How to identify eclectus parrot subspecies? PART I

May 6th, 2016 | by Rudy Caccia
How to identify eclectus parrot subspecies? PART I

The Eclectus parrot  provides us without doubt one of the most interesting of all parrot species . Not only do they have hair-like plumage around the neck and abdomen, but visually they are also sexually dimorphic. In fact, they were so different that when the Eclectus was discovered in the 1700’s, the two sexes were thought to be different species.

There are nine subspecies with some distinct regional diversities in colour and size.

To appreciate the evolution of the Eclectus species you need to consider the close proximities of island habitats within Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as these have a distinct bearing on physical characteristics of the subspecies, such as colour and size. Natural cross-over of subspecies does occur. For example, the Grand Eclectus subspecie from the Ambon and Buru Islands is quite different in size and colour to the Grand Eclectus found on the island of Seram – this is because Seram Island is just south of Halmahera Island where the Vosmaeri subspecies is found. As a result, the colour of Grand Eclectus found on the island of Seram appears to be a “mix” of the Ambon/Buru Grands and the Vosmaeri subspecies and can be mistaken as Vosmaeri.


Eclectus parrot is one of the most beautiful parrot species. (c) Doug Janson. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Another example is the Solomon Island Eclectus.  The Solomon Islands population closest to Papua New Guinea is larger in size compared to the  population further east. Mature cock birds from the  population further east also have a blood red iris colour.   I use these as current day examples as in due course the subspecies list may well include newly identified subspecies.

Note that the Eclectus can be a very difficult bird to identify in terms of subspecies. To the untrained eye, the nine subspecies cock birds look almost identical, however, to the trained eye they typically differ in size, body shape, colour (shade of green), amount of colour in the tail tip, iris colour and tail feather length. These is explained in detail within the subspecies description section below. Part of the ever growing issue of crossbreeding Eclectus in aviculture is due to the incorrect identification of the cock bird subspecies. Whether you are a back yard parrot enthusiast, a pet owner that seeks a second bird to set up a breeding pair, or experienced aviculturist, it is of utmost importance that the necessary steps are taken to prevent crossbreeding. Unfortunately unintended crossbreeding was prevalent in the early days of importation.  There are, however, purist aviculturists that keep stud records of the pure subspecies that they maintain. We need more purist breeders.



The hens are much easier to identify in terms of subspecies as they have a broader spectrum of plumage colours.  For example, the Vosmaeri Tanimbar Island and Sumba Island hens are quite unique in colour and can be identified easily.

One thing I have learnt is that the key to setting up a pure subspecie pair is in the hens. If you are interested in, for instance, the Vosmaeri subspecie and you are confident in identifying a pure Vosmaeri then you should witness the hen progeny of a pair to be confident in obtaining a cock bird from that pair. Most Eclectus fanciers assume that what is offered for sale is pure bred but this is often not the case, depending on from whom you buy and the location (country) of origin.

You should always look at the hen produced from a pair, analyse it when mature and then place an order for a sibling cock bird if the sister hen is pure. In my opinion, this is the best way to obtain a pure subspecies cock bird, and the proper start to make up a pure pair. This method is unfortunately only for people with time and patience.   An important point to remember is that the key to cock bird purity lies in the visual study of the sister hens produced.



Map of Eclectus parrot distrubution (c) Rudy Caccia


Subspecies covered in this article:

1)Vosmaeri Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri)

2)Grand Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus)

3)Sumba Island Eclectus (Eclectus roratus cornelia)

4)Tanimbar Island Eclectus (Eclectus roratus riedeli)

5)Aru Island Eclectus (Eclectus roratus aruensis )

6)Biak Island Eclectus (Eclectus roratus biaki)

7)New Guinea Red-Sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus polychlorus)

8)Solomon Island Eclectus (Eclectus roratus solomensis)

9)Australian Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi)


Vosmaeri Eclectus (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri)

Arguably the most popular and strikingly attractive Eclectus subspecie, the Vosmaeri,is found in the central to northern Malukus Islands of Halmahera, Obi, Bacan and Sula. The body shape of a Vosmaeri can be long and slender but also short and stocky depending on which area it is from. Body weight as a guide should be between 420gm – 540gm. Average tail feather length is 165mm

The cock birds have a very light grass green body colour. On certain angles the wings look to be fluorescent with a yellow tinge.  From the front view as the bird perches, you can clearly view the red oval patches along the sides of the abdomen and wing bend. The tail from underneath is jet black with a lemon coloured tail tip. It is important that the tail tip is this lemon colour and not bright yellow. Tail feathers measure on average 165mm. The tail from the rear view should be heavily suffused in dark royal blue with just the tip 6mm in a light yellow. The head shape is flat on top with a rather small upper mandible compared to body size. When mature, the top half of the upper mandible should be deep orange to red. The iris colour should be straw yellow to amber when the bird reaches maturity at 3 years of age.



Eclectus roratus vosmaeri male (c) Rudy Caccia


Eclectus roratus vosmaeri male (c) Rudy Caccia


Eclectus roratus vosmaeri male (c) Rudy Caccia


The Vosmaeri hen is a sight to behold. Lavender toffee apple and cadmium yellow are the three primary colours. You only need one angle to positively analyse the purity of a Vosmaeri hen and that is the full frontal body view of the bird on the perch viewed from underneath to have a visual of the under tail coverts.

The lavender travels from the cloaca all the way up the abdomen and neck until it fuses with the bright red head colouration. In some cases the lavender can travel all the way up the back of the head. There should be NO distinct separation line between the red of the head and lavender of the breast. In other words, if there is a bib line evident you can be certain of it being a crossbred bird.

The vent of a Vosmaeri hen should be bright cadmium yellow. This particular part of the bird is quite important in terms of subspecies purity. Between the lavender at the cloaca that travels up towards the neck of the bird and the triangular yellow under tail coverts there is a dividing line of red feathering that also covers the legs. If that red feathering bleeds into the yellow under tail coverts it can indicate a cross bred bird. In other words, the smaller the yellow triangular vent the wider the red deciding line between the lavender and under tail coverts. So red suffusion in the vent area places a question mark over purity.   The tail tip should also have at least an inch (25mm) of bright cadmium yellow. A good sign is when the yellow runs up the inner feather edge towards the vent. The upper wing colour should be a rich toffee apple red and the iris colour amber when mature.



Eclectus roratus vosmaeri female (c) Rudy Caccia


Eclectus roratus vosmaeri female (c) Rudy Caccia


Eclectus roratus vosmaeri female (c) Rudy Caccia


Eclectus roratus vosmaeri female (c) Rudy Caccia


Eclectus roratus vosmaeri female (c) Rudy Caccia


Grand Eclectus (Eclectus roratus roratus)

Approximately 300 km south of Halmahera island (Vosmaeri territory) you find the Grand Eclectus territory  – Seram island to the east and Buru island to the west, with Ambon in between. There are distinct differences between female grands that inhabit these 2 outer islands. The cock birds are almost identical. These birds measure 350mm with a weight range between 370 – 430gm. Tail feather length is around 130mm on average.

Ambon/Buru Island Cock Bird Identification

The cock bird of this western island subspecies is slightly smaller than the Vosmaeri with a slightly darker shade of green on the body. The body is also not as long and slender. The iris colour is orange.

Ambon/Buru Island Hen Bird Identification

The hen of this western island locale has the same lavender to purple breast and abdomen colouration as the Vosmaeri, but instead of the purple and red on the head fusing into each other it is clearly separated by a very well defined bib line. It is similar to that of the blue eye ring subspecies group. The upper wing coverts are also the same toffee apple red as the Vosmaeri hen. No orbital eye ring should be visible but some individual hens do have the odd tiny lavender feather which does not extend around the eye. The tail is shorter than that of a Vosmaeri and the tip has a slight orange tinge to a thin yellow edge.



Ambon/Buru island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Roger Muñoz


Ambon/Buru island Eclectus parrot female (c) Rudy Caccia


Ambon/Buru island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Roger Muñoz


Ambon/Buru island Eclectus parrot male (c) Roger Muñoz


Ambon/Buru island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Roger Muñoz


Seram Island Cock Bird Identification

The cock is almost identical to the Buru Island but smaller in size and has a golden coloured iris when mature

Seram Island Hen Bird Identification

You can clearly see the influence of the Vosmaeri on the Seram Island Grand hens.  As with the Vosmaeri these birds share the same lavender up the neck fusing into the flat head. They are, however, much smaller in overall size and lack the broad (2.5 cm plus) bright yellow tip to the tail – instead, they have a much narrower yellow band to the tail tip and the vent on a Seram Island Grand is yellow and red suffused which gives it an orange streaked colouration.  The iris colour is similar to that of a Vosmaeri being golden amber at maturity.



Seram island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Roger Muñoz


Seram island Eclectus parrot female (c) Roger Muñoz


Seram Island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Roger Muñoz


Seram Island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Peter Mancini


Seram Island Eclectus parrot pair (c) Peter Mancini




author: Rudy Caccia

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Title photo: Flying female Eclectus r. vosmaeri (c) Rudy Caccia



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