About the Blue-naped Parrot (Tanygnathus lucionensis)
A story about determining the right subspecies
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My first encounter with the Tanygnathus genus
Already when I was a teenager back at the beginning of the 1970's, you could occasionally see some very special parrot species at one of the large bird traders in Copenhagen (Denmark), who were known for continuously importing many parrots from the various parrot continents. They were smaller medium to medium sized green parrots with a beautiful mosaic pattern on their wings, which is caused by the different colored wing coverts are being broadly marked with orange-yellow edges (in most of the subspecies) and with an impressive, disproportionately large red beak compared to the rest of the bird. These birds later turned out to be Tanygnathus lucionensis and Tanygnathus megalorynchos, and I remember that on the few occasions I saw them, it was usually just a single bird in the cage tucked away over in a corner of the shop premises, possibly because they were mistakenly included in a shipment from Asia along with a number of other far more popular parrot species.
At this time, nobody really knew anything about these birds, and at the same time they did not seem to have much interest among aviculturists. This has since changed quite a bit because nowadays many aviculturists are fascinated by these parrots.
But what is it that makes parrots from the Tanygnathus genus so fascinating?
Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis: The scientific Latin species name "lucionensis" means coming from Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. This is the nominate subspecies coming from the islands of Luzon and Mindore in the northern parts of the Philippines. The beautiful photo clearly shows the upper side of the nominate subspecies which is characterized by it is having a blue/bluish mantle, back, lower back and upper rump. Photo: Forest Botial-Jarvis-Bataan, Philippines-Macaulay Library ML560592651.
Brief introduction to the whole Tanygnathus genus
Before we delve into the substance and take a closer look at the main focus of this article, namely the determination of the Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies, here is an overall and very short introduction to the entire Tanygnathus genus:
The Tanygnathus genus represents a group of parrots with predominantly green plumage that are smaller medium to medium sized birds with large - in several instances - very large, heavy mainly red beak (hence the Latin scientific designation, “Tanygnathus”, that means extended, long and beak/jaw, is well-deserved) and a proportionately short, wedge-shaped rounded tail, which is somewhat stepped and is shorter than their wings, giving them - according to the world-renowned Australian ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw - a “top-heavy” look. There is no prominent notch in the upper mandible and the cere is naked. Sexual dimorphism is slight or absent, and young birds generally appear duller than adults.
The premise of this article is the world's leading, current nomenclature/taxonomy, “THE HOWARD AND MOORE COMPLETE CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD”, version 4 from 2013 and newest version 4.1 from August 2018, ”Errata and Corrigenda to Volume 1”, (used by the world's leading scientists, researchers, ornithologists, curators, etc.) mentions the following species and subspecies belonging to the Tanygnathus genus:
Status in the wild according to BirdLife International: “Vulnerable”.
The members of the Tanygnatus genus are closely related to the Eclectus Parrots (the Eclectus genus). However, the most Tanygnathus species are much smaller and are less heavily built than the Eclectus Parrots and thus more elegant. Just as you see with members of the Eclectus genus, Tanygnathus females are also known to be quite aggressive towards males, but in fact some Tanygnathus males can also be aggressive towards females. It can even become so violently that the female's toes can be bitten off. As with the Eclectus Parrots, there is only limited interaction between the sexes in daily life and mutual preening is not something that I yet have experienced in the Tanygnathus species that I have kept for some years.
Genetic evidence has also supported close relationship to the Psittacula genus as it looked like up until 2019. For example, there are many similarities between Tanygnathus megalorhynchus and Psittacula eupatria magnirostris (nowadays Palaeornis eupatria magnirostris, in english Andaman Alexandrine Parakeet); if one abstracts from the fact that the former has a short tail and the latter has a long tail, just try to compare the enormous and amazing beaks of both birds.
This genus is native to Southeast Asia and Melanesia. The overall distribution area is mainly the Philippines, New Guinea, the Moluccas and Sulawesi (the world's 11th largest island, also called Celebes).
In nature, their food mainly consists of fruits (e.g., mangoes), seeds, berries, nuts and insects. Sometimes their food also consists of crops e.g., corn.
What particularly fascinates me about this genus is their disproportionately large beak, which in the vast majority of cases is large and red and thus very prominent, you can't help but focus precisely on it when you look at the bird. It cannot be said that the members of the genus Tanygnathus are brightly colored, but most species/subspecies have an incredibly beautiful mosaic pattern on their wings, which is caused by the different colored wing coverts are being broadly marked with orange-yellow edges (in most of the subspecies). Although some of the birds may appear a little compact, they are very agile and move incredibly elegantly in the branches of the trees.
Kept in human care, these birds appear very shy at first, but gradually they become calmer and, in some cases, they can become completely comfortable with human contact.
None of the four different Tanygnatus species have ever been common within the aviculture, which may be surprising, as they are rather quiet and low-voiced birds that you can become familiar with over time. Having said that, Tanygnathus lucionensis is the "most frequently" occurring species among aviculturists, whereas Tanygnatus megalorynchos and Tanygnathus sumatranus are seen even less often. Very remarkably, Tanygnathus lucionensis has the reverse status in nature where it has become a fragile species with a status of being "Near Threatened". BirdLife International has estimated that there are only 1,500 - 7,000 individuals left in the wild of this species with associated subspecies. Besides, the population development is also decreasing mainly due to logging of trees in its habitats. Neither Tanygnatus megalorynchos nor Tanygnathus sumatranus is nearly threatened in the wild, fortunately they are of the least concern. It is therefore very paradoxical that Tanygnathus lucionensis is the most widespread species among aviculturists in Europe.
Tanygnathus megalorhynchos sumbensis: This photo shows a subspecies of the biggest species belonging to the Tanygnathus genus, the Great-billed Parrot (Tanygnatus megalorynchos) which also have the largest and most impressive beak of these species. Tanygnatus megalorhynchos sumbensis, comes from the island of Sumba (Lesser Sundas). Photo: Mehd Halaouate.
Lack of reliable knowledge about the Tanygnathus genus
One thing is to have a scientifically worked-out taxonomy that lists and divides the Tanygnathus genus into species and subspecies distributed by geographical distribution areas, another thing is to find reliable sources (field studies, literature, photos, etc.) that describe all the members of this genus in detail and accurately. I have many parrot books, encyclopedias, etc., but I have never managed to find a book with accompanying photos that in a credible manner in detail describe all the various Tanygnathus species with its associated subspecies. At best, this genus is all too often referred to be only peripherally described in these books. Moreover, a number of these descriptions are only superficial, and it is of no use if you have to determine the subspecies of a species that has a number of very comparable subspecies (cf. later). The different parrot books contain almost no photos where one can really compare all the subspecies and see the differences between these. Up until now I haven't been able to find a book or another source of sufficient credibility and accuracy.
With this article, I will try to contribute to creating a little more clarification in relation to some of Tanygnathus lucionensis' subspecies, and that is the focus for the rest of this article. At the same time, it must be emphasized that the present article predominantly deals with taxonomic and morphological issues in order to try to determinate the right subspecies of the Tanygnathus lucionensis that I keep, to which comes some general information about the species in the wild. However, the article does not deal with topics such as keeping, feeding and breeding of Tanygnathus lucionensis in human custody.
A little about Tanygnathus lucionensis in the wild
Very summary, this is a smaller medium sized parrot, around 31 cm in length, primarily green except for a light blue rear crown and nape, pale blue lower back and rump (cf. subspecies later), shoulders with broad orange-yellow edges on black wing coverts, and blackish underwings with green underwing coverts.
As already mentioned, this species is listed as “Near Threatened” by BirdLife International because there are some indications that it has a moderately small, fragmented population, and it may be undergoing a continuing decline due to habitat loss (logging) and trapping. However, little is still known about the population size, population structure and threats to this species.
Tanygnathus lucionensis is present throughout the Philippines, where there are records from at least 45 islands, plus the Talaud Islands, Indonesia, and islands off north-east Borneo belonging to Malaysia (e.g., Kota Kinabalu, which is a very popular photo spot for tourists interested in this species) and it is therefore not a country endemic species.
It was common on most islands in the Philippines a century or less ago, but has suffered declines since on such a scale that it is now rare or extinct on many islands. However, it does survive in small pockets of habitat on the smaller islands, so that its status overall is difficult for BirdLife International to assess. Moreover, it is still fairly numerous in some areas of Palawan and on Tawi-Tawi, and high numbers should be present in a large tract of forest on Talaud. Intensive habitat loss and trapping have made this species scarce on most islands except Mindoro and Palawan, but still a local animal protection organization has raised concerns over the increasing illegal trade of this bird on Palawan.
It also occurs in urban areas such as several national parks within the Philippines: Bataan, Quezon and Minalungaw.
As previously stated, BirdLife International's current estimate of the number of Tanygnathus lucionensis (incl. subspecies) is 1,500 - 7,000 mature individuals, while the population development is described as declining owing to habitat degradation from agricultural expansion and logging pressures to which comes illegal trapping for the cagebird trade. It is a bird of closed and open forest formations, including secondary forests, coconut and banana plantations and mangrove, chiefly in lowland and coastal areas, up to 1,000 m. It is usually found in flocks of up to 12 individuals which roost communally and make regular dawn and dusk flights between feeding and roosting areas. Breeding takes place in a hole in a tree in from April till July.
Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis: When you see photos of these birds from the nature, you most often see them sitting in the tall tree crowns where they prefer to be. Although some of the birds may appear a little compact, they are very agile and move incredibly elegantly in the branches of the trees. Photo: Stephan Lorenz-Bataan, Philippines-Macaulay Library ML563667891.
The scientifically recognized subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis
“THE HOWARD AND MOORE COMPLETE CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD” (see above) recognizes the following subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis:
Note to the above table:
I am fully aware that in the spring of 2023, Arndt-Verlag has issued a new - and final - complete version of the "Namensliste der Papageienarten und Unterarten" (Latin, German and English names). It states the existence of - in relation to Arndt-Verlag's poster with the Tanygnathus genus (“Großschnabelpapageien”) - four "other" Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies, namely nigrorum, siquijorensis, koikei und paraguenus, without these being further described. These four 4 "other" Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies are not recognized today by the leading scientific taxonomy, and the deviations that the designation of these subspecies has expressed in its time are today simply considered variance within the framework of the currently recognized subspecies. They are thus assimilated into the current range of subspecies.
So, these four "other" Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies are ignored here, as the article is based on the world's leading taxonomy, which is based on solid scientific evidence as the basis for the division into species and subspecies (for example, the subspecies, siquijorensis, was in its time solely determined from only a single holotype specimen).
All of the four "other" subspecies mentioned by Arndt-Verlag, koikei and paraguenus, as well as nigrorum and siquijorensis, were all already mentioned as subspecies in the world's first large complete parrot book, called "Papegøjebogen" (in English "The Parrot Book"), which was written by the Dane, J. L Albrecht-Møller, with the assistance of another Dane, Aage V. Nielsen. J. L. Albrecht-Møller was approximately 30 years to write "The Parrot Book", which was completely published in 1973. Unfortunately, the book is only available in Danish and consists of almost 700 densely written pages spread over 3 volumes as well as a completely extra 4th volume filled with color drawings of a large number of species and subspecies of parrots of all kinds.
In fact, it was a third Dane, an internationally highly respected scientist, Finn Salomonsen (zoologist and ornithologist), who first described the subspecies nigrorum and siquijorensi. During an expedition to the Philippines in the years 1951 - 1952, he also did some research on this genus.
As mentioned, none of the above four "other" subspecies have found grace for inclusion in Howard and Moore's taxonomy. Nor does the world's second major scientific "heavyweighter" within bird taxonomy, "The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World", 6th Edition, that was published and released by Cornell University Press in June 2007 take these four "other" subspecies into account.
Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis: As a nest these birds use a hole in a tree where they during April - July are breeding. The nest is often found in secondary forest, at forest edges and in plantations at elevations of up to 1000 m. Photo: Bradley Hacker-Bataan, Philippines-Macaulay Library ML214490541.
My first purchases of Tanygnathus lucionensis did not go as hoped
From my first encounter with this genus back in the early 1970's, it was always in the back of my mind that when the right opportunity presented itself, I would like to acquire such birds, but almost a lifetime should pass before thoughts turned into action in autumn 2018. Here I acquired my first pair of Tanygnathus lucionensis from a foreign breeder who had guaranteed me a 100 % perfect and unrelated pair. As he himself only had one breeding pair, he had procured an unrelated female bird via another aviculturist in a neighboring country. The breeder informed me that the birds were of the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, which, compared to the nominate subspecies, that has a blue/bluish mantle, back, lower back and upper rump, instead has a pure green plumage in the same places. He further stated that it was the subspecies that was found most among aviculturists in Europe. After driving many hundreds of kilometers to collect the birds, it unfortunately turned out that the breeder's own male bird - in contrary to what he had otherwise promised - was not 100 % perfect, as it was basically missing half the length of the tail, which I had not been informed about before my departure from Denmark. Since I had driven so far, and because it was a rather rare bird, I chose, after consultation with my wife, who went along on the trip, to bring both birds home to Denmark, but my disappointment with this seller, who, after all, several times had guaranteed that both birds were 100 % in order, was great. At home in Denmark, the birds were placed in an approximately 6-week long quarantine period and different clinical disease testings were conducted both via PCR and serology, and all test results were negative for ABV/PDD, APV, PBFD, and CPS, etc. Already during the quarantine period, I had observed that the male bird, which unfortunately was hand-reared, had an abnormal behavior. Besides, the fact that it had a habit of plucking its own feathers, it was obviously also mentally disturbed, which resulted in highly unusual behaviour, where it, among other things, sat in the same place around the clock without moving, and it seemed almost terrified of e.g., natural branches, to which was added the fact that it had absolutely no interaction with the female bird. I contacted the seller to return the bird, but he refused to take it back, so as the bird's condition further deteriorated, in consultation with a veterinarian specialized in bird diseases, it was decided to euthanize the bird, so my first attempt at acquiring a pair of this species ended in failure. The female was subsequently sold to another aviculturist who was missing a female bird, as I was of the opinion that it probably would be easier to buy a new pair together.
I had not given up on my dream of keeping this species, but next time the acquisition should be made from a much more serious and experienced breeder of this species. During my search for such a breeder, I sometimes came across other aviculturists who also mentioned that the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis is the kind that is most widespread among European aviculturists.
In autumn 2021 - after being registered with a new breeder for nearly 1 year in order to be allowed to buy a pair - I ended up buying a new pair. This breeder sold his birds just as being Tanygnathus lucionensis i.e., without being subspecies determined, but it was clear that even these newly acquired birds did not have the features known for the nominate subspecies in the form of a blue/bluish mantle, back, lower back and upper rump. Once again, these feather areas were completely green on the birds (as they also were on the two pairs of parent birds), so it had to be the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis. These birds came from an aviculturist who generally maintains a very high level of hygiene and besides has a bird collection that has been clinically tested for the common parrot diseases. Even so, I always also have newly purchased birds re-tested for diseases in connection with the 6-week quarantine period during which they are physically isolated. All the various tests turned out to be negative, but already a few days into the quarantine period the male still seemed to be a bit lethargic and he sneezed once in a while. So, once again he had to be examined by a veterinarian specialized in bird diseases, who took renewed samples from the bird. After laboratory analysis it turned out that the bird had a special rod bacterium that caused sinusitis, so it was put on a penicillin cure with a targeted antibiotic, but it didn't help, the bird got worse and had to remain in quarantine. Another two cures of other and more extensive penicillin preparations over several weeks (with an intermediate period of rebuilding the intestinal flora in the stomach) took place, but nothing helped, it was a chronic sinusitis, and as the bird's condition now was really bad, it also had to be euthanized without at any point having left the quarantine station for several months. The female bird, which is a big beautiful bird in top condition, had no symptoms at any time (sinusitis is not contagious), so this time I decided to keep the surviving female bird.
In 2022 I had the opportunity to buy several young birds from different breeding pairs from the same breeder, who gave me a price reduction on one of the new birds, because I had lost the male that I had bought from him the year before. All these birds came well throughout the quarantine period and besides the fact that they all seem very vital, they also have a very natural behavior, and I have to say that they really make use of their large beaks to gnaw on the many fresh (and unsprayed/uncontaminated) natural branches with which they continuously are supplied. The birds are all, without exception, completely green in the plumage on the mantle, back, lower back and upper rump, and therefore - once again - it just had to be the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, cf. the information I had received from the various breeders I had spoken to around Europe. Besides, the birds also visually corresponded to a very lifelike drawing in Joseph M. Forshaw's magnificent book, “Parrots of the World” (1st edition, 1973), on page 189, where there is an absolutely excellent color drawing of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis made by the outstanding illustrator, the late William T. Cooper (the drawing shows an adult male only with a blue nape (rest of the head is green) and with completely green mantle, back, lower back and upper rump).
The doubt about which subspecies arises
From 2018, I - as several other European aviculturists probably also have heard - were told the story that the subspecies we today have in human care in Europe mostly are the Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis subspecies, but over time I became more and more uncertain whether this was true.
After acquiring my birds, I later on bought the poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, from Arndt-Verlag (Thomas Arndt) containing “all” the Tanygnathus species and subspecies, where a pair of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis (see photo below) is illustrated with almost completely blue heads in contrast to the adult specimen of this species shown with only a clearly defined blue nape in the color drawing in "Parrots of the World" mentioned above (though Joseph M Forshaw mentions that “blue on crown and occiput variable”, which implies the possibility of a certain form of variance).
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This photo shows an extract from Arndt-Verlag's poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, where a male and female of this subspecies are illustrated with almost completely blue heads in contrast to the adult specimen of this species shown with only a clearly defined blue nape in the color drawing in Joseph M. Forshaw’s book, "Parrots of the World".
I was thereafter wondering if it was possible to find a trustworthy and competent person, who actually had been on the Talaud islands and seen how Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis looks like in wildlife, then it once and for all could be discovered whether the birds that I and other European aviculturists have bought in reality are of this species, or maybe a completely different one.
I then remembered that I during the COVID19-crisis was invited to attend in a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, 22nd September 2021 organized by The Avicultural Society of Australia. Here Mr. Mehd Halaouate held a presentation on the topic "Challenges and Rewards of a mixed Collection". It was an extremely interesting presentation, which included some absolutely stunning photos of wildlife birds from Indonesia including Papua. In many cases the presentation also contained photos of parrot species that we - the European aviculturists - only can dream of and read about in books. During this presentation Mehd Halaouate also showed some photos of birds from the Talaud Islands where he had followed the natural bird life.
In November 2021 I therefore contacted Mehd Halaouate, and asked him, if he during his visits to the Talaud Islands had observed the Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies and maybe even had taken any photos of this subspecies during his stay. Mehd Halaouate got back to me and stated that he actually had observed Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis in its natural habitat and also had taken photos of the birds even though he didn't get many since it was challenging to find them and they weren't kept as pets on these islands. I was completely overwhelmed to see Mehd Halaouate’s photos of these birds from the wild and below you can see a couple of these photos of which one actually shows that a big part of the upper head of this subspecies is blue, not just the crown (nape or neck patch). According to Mehd Halaouate most of the birds in the Talaud Islands have heads where almost all the upper parts are clearly blue, and those birds whose heads not almost were entirely blue appeared to be uncolored fledging juveniles as he were there during the breeding season, August and September.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This is a photo of an adult, fully colored bird taken by Mehd Halaouate during one of his two trips to Krakelong which is one of the islands that make up the Talaud Islands. Mehd Halaouate was there doing some conservation work for the Red-and-blue lory (Eos histrio).
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This is also a photo taken on Krakelong Island that shows that the intensity of the blue coloration on the head was not present in all birds. According to Mehd Halaouate it was probably because he was there during August and September which is the breeding season where he encountered many fledging juvenile birds.
Renewed contact with Mehd Halaouate
Time passed and I couldn't help thinking that now that my Tanygnathus lucionensis cannot be of the subspecies talautensis, what kind of subspecies is it then?
In the intervening period I had of course done my homework and made my own research and had come to the conclusion that my birds could probably be Tanygnathus lucionenis salvadorii, which, like Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, is the only other (described) subspecies - approved by Howard and Moore - which has a complete green mantle, back, lower back and upper rump.
This subspecies also appears in Arndt-Verlag's poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, and is shown in the photo below.
Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii: This photo shows an extract from Arndt-Verlag's poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”. Apart from Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, this is the only other subspecies - recognized by Howard and Moore - which has a complete green mantle, back, lower back and upper rump.
So, in order to get a second opinion and be quite sure about the subspecies determination I decided to contact Mehd Halaouate again to ask him what subspecies he would judge my Tanygnathus lucionensis to be. I sent him various available color descriptions of the relevant subspecies as well as - not least - photos of my birds, all of which can be seen excerpted below.
Descriptions of the Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies
As you know, the world's leading current nomenclature/taxonomy, “THE HOWARD AND MOORE COMPLETE CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD” mentions up to 4 subspecies (hybridus, talautensis, salvadorii and horrisonus) in addition to the nominate subspecies, but unfortunately this work does not contain any descriptions of the individual subspecies. Instead, one has to look in different zoological museums around the world to find stuffed birds of the so-called "holotype specimens" for each subspecies, and this is quite an unmanageable task. I therefore had to find other trustworthy sources that contain color descriptions of the various subspecies:
Source 1 for color description: Joseph M. Forshaw
As already mentioned, it is very unfortunate that there is no credible, scientifically evidence-based literature covering the entire Tanygnathus genus, with correct and detailed descriptions of each subspecies. In the absence of this, I instead rely on the Australian ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw's impressive book “Parrots of the World”, which however, only mentions 2 subspecies (hybridus and talautensis) besides the nominate subspecies, but the description of the two subspecies here is unfortunately not adequate. However, in the original edition of this book (1st edition, 1973), on page 189, there is an absolutely excellent color drawing of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis made by the outstanding illustrator, the late William T. Cooper (an adult male only with a blue nape (not on the rest of the head) and completely green mantle, back, lower back and rump).
Source 2 for color description: Thomas Arndt (Arndt-Verlag)
In the well-known "Lexicon of Parrots" (version 3.0), Thomas Arndt mentions the same two subspecies as mentioned by Joseph M. Forshaw (hybridus and talautensis).
However, in his poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, containing species and subspecies from the Tanygnathus genus, Thomas Arndt shows both the nominate subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis and 3 subspecies (hybridus, talautensis and a “new” one, namely salvadorii). If one looks closer at this poster from Thomas Arndt (see above), he has illustrated Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis - both the male and the female - with almost completely blue heads in contrast to the color drawing in "Parrots of the World" (also mentioned above) that shows an adult Tanygnatus lucionensis talautensis with only a blue nape patch and not a blue head. This corresponds to the photos Mehd Halaouate himself took of adult birds of this subspecies during his two visits to the Talaud Islands.
However, and very interesting, on the same poster from Thomas Arndt, he also displays the subspecies Tanygnatus lucionensis salvadorii that in particular deserves attention. This subspecies is shown with only a blue nape and completely green back and rump (and looks very much like the Tanygnatus lucionensis talautensis, that is shown in Joseph M. Forshaw’s book mentioned above).
Source 3 for color description: World Parrot Trust
What is very remarkable is that the World Parrot Trust, on its website - like Joseph M. Forshaw - only mentions the subspecies hybridus and talautensis, but when one read further in the text under the actual description of the two subspecies, World Parrot Trust actually also describes salvadorii under the description of talautensis (they mention that the two different subspecies look the same). How this is possible, I can't quite see through.
Summary overview of visual differences between the individual subspecies
Since there is no adequate and sufficient information on the sizes (length and weight) of the individual subspecies, only selected visual special characteristics for the plumage (color differences) of the individual Tanygnatus lucionensis subspecies are given below:
Note to the above table:
How the fifth subspecies - Tanygnathus lucionensis horrisonus, mentioned by Howard and Moore - looks like, I do not know in details. However, if you read “PEABODY MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY BULLETIN 13, “Notes on a Collection of Birds from Mindoro Island, Philippines” by S. Dillon Ripley (Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University) and D. S. Rabor (Biology Department, Silliman University), which was published 31st December 1958 (New Haven, Connecticut), you can read on page 36, that the authors after carefully studies consider “horrisonus” as synonyms of “lucionensis”, which means that it must have blue mantle, back, lower back and upper rump, and my birds don't have these hallmarks. According to the newest version of Howard and Moore “horrisonus” is still recognized as an independent subspecies.
I therefore assume that my birds must be either Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis or Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii, as both of these subspecies have green backs and green upper rumps.
Personally, I strongly believe that my birds are Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii, as I have seen the various adult parents of the birds that I have bought and none of them have a nearly completely upper blue head, but only a blue patch on the nape.
Furthermore, my birds don’t have any blue coloration - nor bluish tinge - on the mantle, back, lower back and the upper rump, and to my knowledge, both the nominate subspecies, Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis, and the subspecies, Tanygnathus lucionensis hybridus, clearly have these hallmarks.
I rule out that my birds are crossed with other subspecies, as they have no blue at all on the back or rump, nor do they have more than a clearly defined blue nape patch.
Some of the photo documentations sent to Mehd Halaouate
I sent several photos of my birds to Mehd Halaouate and some them are showed below. All my birds are from last year (2022), except from the bird in front on photo 09 and 13, this bird is from 2021.
The photos of my birds are unfortunately not of the best quality, as they were taken with the zoom-function on my mobile phone and have become somewhat grainy. I should of course also have captured some of the birds and taken photos of them from the front and from the back with spread wings, but since these birds live in aviaries close to some other parrot species that already have laid and are incubating eggs, it was unfortunately not possible to take some better photos for the near future. Here are some photos of my birds:
After having read the above descriptions and studied the forwarded photos of my birds, Mehd Halaouate commented that my birds looked stunning and very healthy and furthermore mentioned that in his opinion they look more like Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii. At the same time, one must of course bear in mind that there are color variations among birds in the wild too that can make establishing the right distribution of the bird pretty impossible.
However, according to Mehd Halaouate most of the subspecies that were kept during his time as breeder in Europe, they were coming from Mr. Antonio de Dios in the Philippines (owner of “Birds International Inc.”, a large private parrot breeding farm in the Philippines), and they mostly were Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii. The for many aviculturists well-known Antonio de Dios exported a huge number of unique species to Europe especially to Holland and Belgium. Some of the other species he sent were species like Fig parrots, a big number of lories and lorikeet species, Great-billed parrots (Tanygnatus megalorynchos) and Moluccan king parrot subspecies.
Mehd Halaouate also mentioned that he had to search for some of his earlier photos of the Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis to definitively prove how the adult birds of this subspecies looks like in wildlife, some truly unique photos, a few of which can be seen below. It is photos of a pet bird taken at a bird trader in Sulawesi (since the local people in Talaud Islands don’t keep this bird as a pet) and it does INDEED have intensive blue head covering all over the upperparts of the head and even around the eyes.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: I have never seen anything like it. This amazing close-up photo shows an adult and fully colored Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis. The photo clearly shows how most adult birds of this subspecies that live in the wild on the Talaud islands look like i.e., where the blue plumage does not just form a clearly defined neck spot, but instead is spread over most of the upper part of the whole the head. Young birds do not have the same distribution of the blue color in the head. It is a pet bird that sits with a bird dealer on the island of Sulawesi. Photo: Mehd Halaouate.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This equally amazing close-up photo shows the above pet bird of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, just seen from a different angle. For some reason, the local inhabitants of the Talaud Islands do not keep this species as a pet bird, so this individual is photographed on the island of Sulawesi, which is located southwest of the Talaud Islands. The Talaud islands actually make up the area that is called North Sulawesi. Photo: Mehd Halaouate.
According to Mehd Halaouate the poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, from Arndt-Verlag with the color drawing of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis is a bit exaggerated with the blue coloration of the head, throat and neck. Mehd Halaouate have never seen any bird with that much blue on the head.
Unexpected challenges in rewilding Tanygnathus parrots
During my dialogue with Mehd Halaouate, he also mentioned the following - for me highly surprising - problem, which is linked to the rewilding of the Tanygnathus parrots, which has been confiscated as a result of smuggling:
A factor which will make things even worse for establishing “the right ID” of many parrots in the wild in the near future is the fact that the forestry department in Indonesia does not have sufficient knowledge about differentiating between subspecies and in some cases even species. They tend to release confiscated parrots from the illegal trade in the wrong distribution area (habitat). As a former manager in World Parrot Trust Mehd Halaouate has had to stop a few of these releases because the parrots did not belong in specific islands they were meant to be released at. The authorities, unfortunately, had managed to do the damage thus these actions will cause the inter- or cross-breeding between the subspecies which will result in new colour variations. The worst result of this is that some subspecies in the nature will lose their purity.
This is an angle that I have not thought of before, and the authorities in the affected countries simply have to try to find a sustainable solution to the problem, so that before rewilding takes place, quality assurance must always be carried out to ensure that the birds are belonging to the birds' original distribution area (habitat), which presupposes a further educational and competence-related upgrade of the authorities' employees.
Also from this perspective, it is very important that we - the serious aviculturists (breeders) - are trying as much as possible to keep our birds pure as these hopefully one day will assist the wild populations. According to Mehd Halaouate the pace in which the illegal trapping and the wildlife trade is proceeding right now, many parrot species, for their survival, will rely on the captive populations, so we - the aviculturists (breeders) - must act responsible, professional and only work with pure birds at the subspecies levels.
I have on earlier occasions tried to initiate a dialogue about the issue of subspecies determination of this genus with some other European aviculturists who keep these birds, but up until now it had seemed that no one really was interested in getting to the bottom of this issue, so they generally just call their birds for Blue-naped Parrots (Tanygnatus lucionensis). I always try to keep my different parrots pure at the subspecies level (except from monotypic taxon) and I always only breed specimens of the same subspecies with each other, and I would strongly encourage other responsible breeders to do the same.
This was the story of not always believing everything you hear from other aviculturists/breeders. It is good to have a healthy skepticism and to try to form your own opinion about things. So, the next time I hear an aviculturist/breeder saying that the subspecies we have the most of in Europe is Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, I can now for sure say that it is not true and instead tell them a completely different story.
I hope that interested readers have found pleasure in reading this article about an exciting parrot species that there is rarely written many lines about in parrot books and in avicultural magazines.
A great thank you to Mehd Halaouate for having contributed to this article with several unique photos and detailed information about the subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: I could not resist ending up with showing this close-up profile photo of the magnificent pet bird of this subspecies. I just keep on turning back to study the photos of this very special subspecies with a nearly completely blue head. Photo: Mehd Halaouate.