Old World Aviaries

A brief introduction to Eclectus Parrots
Part 1: Classification

by Scott Lewis

Eclectus Parrots are perhaps the most misunderstood of any species of commonly available medium-sized parrots. Many people do not understand the types of Eclectus. Many do not understand their positive and negative traits as pets. Many buy Eclectus because of their beauty with no concern for Eclectus as companions. In this series of articles, I will try to shed some light on genus Eclectus.
Immature Red-sided Eclectus

Eclectus Parrots are all of the genus Eclectus and the species roratus. All Eclectus are native to the Moluccan Islands, the Lesser Sundra Islands, the Tanimbar Islands, the Papuan Islands, New Guinea, other islands in the region, and the coastal area of the eastern Cape York Peninsula in Australia.

So, the different Eclectus of which you may have heard are not different species, but different subspecies. What does this mean? Basically that any Eclectus can breed with any other Eclectus of the opposite sex and yield fertile offspring that are in turn capable of breeding. For example, a Solomon Island Eclectus and a Red-sided Eclectus can breed and produce fertile offspring. Because the two subspecies are virtually identical except for size, the result is a bird that is intermediate in size but is consistent in markings with both the Solomon Island and the Red-side.

(As an interesting side-note, Eclectus males and females, because of their extreme dimorphism, were first described as two separate species. Early European aviculturists couldn't figure out why pairs of these two separate species would not breed.)

So, what are the subspecies of Eclectus? In Parrots of the World, Forshaw recognizes 10 subspecies. These are:

Sweeney provides the most recent treatment of Eclectus subspecies in The Eclectus A Complete Guide. He recognizes seven subspecies. Of the list above, he says that E. r. biaki and E. r. aruensis are not distinct from E. r. polychloros and that E. r. westermani is an invalid subspecies without saying with which other subspecies westermani should be placed. (This is a no-no in taxonomy. If you invalidate a species or subspecies, you must say what valid species or subspecies the invalid one actually is or explain why the subspecies is invalid and why it should not have been described and named.)

Whether Sweeney's classification is valid is open to argument. Some, including those aviculturists who breed Biaki and Aru Eclectus, assert that these are separate subspecies. And, it should be noted that Sweeney, in my opinion, misinterprets Forshaw in reference to E. r. westermani when Sweeney states that "Forshaw himself questions the validity of this subspecies." Forshaw, in his description of westermani, states that, "This subspecies is known only from aviary specimens; if it is an aberrant form due to captivity, and I doubt this [my emphasis], then it must be of roratus, not riedeli as claimed by Myer (in Salvadori, 1891)." It seems to me that Forshaw is asserting that westermani is not an aberrant form of another subspecies. However, because westermani is known only from aviary specimens, we will probably never know the answer to its status unless a natural population is discovered.

I would not presume to be able to reliably distinguish the subspecies of the male Eclectus. To me, they are all beautiful green parrots with candy-corn beaks, a little blue on the shoulders, and red under the wings. Although males do display differences, these mainly deal with size and subtle colors. Male Vosmaer's Eclectus tend to be a bit lighter green than male Solomons or Red-sided Eclectus. But, for example, would you want to try to identify a bird based on whether it was "mainly green suffused with blue" or "mainly blue with some green suffused in"? This trait is one that Sweeney uses to subspeciate male Eclectus. Because of the similarity of male Eclectus, the subspecies are in danger of becoming muddied in aviculture. For example, a dishonest breeder can easily sell a male Red-side as a male Vosmaer to anyone who is not very knowledgeable.

Fortunately, determining the subspecies of hens is a bit easier, although not a slam dunk. The first criterion is whether the hen has a blue eye ring. If so, she is either a Macgillivray, Red-side, or Solomon Island. Unfortunately, from here the only distinction is size. Solomon Islands are the smallest, Red-sides are next, and Macgillivrays are the largest. All are described as being identical in coloration. And, although I have never seen a Macgillivray's Eclectus, I can state that Red-sides and Solomon Islands are identical except for size.

If the hen does not have a blue eye ring, she is either a Cornelia, Riedel, Grand, or Vosmaer. Now, if the hen is almost entirely red with no purple or blue, she a is Cornelia or Riedel. Cornelias have red under tail coverts while Riedels have yellow. Both are not present in U.S. aviculture.

If the hen has purple or blue, she is a Grand or Vosmaer. Grands are smaller, and their tail feathers are red with yellow tips. Vosmaers have tail feathers with wide yellow bands at the tips and lots of yellow on the under tail coverts. The blue coloration on Grands is blue; with Vosmaers it is purple. And Grands have a clear line of demarcation between the red on the neck and the blue on the breast, while with Vosmaers the red fades into the purple.


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