Eclectus

The eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus) is a parrot native to the Solomon Islands, Sumba, New Guinea and nearby islands, northeastern Australia, and the Maluku Islands (Moluccas). It is unusual in the parrot family for its extreme sexual dimorphism of the colours of the plumage; the male having a mostly bright emerald green plumage and the female a mostly bright red and purple/blue plumage. Joseph Forshaw, in his book Parrots of the World, noted that the first European ornithologists to see eclectus parrots thought they were of two distinct species. Large populations of this parrot remain, and they are sometimes considered pests for eating fruit off trees. Some populations restricted to relatively small islands are comparably rare. Their bright feathers are also used by native tribespeople in New Guinea as decorations.

Details

The eclectus parrot is unusual in the parrot family for its marked visible light sexual dimorphism in the colours of the plumage. A stocky short-tailed parrot, it measures around 35 cm (14 in) in length. The male is mostly bright green with a yellow-tinge on the head. It has blue primaries, and red flanks and underwing coverts. Its tail is edged with a narrow band of creamy yellow, and is dark grey edged with creamy yellow underneath, and the tail feathers are green centrally and more blue as they get towards the edges. The grand eclectus female is mostly bright red with a darker hue on the back and wings. The mantle and underwing coverts darken to a more purple in colour, and the wing is edged with a mauve-blue. The tail is edged with yellowish-orange above, and is more orange tipped with yellow underneath. The upper mandible of the adult male is orange at the base fading to a yellow towards the tip, and the lower mandible is black. The beak of the adult female is all black. Adults have yellow to orange irises and juveniles have dark brown to black irises. The upper mandible of both male and female juveniles are brown at the base fading to yellow towards the biting edges and the tip. The above description is for the nominate race. The abdomen and nape of the females are blue in most subspecies, purple abdomen and nape in the subspecies (roratus) and lavender abdomen and nape in the (vosmaeri) subspecies from the north and central Maluku Islands, and red abdomen and nape in the subspecies from Sumba and Tanimbar Islands (cornelia and riedeli). Females of two subspecies have a wide band of yellow on the tail tip, riedeli and vosmaeri which also have yellow undertail coverts. The female vosmaeri displays the brightest red of all the subspecies, both on the head and body.

Feeding

The diet of the eclectus in the wild consists of mainly fruits, wild figs, unripe nuts, flower and leaf buds, and some seeds. In captivity, they eat most fruits including mangos, figs, guavas, bananas, melons, stone fruits, grapes, citrus fruits, pears, apples, pomegranate, and papaya (pawpaw). The eclectus has an unusually long digestive tract, so tolerates a high-fiber diet. In captivity, the eclectus parrot does benefit from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens such as endive and dandelion, and a variety of seeds, including spray millet, and a few nuts such as shelled almonds and walnuts.

Breeding

In its natural habitat, the eclectus nests within hollows in large, emergent rainforest trees. Suitable hollows are at a premium and the hen vigorously defends her chosen nesting site from other females (perhaps even fighting to the death), remaining resident at 'her tree' for up to 11 months of the year, rarely straying from the entrance to her hollow and relying on multiple males to feed her via regurgitation. Males may travel up to 20 km to forage and up to five males will regularly provide food for each female, each competing with the others for her affections and the right to father her young. Unlike other parrot species, eclectus parrots are polygynandrous—females may mate with multiple male suitors and males may travel from nesting site to nesting site to mate with multiple females. This unique breeding strategy may explain the pronounced sexual dimorphism of the eclectus, as the female must remain conspicuous at the entry to the nest hole (to advertise her presence at her hollow to males and rival females), but well hidden when in the depths of the nest, because the red color hides her well in the darkness. The male is primarily a brilliant green color, which offers camouflage amongst the trees whilst foraging. However, the plumage of both sexes appears spectacular when viewed in the ultraviolet spectrum, an ability which predators such as hawks and owls lack. Two white 40.0 mm × 31.0 mm (1.57 in × 1.22 in) eggs are laid, which are incubated for 28–30 days. Young fledge at about 11 weeks of age. Although eclectus parrots may reach sexual maturity earlier or later, they usually reach it between 2–3 years. Eclectus hens have a strong maternal instinct, which is displayed in captivity, where they constantly seek possible nesting spaces, climbing into cupboards, drawers, and spaces beneath furniture and becoming very possessive and defensive of these locations. An unpaired hen may go on to lay infertile eggs with little encouragement in the spring. It is often possible to place abandoned eggs from other parrot species beneath a broody eclectus hen, which she will readily accept and then incubate to the point of hatching and even rearing the hatched chick to the point it is removed from the nest. Adult females with poor nest hollows often commit infanticide on the male, if they produce both a male and a female chick. Inadequate nest hollows have a habit of flooding in heavy rain, drowning the chicks or eggs inside. This reported infanticide in wild pairs may be the result of other causes, since this behavior is not observed in captive pairs where the hen selectively kills male chicks.