedly different, even in juveniles. Males are predominantly emerald green, with scarlet red on the sides of the abdomen extending across the underwing, and dusky feathers on the remainder of the underwing. The upper wing is emerald green with blue outer feathers. The tail is emerald green on the upper side, fading to light blue with a white tip, and on the underside the tail is grey-black with a yellow tip. The lower beak is black, and the upper beak is orange fading to yellow at the tip. The eye is orange-red in colour with a grey eye-ring. Females have a scarlet-red head and neck, with a darker red tail and back. The upper side of the wings are dark red on the inside half and blue on the outer half. Under the wing is dusky with a vivid purple-blue band that continues under the body and around the back of the neck. A purple-blue ring surrounds the yellow eye, and the upper and lower beak is black. Both sexes have a short, square tail.
Habitat and distribution
Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi is only found on mainland Australia, and is confined to Queensland. This subspecies occurs in the Iron and McIlwraith Ranges of eastern Cape York Peninsula. It mainly inhabits the interior and edges of lowland rainforest, but can also be found in rainforest at higher altitudes.
The other subspecies of electus parrot that is found in Australia is E. r. polychloros. This subspecies is only known from the Torres Strait islands. All other subspecies of this parrot are located in Indonesia, New Guinea, and several Pacific islands.
Life history and behaviour
The eclectus parrots usually perch and feed high in the canopy. During the day, they can be seen singly and in pairs or small groups, but will often congregate in large numbers (up to 80) at a fruiting tree, or when roosting in the evenings. The loud screeching call of the eclectus parrot makes them conspicuous in the rainforest.
Their diet consists of fruit, nuts, seeds, flowers and nectar, obtained from the tree canopy.
The eclectus parrot's breeding season is from July to February. They can attempt to breed more than once, particularly when there is a loss of eggs or nestlings. The eclectus parrot nests in hollows of emergent rainforest trees, which are lined only with woodchips.
Females will mate with several males, and lay a clutch of two eggs. The female does all of the incubating, while one or more males feed her and the nestlings. Several fully-grown offspring from earlier breeding seasons are also believed to help care for the nestlings. This co-operative breeding behaviour is not uncommon in other Australian bird species (e.g. laughing kookaburra, apostlebird, white-winged chough, babblers), but is unusual for parrots.
The lowland rainforest in eastern Cape York Peninsula is more like the lowland rainforest in Papua New Guinea than other rainforest in Australia. The uniqueness and limited area of this habitat type means that habitat degradation and loss is the main threat to the eclectus parrot.
The population size of the eclectus parrot is limited by low numbers of suitable rainforest hollows (less than 1 hollow per km2 of rainforest). This means that any loss of large hollow-bearing trees (e.g. from timber-harvesting) is likely to threaten the eclectus parrot.
The parrot's bright colours and conspicuous nature have also made it a target for illegal trapping and nest-robbing.
The Action plan for Australian birds 2010 has identified the need for ongoing monitoring of the eclectus parrot to document long-term trends in nest-tree turnover and occupancy. The main management action required is the protection and management of rainforest in the Iron and McIlwraith Ranges.
Curtis, L, Dennis, A, McDonald, KR, Kyne, PM and Debus, SJS. 2012. Queensland’s Threatened Animals. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.
Forshaw, JM 2003 Australian Parrots. Third edition. Lansdowne Press, Melbourne.
Garnett, ST, Szabo, JK and Dutson, G 2011 The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.
Higgins, PJ. 1999 Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 4. Parrots to Dollarbird. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.