What is an Eclectus parrot?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

The Eclectus is a parrot of Australasia known for its sexual dimorphism: while males of the species are a vivid green, with splashes of red on the undersides of their wings, females are a deep scarlet, with purple chests. This differentiation is rare in parrots, known only to a few species, and due to it the first explorers to sight the birds assigned them to two separate species. They are popular pets, though with advanced dietary requirements that make them occasionally among the more difficult to keep parrot species.

Eclectus are found in four varieties associated with their regions of habitation: the nominate race, or "Grand" Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus), the smaller Solomon Island subspecies (Eclectus roratus solomonesis), the Red-Sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), and the Vosmaeri Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri), largest of the four. The species as a whole is classified Threatened in conservation status; the birds are threatened by habitat destruction and, in the case of the northern Australian variety (recognized by some as a fourth subspecies, Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi), by nest robbing for the illegal parrot trade.

Known for their even temperaments and vocal abilities, Eclectus are among the more verbally versatile of parrot species commonly kept in captivity. The males in particular are remarkably aerodynamic, and when allowed full flight are extraordinarily acrobatic in the air. Females generally are more aggressive than males, and are given to hormonal variances in behavior, though individual temperaments vary.

In the wild, particularly in Papua New Guinea, the birds are perceived as a pest species due to their devastating effects on crops and gardens. Eclectus love fruit of all kinds, but are particularly damaging to corn crops as well.

When kept in captivity, Eclectus must be provided with a variety of fresh foods. Like many parrot species, they require foods high in vitamin A such as sweet potato and mango. They must also be provided with protein-rich foods such as nuts and the occasional quarter of a hard-boiled egg, in addition to calcium-rich foods, especially leafy greens such as kale and romaine lettuce. Although some individuals can be kept on standard pelleted diets, Eclectus, due to their unusually long digestive tract (three times as long as the digestive tract of other parrots), are especially sensitive to artificially vitamin fortified foods. When fed regularly on foods that contain additives, Eclectus can develop a medical condition called hypervitaminosis, a neurological condition that can cause muscular tics that manifest in compulsive movement of the toes ("toe tapping") and twitches of the wings ("wing flipping").

In addition to their digestive differences, Eclectus also possess a feather structure different from most other parrots. Most parrots, and most birds, have feathers with a semi-rigid structure. The parts of the feather extending from the white feather shaft, called barbs, on most parrots contain interlocking structures called barbules that cause the feathers to "zip" together into a stronger shape. Eclectus feathers lack barbules, giving them a softer structure and giving the birds as a whole a softer appearance. Eclectus also do not produce "feather dust", a byproduct of the feather development process found in most parrots, but most notably in cockatiels and African Greys.

Eclectus are revered by many as one of the most beautiful and graceful of parrot species. Their dietary needs make them challenging pets, and they are capable of a strikingly unique ear-piercing scream when agitated, but when properly cared for they make wonderful pets. Their grace in flight and their brilliant colors make them among the most remarkable of Australasian parrots.

submitted by Erin Hoffman