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Eclectus Parrots in the Wild and Captivity – Part 2

In Part I of this article we discussed eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus) behavior in the wild and captivity. Today I would like to focus on one of the more unusual facets Eclectus Parrot natural history – how a unique reproductive strategy has fostered a degree of sexual dimorphism (difference in appearance between the sexes) unknown among other parrots.

A Study in Contrasts – Sexual Dimorphism

Male and female eclectus parrots vary so much in appearance that they were believed to be different species by the first Female EclectusEuropeans to encounter them in Indonesia. Indeed, few bird species, and no other parrots, exhibit such extreme sexual dimorphism.

Female Eclectus Parrots are stoutly built and sport gorgeous red and vermillion feathers of several shades. Splashes of blue and lavender decorate the breast, and the bill is jet black.

In sharp contrast, males are streamlined in build and a brilliant emerald green in color. Shades of red, blue and yellow are distributed along the sides and wings. The bill of a mature male is decorated in red, orange and yellow.

The feathers of both sexes appear somewhat silky, and are often described as resembling fur, and they seem almost florescent in hue.

Why do the Sexes Differ So?

Juvenile Male EclectusVarious theories have been proposed to explain the Eclectus’ surprising sexual dimorphism. One relates the phenomenon to the differing life styles of the sexes. During the breeding season, females spend the majority of their days in and near the nesting hole. In their leaf-covered, dimly lit nesting areas, located high in the forest canopy, the deep reds and blues of their feathers blend in well with the shadows falling upon the bark, limbs and leaves.

Some ornithologists (bird biologists) believe that the female’s bright red color signals males that she is in possession of a rare and valuable resource – a secure nest site. It seems that a scarcity of suitable nesting holes has led Eclectus Parrots to evolve a breeding strategy unknown among their relatives. Several males may mate with a female who has been lucky enough to secure a nest site that is safe from pythons, monitor lizards and other predators.

Males forage widely and feed the females for much of the year. Their green plumage offers excellent camouflage among sunlit leaves.

Further Reading

For more on captive husbandry, please see our book on Eclectus Parrot Care.

For information on viewing Eclectus Parrots and other tropical birds in the wild, and to hear their calls, please see this link.


Juvenile Male Eclectus and Female Eclectus images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by snowmanradio

Eclectus Parrots in the Wild and Captivity – Part 1

One day, while working in Bronx Zoo’s eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus) exhibit, a visitor asked me what sort of food additives I used to keep the bird’s colors so brilliant and silky.  Another, upon viewing a pair of eclectus preening, inquired how I had managed to get the two different species of parrots to bond.

The many similar questions that I’ve fielded over the years are typical first impressions: such brilliant colors cannot possibly be natural, and male and female eclectus must each belong to a different species.

Beautiful and Outstanding Mimics

Eclectus roratusMany consider the eclectus to be the most beautiful of all parrots.  In fact, early in their avicultural history folks rarely tried to teach eclectus to speak…surely such a gorgeous bird could not also be a talented mimic.

However, the Eclectus rivals the AfricanGray and Amazon Parrots in both the scope of its vocabulary and the clarity of its voice.  Nearly all individuals learn to speak, with some uttering their first phrases prior to fledging!  What’s more, eclectus are equally proficient at singing songs and learning bird calls, whistles and other sounds.  A pair I worked with kept me entertained with by mimicking the calls of birds in neighboring exhibits and the clanging of metal pans that occurred as I  distributed food each day.

A Study in Contrasts – Sexual Dimorphism

Male and female Eclectus Parrots vary so much in appearance that they were believed to be different species by the first Europeans to encounter them in Indonesia.  Indeed, few bird species exhibit a greater degree of sexual dimorphism (difference in appearance between the sexes).

Range and Habitat

Eight to ten Eclectus subspecies have been described.  They range from the Cape York Peninsula in northeastern Australia through New Guinea, and also occur on the Solomons and many of Indonesia’s islands.  Introduced populations are established on Palau and the Goram Islands (Indonesia).

Eclectus Parrots favor lowland rain forest, but may utilize wooded savannahs as well.

A Unique Reproductive Strategy

Dramatic sexual dimorphism is not their only “un-parrot-like” trait.  Parrots are known for close pair bonds and sexual fidelity. However, female eclectus parrots mate with several males, all of whom feed her while she is on the nest and raising chicks, and males may mate with several females.

This strategy seems driven by a shortage of safe nest hollows (monitor lizards and scrub pythons are major predators in easily-accessible nests).  Males are forced to share those females that have managed to secure nests that are inaccessible to predators.

Also, females rarely leave the nest hole during the breeding season…the unusual mating strategy may ensure a steady supply of food should the “primary male” die or prove to be a bad provider.

Eclectus Parrots as Pets

Pet Eclectus Parrots are invariably described as “intuitive”, and do indeed seem to sense their owner’s moods very accurately.  They are also extremely “laid back” and usually fairly quiet.  Although they should be provided with a large cage or outdoor aviary, these qualities do suit them well apartments or small houses.  Beauty, great speaking abilities and a quiet, friendly demeanor…what more could one ask of a parrot!?

Further Reading

For more on captive husbandry, please see our book on Eclectus Parrot Care.

A fascinating account of an eclectus parrot field study is posted here.



Eclectus roratus image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dougjj

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