Jim Van Reyk: Aviary notes on the Blue-cheeked Rosella. PART I

September 30th, 2015 | by Jim van Reyk
Jim Van Reyk: Aviary notes on the Blue-cheeked Rosella. PART I

Read also the second part of this article:

Jim Van Reyk: Aviary notes on the Blue-cheeked Rosella. PART II


Blue-cheeked Rosella – Platycercus adscitus adscitus, is the nominate sub-species of the Pale-head / Blue-cheeked Rosella family. This bird is markedly different from the Pale-head P. a. palliceps. and it is referred to in many references as a sub-species of the “white cheeked” family of Rosella. Other texts, the Simpson and Day Field Guide for example, and some websites “lump” it in with the Pale-head and show the crossover between the two being from somewhere north of Central Queensland to the bottom of the gulf region of the Cape.

The texts that I have used as references are, in the main, Allan Lendons revisions of Neville Cayley’s book “Australian Parrots in Field and Aviary”, Forshaw and Coopers “Australian Parrots”. I must also acknowledge the many conversations I have had with John Griffiths a member and often the President of FNQ Bird Breeders Club Inc. John is a very good friend and bird-keeper who I consider to be the authority both Australian and International, on these species. John has and still does travel extensively in the Blue-cheeked Rosella’s many habitats and also has acted as a guide for many a visiting aviculturist including Herman Kremer.



A nice couple of true Blue-cheeked Rosella. (c) Lubomir Tomiska



The regional distribution of the Bluey is from the Cardwell Ranges (about halfway between Townsville and Cairns), through the Atherton Tablelands, west through to Croydon and to Bamaga, the top end of Cape York. They are also sometimes seen in lightly forested areas of Herveys Range (20K west of Townsville) and the Mt Spec/Paluma Range about 50K to the North West of Townsville. The Bluey’s, like some of the far Northern Fruit Doves/Pigeons, seem to be sighted in these regions, shortly after adverse weather like our Tropical Cyclones. The vegetation and climate in the above area is similar to the eastern Atherton Tablelands region. This sub-species, unlike the Pale-head, are not normally seen on the coastal fringes. Rather, they seem to be a bird that prefers a bit of altitude and in the case of the Cape birds, Savanna country.



The overall body colour is usually more of a rich violet than blue; the cheek patch is very distinct and in the majority of birds, and covers most of the front of the neck/face. The white cheek patch common to the Pale-head is normally only a bit more than a smudge just below the eye. The head is a very pale straw yellow as is the back of the neck. This pale straw yellow can also be present, in various degrees of intensity, from indistinct to very noticeable, on the upper chest, abdomen and neck.

The yellow colouring to the upper chest is not I believe an indication of the particular bird’s regional origin e.g.: Wenlock River/Mareeba/Mt Molloy, as I have heard mentioned in conversations and advertisements. There certainly regional variations in colour but not regional variations in sub (sub) species. The mantle (in the mature bird) is black margined with blue. The blue varies from a pale sky blue to a more intense colour that seems to deepen with a bit of age. The Adscitus is often referred to as “Blue-backed” Rosella or the “Blue-backed” Pale-head but neither is strictly true as the mantle/back appears blue due to the extensive margining of black feathers.



There is always some variation in distribution of blue color among all individuals. (c) Lubomir Tomiska

wild rosella

Wild Blue-cheeked Rosella in Undara Volcanic National Park. (c) Lubomir Tomiska



The young fledge with a more faded body colour, the pale yellow head and nape of the neck is “blotched” with orange/red. Occasionally, a few “blotches” may still be present at full maturity and remain through many moults. The blue cheek patch is quite noticeable if not distinct and does not seem to get any larger with maturity, just more intense. The mantle is black margined with pale straw yellow that gradually moults to blue.

This change of mantle colour can take in excess of twelve months and with the odd bird we have bred and kept, up to two years which suggests that sexual maturity is probably best assessed as being two years of age. The primary wing feathers are a smutty blue and the blue shoulder colour is similarly smudged, but these feathers on the bent of the wing tend to brighten at about four months and give a good indication of the mature colour. I have also seen pictures, taken by John Griffiths of juveniles from the Cape region which at first glance appears to be almost a “yellow” colour with the black mantle feathers being very heavily margined with a straw yellow and the had having prominent red streaks. Whether this bird retains much of the yellow or molts out into “normal” plumage is still a mystery to me.



In Blue-cheeked Rosellas the mantle is blue. (c) Lubomir Tomiska


The Local Bluey

There has obviously been natural hybridization (over who knows how long) between the Palliceps and the Adscitus (probably from the Paluma/Mt Spec Bluey’s), as evidenced by the Pale-head/Bluey’s from the Townsville and Charters Towers area. These Rosella’s have the mantle colouring of the Pale-head, black margined with golden yellow and a bright yellow head and in many examples, a very distinct blue cheek-patch.

This local variant is noticeably different to either Adscitus or Palliceps (perhaps P. a. amathusia?). The Townsville region appears to be the only central to north Qld area, where these Rosella’s can be considered to be a coastal dweller and they are a common visitor to even our Northern Beaches coastal back yards (in Townsville North Qld). They are an all year round visitor as pairs, then as family groups, that feed on the seed that falls through the floor of our aviaries. We did keep a few pairs some years ago as they are quite a pretty bird and we had a good outlet for young in West Australia. I like to call these birds “Townsville Blueys”.

As stated above, Charters Towers (south west of Townsville) is generally the extremity of the range but reported sightings indicate that they may travel a bit further west as far as Prairie. My thoughts are that the natural hybridization is as a result of the Pale-head drifting up north well past the extremities of their range, meeting up with the Blue-cheek that has been blown down or flown ahead of Tropical Cyclones, meting up and breeding in the Herveys/Mt Spec/Paluma Range native forests.



The (true) Northern Blue-cheek (P. a. adscitus) can be considered to be a rare aviary specimen throughout Australia. They are fairly abundant throughout their range but they are not commonly kept as an aviary specimen in Far North Qld, and are extremely difficult to acquire. The rarity is reflected in the price demanded when available. The Townsville Bluey, which we have also kept and bred, are more common with many calling them Blue-cheeked and or hybridizing them with the true Bluey to try and get the large cheek patch and “blue” mantle back.



(c) Lubomir Tomiska


Successful breeder of Blue-cheeked Rosellas Jim Van Reyk and his aviaries. (c) Lubomir Tomiska



Should be considered as Monomorphic. However, while the females are similar to the males, generally the body colour is a more washed out tone but you would have to view a number of birds to pick up any subtle difference. The paler body colour is more prevalent in the T/vlle – Towers type than in P. a. adscitus. The under wing stripe is present in juveniles and reasonably common to adult females of both variants.

This should not be considered as a definitive sexing method even when sexing adults. My experience is that the birds are not sexually mature until at least two years of age. Therefore DNA (blood) sexing is my preferred option for chicks in the nest, and occasionally at fledging (or later) if I have been a bit slack.


Read also the second part of this article:

Jim Van Reyk: Aviary notes on the Blue-cheeked Rosella. PART II


Title photo: (c) Lubomir Tomiska



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