Eclectus Parrots - Subspecies identification

When you want to identify the different subspecies of Eclectus Parrots, you have to use up to several different identity markers. Here you can see the upper side of the tail of a male Tanimbar Eclectus (Eclectus roratus riedeli), where you notice a markedly clear and approximately 2.5 cm wide yellow band along the tip of the tail. In addition, it is i.a. clearly lighter in the green colour than the males of the other subspecies and have a visible bluish tinge to its otherwise green head. At the same time, this male is - if possible - smaller than the males of any of the other Eclectus Parrots, thereby competing to be the smallest Eclectus Parrot together with the Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis).

In general

While identifying females of individual Eclectus Parrot subspecies can be a challenge, subspecies identification among males is an almost impossible task unless one knows the geographical origin and/or provenance (breeding history/pedigree) of the bird in the case of birds raised in human care.

At bird shows you often see Eclectus Parrots on display, and occasionally you see birds that are reported as being a pair belonging to the same (sub)species, but which clearly are not. Since it - as already stated – is extremely difficult to separate the different types of Eclectus Parrots from each other, and among males it can be an almost impossible task, it is therefore important that you as an aviculturist do not contribute to the identification of the individual types even more difficult by cross-breeding different types of Eclectus Parrots with each other. When this takes place, the subspecies characteristic of the offspring is erased. I deliberately call these kind of birds cross-bred and not hybrids (bastards), since they are subspecies of one and the same species. Therefore, I hope that this section on the identification of the individual types of Eclectus Parrots can help to ensure that aviculturists only assemble birds belonging to the same (sub)species with breeding in mind.

I am of course fully aware that the species identification overview below is only relevant for the small handful of different types of Eclectus Parrots that we have in Europe, as the rare subspecies, e.g. from the “red-breasted” group (see below), is not relevant, but these are included for completeness.

Here you can see the bright cadmium-yellow underbelly and tail tip of a female Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri). The upper side of the tail is dark red, and here you can also clearly see the cadmium yellow colour along the edge of the tip of the tail, which can measure 2.5 - 3.75 cm in width, as well as on the rump (the undertail coverts). If you see a female bird with mixed yellow and red colour on the underbelly, then it is not a real Vosmaer's Eclectus, but the bird is probably the result of cross-breeding.

Identification of females

The different subspecies of Eclectus Parrot females can be distinguished from each other by differences in size and colour. Various methods have been set up over time to facilitate the identification work by using categorizations, but in 2004 the Australian veterinarian, Rob Marshall, divided the Eclectus Parrots into some very understandable main groups, which actually facilitated the initial identification of the subspecies' females. The subspecies are then divided into the following three groups:

  • The subspecies where the colour of the female's breast is violet or purple (lavender) = "Violet group"
  • The subspecies where the colour of the female's chest is blue or cobalt = "Blue group"
  • The subspecies where the colour of the female's breast is red = "Red group".

It should be noted, however, that the identification of several of the subspecies' females remains difficult, unless one – just like the males – has knowledge of the bird's geographical origin and/or provenance.


1) The "Violet group”:

This group consists of:

  • Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus) - this is the nominate subspecies
  • Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri).

These forms are characterized by having no blue eye ring. The different violet colour of the breast feathers easily distinguishes one type from the other. The nominate subspecies (Eclectus roratus roratus) has a violet breast and dark brownish red wings, whereas Vosmaeri's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) is lighter in colour and has a beautiful lavender (pale purple) breast, in addition to which the wings are true red, and the rump as well as the tip of the tail are edged with yellow. The colour on the breast of these two types of Eclectus Parrots reaches right up to the height of the bend of wings when the wings are folded.

2) The "Blue group”:

This - the largest - group differs from one another mainly by differences in size. The females belonging to this group are all characterized by having a thin ring of tiny blue feathers around the eye (a so-called eye ring or periophthalmic ring) as well as blue- or cobalt-coloured feathers on the breast, belly and neck. The blue/cobalt blue chest colour does not reach the bend of wings, as the red colour of the head and neck extends like a "bib" down the upper part of the chest. In addition, none of these subspecies have yellow feathers in their plumage.

The group consists of the following subspecies:

  • Aru Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis)
  • Biak Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus biaki)
  • Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi)
  • Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros)
  • Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis).

Some consider the Aru Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis) and the Biak Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus biaki) as variants of the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), but the fact is that science is of the opinion that that these are different subspecies, and there is also - especially in relation to the Aru Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis) - a marked anatomical difference, but more on this later.


3) The "Red group”:

This group consists of two types:

  • Cornelia's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus cornelia)
  • Tanimbar Eclectus (Eclectus roratus riedeli).

Both of these subspecies are completely red with no other colours on the chest, belly and neck. Cornelia's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus cornelia) is clearly larger and does not have any yellow feathers on the tail, unlike the Tanimbar Eclectus (Eclectus roratus riedeli), which has a very distinct broad yellow border along the tip of the tail.

Here is another stamp from Palau with the motif of a male Eclectus Parrot. The country is not, as previously stated, part of the Eclectus Parrot's natural distribution area. However, as a result of human intervention it can today be found in the archipelago's fauna. The country with a small population has two official languages, namely English and Palauan, and from the stamp it appears that the word "Eclectus Parrot" in the native Palauan language is called "Lakkotsiang". At the time of the issue of this stamp, another stamp featuring a female Eclectus Parrot was also issued, which can be seen below.

Species variance among females

In order to increase breeding opportunities, the females of the subspecies that live in limited rainforest areas can be seen to naturally vary in colour from other subspecies. These differences must have arisen as a result of the need to display dominance over other Eclectus Parrots. In addition, it has been established that females of the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), which originates from New Guinea's main island, have a darker plumage. This is thought to reflect a reduced need to display dominance in very large rainforest areas. On the southern coast of New Guinea, it has also been observed that females of this subspecies are significantly smaller than males, which is supposed to be related to the fact that in this area there is an abundance of nesting opportunities, therefore there is less need for the females to fight among themselves about the nests. In other areas of New Guinea, where there are fewer nesting opportunities, you find, strangely enough, that males and females of this subspecies are of the same size, so apparently nature has arranged it.

The largest types of subspecies are found on the fringes of the Eclectus Parrots' total geographic range, where the living conditions are not always optimal, which includes the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi), Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) and Cornelia's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus cornelia). Females of these subspecies show signs of a limited supply of nesting opportunities with consequent greater competition for these, which implies that over time the birds have evolved to become larger or with distinctive visible features in the form of a different colour plumage. For example, Vosmaer's Eclectus females (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) are violet on the chest and Cornelia's Eclectus females (Eclectus roratus cornelia) are completely red. The Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) inhabits lowlands of tropical rainforest facing open woodland. The more open the habitats, the better flight opportunities the Eclectus Parrots have. Therefore, this particular subspecies is larger and has developed with a longer body shape. In other words, the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) is aerodynamically adapted for long, daily flights from the limited food options in the relatively confined treetops of the rainforest out to open woodland. The same body and tail type is also found in the Aru Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis), which lives in the same kind of habitat.

Here you can see the stamp with a female Eclectus Parrot, which also originates from Palau. The ground under the country's approximately 300 islands consist of rocks, and the high rainfall, of up to 3,700 mm per year, has made the islands completely green, while the many beaches are white. Around the islands there are large coral reefs. The climate is tropical with an annual average temperature of 31 degrees Celsius, and occasionally strong storms ravage the islands.

Identification of males

It is not possible to group Eclectus Parrot males in the same way as you can group the females. Apart from two forms, the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) and the Tanimbar Eclectus (Eclectus roratus riedeli), which in the case of the first subspecies is very large and has a long, characteristically broad - almost square - head, and in the case of the latter that subspecies has a very clear and wide pure yellow border along the tip of the tail, then it is very difficult - if not often tending to impossible - to identify the males.

Identification of the males of most subspecies is primarily determined by differences in size and in the green shades of the plumage as well as - in certain cases - anatomical features. However, it is not straightforward, as both the size and the tone and depth of the green colour can vary quite considerably within one and the same subspecies. E.g. males and females of the Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus) from western Seram compared to the same bird from Ambon are significantly smaller, so one would think that they were two different subspecies, even though the birds' plumage is similar. In both cases, the birds' locations are very limited.

The Republic of Niger is a country located in western Africa, named after the 4,000 km long Niger River. The country borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. Niger is one of the world's poorest and most underdeveloped countries, but in 1998 the country's postal service issued this stamp with the motif of an Eclectus Parrot, even though this bird species is native to a completely different continent (Oceania). The motif shows a female Eclectus Parrot, and if you look at this bird's blue eye ring, you can see that it only partially encircles the eye, which may indicate that it is possibly a cross-bred bird.

Length, weight, body size and shape alone are also not sufficiently reliable indications to be able to identify the different subspecies, as there can also be a large species variance within the individual subspecies. The length of the tail and the size of the head are better for separating the individual subspecies from each other, but the body length is also an important factor. As already mentioned, the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) stands out significantly by being the largest bird with the longest tail and an almost square head. Conversely, the Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis) is considered to be the smallest of all subspecies with a small roundish head, a relatively small bill, and - somewhat uniquely - a remarkably short tail and with the tips of the wings reaching the tip of the tail.

It is easier to separate skinned specimens than live birds, since the scale ratio is then fixed, as a live bird as large as the Australian Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) can sit and "collapse" on a perch, while a live Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros), which can be seen in an upright sitting position, thereby appearing very large. On that basis, the length of the tail is more suitable for separating the two types, and here the tail of the first-mentioned subspecies is significantly longer.

In addition, one must, for example, be aware that a large hand-fed specimen of Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis) can match the size of the second young in the clutch of a very small specimen of Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus), so it is really very difficult to distinguish with certainty the different types of male birds from each other.

Variations between individuals within the same subspecies, both in size and colour, further complicate the identification of the individual male bird.

Among other things these variations may be due to differences in the approach to food, its composition, genetic conditions and geographical origin.

In 1994, the exotic "Bounty Land", Vanuatu, issued this stamp, which shows a male Eclectus Parrot. Vanuatu is a state in the Pacific Ocean in Oceania, located nearly 1,750 km east of Australia, 500 km northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji and south of the Solomon Islands. Vanuatu, which has over 200,000 inhabitants, is a former English and French colony and was called the New Hebrides in colonial times. The very special thing about this island - as well as the island of Tonga and possibly Fiji - is that there here has lived a for aviculturists (at species level) totally unknown type of Eclectus Parrot, namely the Oceanic Eclectus (Eclectus infectus), which is extinct. Its only relatives are the extant forms of Eclectus Parrots (Eclectus roratus). The Oceanic Eclectus had proportionally smaller wings than the well-known types of living Eclectus Parrots. In November 1989, fossil material from the end of the Pleistocene and Holocene eras was excavated, including Vanuatu. The result of these excavations is described in more detail by the American ornithologist David William Steadman from the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2006, who, among other things, explained the bone structure of the bird. It is believed that the Oceanic Eclectus on Tonga already for nearly 3,000 years ago, probably as a result of man-made factors (destroyed habitats, hunting and introduction of alien species) was exterminated. In some of the habitats, however, the species is believed to have survived into historical times, because among the drawings created in 1793 during Alessandro Malaspina's Pacific expedition, there was a sketch that is supposed to be the motif of the Oceanic Eclectus (Eclectus infectus).

In addition, the (sub)species identification is further complicated by the fact that in human care over the years the different types of Eclectus Parrots have unfortunately been crossed. It can therefore be both a confusing and frustrating task to try to accurately identify a given subspecies of Eclectus Parrot bred in human care. In this connection, it can be mentioned that the most widely kept Eclectus Parrot in Australia is said to be a cross-breeding between the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros) and the Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis). Reportedly, this is because Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo years ago kept many specimens of both of these subspecies in a very large aviary, where over time they were allowed to interbreed freely. A large proportion of the offspring of these birds have come into the hands of Australian aviculturists. Another thing is, that only relatively recently you have started to be able to see specimens of the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) among Australian aviculturists, who are also significantly more expensive to acquire.

In the USA, there is a somewhat greater focus on not crossing the individual types of Eclectus Parrots, and here the most kept subspecies are the Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis), which is by far the most popular representative of this beautiful genus, as well as Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus), Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) and Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros).

It is probably in Europe that aviculturists for the longest time have had the greatest focus on separating the individual types of Eclectus Parrots, and have purposefully aimed to breed exclusively on birds belonging to the same (sub)species. In Europe, the Papuan Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychloros) appears to be by far the most widespread form. Then comes Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri), Solomon Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomonensis) and Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus).

Natural intermediate types

As is known from a number of other monotypic parrot genera, which consist of a nominate subspecies and a number of subspecies, it is also seen that different types of Eclectus Parrots naturally interbreed with each other in nature. Today it is known with certainty that the nominate subspecies (Eclectus roratus roratus) intergrades with the subspecies Vosmaer's Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) on the island of Seram, which means that there is a natural occurrence of intermediate forms on this island.

Overview of comparison of subspecies

The overviews below only take fully coloured birds into account, both among males and females. It should be noted that feather colours can also depend on whether the bird has just bathed and on the age of the feathers. Attention is also drawn to the fact that when a bird moults, the male bird's green feathers do not reflect the light as usual, and the bird may therefore appear darker.

It would of course be optimal if the characteristics of the individual subspecies in the overview below were all described and compared in relation to one "fixed point", namely the nominate subspecies, Seram Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus). However, this is not how I have prepared the overview, as it concentrates on the 3 main groups into which the female birds can be divided, and it is mainly within each of these 3 groups that any mutual deviations are described.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 16.12.2011 / 01.04.2024