July 2002 Magazine
The name Eclectus is derived from the word eclectic because of the sexually dimorphic coloration. Some pronounce the name E-klek-tus and others prefer Eck-lec-tus. Eclectus parrots are blessed with physical features that make them uniquely beautiful. Their head and breast feathers look like silky hair.
Eclectus females are heavy bodied birds with a compact, rounded look. They have predominately red coloration of varying shades and most subspecies have beautiful blue or lavender-purple breast feathers, as well as a daisy-yellow tail band and vent on the female of the Vosmaeri subspecies. The mature female of all Eclectus subspecies has a jet black beak while the mature male's beak is a stunning candy-corn configuration of yellow, orange and red.
Eclectus males are streamlined, efficient flyers with feathers of brilliant shades of emerald green with blue or yellow hues, varying according to subspecies. They have splashes of red on their sides and some blue in the wings and tail. The upper mandible of the Eclectus male changes from a lack of pigment at hatching, to black for their first six to twelve months of life. Then the upper mandible of males of all the subspecies develops the characteristic stunning candy corn color, usually by the age of one year but occasionally delayed until 18 to 24 months of age.
Size and weight characteristics
The Eclectus is a medium size parrot with a wingspan of two to two and half feet. The length of the commonly available Eclectus subspecies ranges between twelve to fourteen and half inches. In my opinion, weight "ranges" are not useful because the ranges of the various subspecies overlap. Partly because of cross breeding between subspecies, weight ranges can cause more confusion than clarity. Of the commonly available subspecies, the Solomon Island Eclectus is the smallest and the Vosmaeri Eclectus is the largest but otherwise, few generalizations about weight are helpful. It might be more realistic to use a general weight range based on an average of the combined weights of all the available subspecies. Such a range was established by a well-known avian veterinarian and researcher, Dr. Susan Clubb. She worked with hundreds of Eclectus pairs and babies of the commonly available subspecies during her years of research at the Avicultural Breeding and Research Center in Loxahatchee, Florida. Dr. Clubb averaged the weights of adults of the most commonly available Eclectus subspecies and published this range in the reference book, "Psittacine Aviculture". According to Dr. Clubb, the average weight of the adult male Eclectus is 430 grams with a range of 388 to 524. The average weight of the adult female Eclectus is 452 grams with a range of 383-549 grams. Eclectus babies reach their maximum weight at the age of seven weeks. At fledging, they lose approximately ten percent of their weight in preparation for flight. Eclectus parrots continue to grow until the age of two years.
Eight to ten subspecies of Eclectus roratus roratus are recognized. They originate from the Cape York Peninsula of Australia, the islands of Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and New Guinea. The nominate race is the Grand Eclectus, "Eclectus roratus roratus". According to one expert, there are nine Eclectus sub-species.
• Red-sided Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus polychloros (blue eye ring/no yellow on tail)
• Vosmaeri Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus vosmaeri (yellow on tail/no blue eye ring)
• Solomon Island Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus solomonensis (like small Red-sided)
• Aruensis Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus aruensis (larger Red-sided/male has red eyes)
• Macgillivray Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi (largest, like Red-sided)
• Biaki Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus biaki
• Cornelia's Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus cornelia
• Riedeli's Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus riedeli
• Westermani Eclectus -- Eclectus roratus westermani
The Eclectus males are difficult to identify unless one is familiar with the identifying characteristics of the males of all the Eclectus subspecies. It is particularly helpful to observe specimen of several subspecies together for the sake of comparison. The difference in the hue, shade or tint of green is helpful for identifying the subspecies of the male Eclectus. The fluorescent yellow-green of the Vosmaeri male is obviously a lighter shade than the deep blue-green of the Red sided male. This characteristic is not useful to the novice observing only one subspecies. The longer neck and tail of the Vosmaeri male is a helpful trait for the purpose of identification, and the small size overall of the Solomon Island male is helpful. The Grand male is not easily identified because identification is made by subtle differences in beak color, tail length and tail tip color and this require an experienced eye.
The subspecies of the female Eclectus can be determined easily than that of the male. The Vosmaeri female is readily identifiable by her daisy-yellow tail band, the yellow "V" in the vent area, and the absence of a blue eye ring. The Red sided and Solomon Island females can be identified by their cobalt blue breast with a definite bib rather than the gradual blending of the breast colors of the Vosmaeri female. Also, a ring of blue feathers surrounding the eye is an easy identification characteristic of the Red sided and Solomon Island females. The Grand female has neither the wide, clear yellow tail band of the Vosmaeri female, nor the solid red tail of the Red sided and Solomon Island female, but rather a narrow tipping of dull yellow-orange at the end of her tail.
Some of the descriptive words used by owners to describe their Eclectus companions are "charming, outgoing, curious, childlike, clever, playful, intuitive, and intelligent". The intuitive instinct of Eclectus parrots allows them to easily read our moods, which is responsible for owners bonding with them on a deeper level than they bond with other pets. Owners therefore feel more loyalty and devotion toward them than to other animal companions. The empathetic nature of the Eclectus accounts for the fact that fewer Eclectus parrots are found in rescue facilities. It takes some getting used for some new owners who are not accustomed to the laid back nature of the Eclectus. These birds "freeze" when faced with danger instead of flying wildly in an attempt to escape. This characteristic might be explained by the type of predators in their natural habitat since "movement" of the intended prey is used by many predators to locate their victims. Overall, the Eclectus is a good choice for those who appreciate a "thinking" companion bird. They study situations and can be observed problem solving when engaged in play. Eclectus owners must be prepared for an ever-changing creature. Loving, dependent young birds mature into challenging and complex adult birds who remain affectionate, but on their terms. They need to be a part of family activity to keep their keen curiosity stimulated. They are not a pet to be ignored and treated like a beautiful decoration. They are adept at entertaining themselves but need regular interaction with their human flock mates which is after all, the reason that we acquire avian companions. Eclectus are amazingly gentle with children if the children are old enough and aware enough to be reasonably considerate of their size difference. Eclectus adapt well to change, but not to the stress of loud and angry exchanges in unhappy family situations. Just as fighting upsets children, tension and strife is stressful to these empathetic birds who sometimes internalize stress. This can cause feather destruction and other undesirable behaviors. Give them a happy home and you will be rewarded with a relatively quiet and steady companion whom you will come to regard as an equal member of the family rather than a "pet".
Eclectus parrots are generally classified among the top three parrots for talking ability. Rivaling the African Grey and the talking Amazon parrots in clarity of speech and scope of vocabulary, they not only repeat many words and phrases but some learn entire songs. Some Eclectus chicks learn their first words before they are weaned if the hand-feeder repeats a word to them often. Eclectus parrots enjoy repeating interesting sounds as well as words and phrases learned from their human companions. They can imitate perfectly the sounds of a microwave oven, alarm clock, phone, or dripping faucet! Some males have melodious voices while others sound more like the men in their families, but nearly all Eclectus females have a charming, sweet and seductive voice, full and throaty like that of a "southern belle". As with all parrot species, there are birds that never learn more than "hello" and one must be prepared to love a bird even if it never talks. Most Eclectus do learn at least a few words.
Aurora sings opera
Parrots in the wild are busy creatures. Most of their time is spent locating food, water, and nesting sites. These natural activities are unnecessary in captivity so every effort must be made to provide activities to prevent boredom. Otherwise, feather plucking, screaming, and other undesirable behaviors can become a problem. Here are some ideas for entertaining the Eclectus parrot:
*Food toys--Make mealtime more like foraging in the wild by weaving greens through the cage bars, skewering whole fruits and vegetables such as apples and carrots, hanging coconut halves by a short length of chain. Give them whole nuts daily. The favorite nut of most Eclectus is the whole almond, which can serve as a half-hour game. Not only do they pick out the nutmeat, but they play with the shell until there is nothing left of the almond. Eclectus love the challenge of parrot toys that require manipulation to retrieve the food inside. These toys are available from many bird supply companies.
*Simulated trees--Play stands designed like trees or limbs can keep an Eclectus busy for hours, especially if interesting toys are attached and changed weekly. They love ropes for climbing, swings of all types, and especially the long spiral-shaped ropes called Boings or Bungees. There is a lot of bounce and movement in these spiral perches and some Eclectus will flap wildly to get them swinging. In the process, they get great exercise.
*Games & training--Eclectus are quite happy to engage in play with their owner(s). Games can be as simple as peek-a-boo or as complicated as teaching them a fun trick. There are several good books available on how to teach tricks. Any playful interaction with their favorite people is a favored pastime for these gregarious birds.
Eclectus parrots should be bathed at least every other day and many thrive on daily bathing. Feather and skin health depends on sufficient moisture and during winter months, many homes are as dry as a desert. If a daily soaking shower is not possible, they can be drenched with a spray bottle. If possible, they should be provided with a bathing pool, which can be as simple as a large terra cotta plant saucer. There are reports of Eclectus parrots housed outdoors in cold climates breaking the ice on their bathing pool to enjoy a bath in freezing weather.
GeeBee loves showers!
The general recommendation for housing the Eclectus is to use the largest affordable cage that one's home will accommodate. Eclectus parrots are active birds and they need ample space for recreation and exercise. Horizontal space is more critical than vertical space, although a tall Macaw cage with living space that extends to the floor provides enough room to include a spiral rope toy (Boing) which Eclectus parrots especially enjoy. The minimum interior cage space should be 30" wide, 24" deep, and 36" high. This is assuming that the bird will have daily time out of the cage which is important for both exercise and for the social interaction that is essential to the well being of the gregarious Eclectus. Outgoing birds will enjoy living directly in the traffic pattern that brings family members and friends by the cage throughout the day. A more introverted bird's cage should be placed away from the main traffic pattern where they can observe the activity of family and friends while maintaining enough private space to feel safe and secure. Cages should never be placed in a drafty area nor in front of a window without an area shaded from the sun.
"An Eclectus toy destroyed is a toy truly enjoyed"! Although Eclectus parrots are known for less destructive chewing habits than many parrot species, they do enjoy whittling soft wood, which is important for beak health. Shredding paper and other material is another favorite activity that can prevent feather destruction engaged in by bored birds of all species. Eclectus also enjoy destroying small pieces of soft wood, hand-held toys, and rolls of adding machine paper placed on top of their cage and threaded down through the cage bars for busy beaks to enjoy. They are adept at untying knots in leather, cloth and other flexible material, and they are excellent avian mechanics when it comes to unscrewing nuts and bolts and dismantling toys. Eclectus enjoy small hand toys, toys for toddlers, and any challenging toy that can be manipulated by beak and feet. Interactive toys such as V-Tech phones are another favorite. Toys that can be manipulated to make noise or music fascinate Eclectus parrots. Wood toys for chewing help to prevent overgrooming and destroying feathers. Eclectus parrots should be allowed out of the cage to enjoy a separate play area for at least an hour a day, and longer if possible.
Toy boxes are a good idea because the intelligent Eclectus becomes bored with the same toys every day. Rubbermaid tubs, laundry baskets, or untreated wicker baskets can be used as toy boxes. Cage toys should be rotated at least once a week and allowing the Eclectus to choose his weekly supply of toys from the toy box is fun for the bird and helps to prevent boredom when confined to the cage. Flea markets and garage sales are great places to find used quality toys in good condition. They often cost less than a dollar each and sometimes perfectly good infant and toddler toys are sold for 25 cents each. They can be sterilized in a dishwasher or in a bathtub or Jacuzzi with a tablespoonful of Grapefruit Seed Extract or 10% Clorox.
The Eclectus parrot's love of food and playful nature makes food the perfect toy for them. "Food toys" provide not only hours of enjoyment but nutrition as well. Some of the favorite food toys of my Eclectus are: *Coconut halves hung in the aviary. The birds pick the fibers off the shell and dig out the coconut meat to eat and to shred for fun.
*Whole bags of salt-free popped corn. Use a brown paper lunch bag with a quarter cup of plain popcorn. Fold down the top of the bag to seal, and microwave it until the popping stops. Hang it in the aviary and the birds will chew holes in the bag to get to the treats.
*A clean cotton sock full of whole nuts in the shell, such as pecans, almonds, hazelnuts and unsalted, dye-free pistachio nuts, will keep birds busy for hours. Tie off sections of the sock so that all are not released with the first hole that they chew in the sock.
*Shish-ka-bobs of whole fruits and veggies such as apples, oranges, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, broccoli spears, cucumbers, bell peppers, beets with greens, whole hands of ginger, and pumpkin quarters with seeds can be strung up in the cage or skewered on shish-ka-bobs. While the birds tear them apart piece by piece, just as they would tear into food in the wild, they also consume nutrients.
Joseph M. Forshaw in PARROTS OF THE WORLD wrote, "Eclectus Parrots feed on fruits, nuts, seeds, berries, leaf buds, blossoms and nectar procured in the treetops... Gut contents from specimens collected in the eastern Solomons comprised soft, mainly fig-like, fruit; and from other birds collected, fruit pulp and many small fruit stones."
Variety seems to be the major clue that we can take from the foods provided by Mother Nature for Eclectus in their native habitats. I offer variety by feeding fresh juicy fruits, fibrous vegetables, leafy greens, a variety of sprouted seeds, nuts, dry seeds, and cooked foods. Cooked foods would not be found in the wild, but sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables contain some nutrients that require heat to break down the cell walls to be released. Eclectus find foods in all stages of growth in their treetop homes.
Sprouts are an easy way to provide living food with the many enzymes and trace nutrients found in the wild. Homegrown SPROUTS are the least expensive organically grown food available.
Greens are the most neglected component of the Eclectus diet. Few owners feed even one leafy green food daily although greens are the best non-dairy source of calcium, an important mineral, especially for egg-laying hens.
Nuts are "for the birds" not only because they are natural part to the parrot diet, but because they contain "good fats" which are important for health and feather quality.
Protein should be offered several times a week and hard-boiled eggs with the shell are the perfect protein food for parrots. Cooked chicken legs are another favorite.
Seeds got a bad rap when pellets became available. Vets saw many birds in poor health from seed-only diets, so when a convenience food became available, they routinely recommended pellets "instead of" seeds. However, seeds are valuable not only for their natural oil and nutrients, but because shelling seeds allows the birds to work for their food as they do in the wild. Eclectus in the wild have been observed eating many types of fruits, flowers and other vegetable matter.
Pellets can cause problems as a total or majority of the Eclectus diet, whose digestive system is efficient at extracting nutrients from foods. Their natural diet is comprised of foods that are "nutrient sparse" foods as opposed to "nutrient dense" foods like pellets. Since they assimilate nutrients so efficiently, they often exhibit symptoms such as "repetitive foot clenching and wing flipping" if oversupplemented or fed too many rich foods. Unless a vitamin or mineral deficiency is diagnosed by blood tests, Eclectus should not be given supplemental vitamins and minerals. Pellets contain a full complement of vitamins and minerals and apparently are too rich for the system of some Eclectus parrots. Natural juicy foods of deep color, including greens, sprouts, fruits and vegetables should be the mainstay of the Eclectus diet. They do not need vitamin A supplements nor shots, as was believed many years ago. They assimilate all the vitamin A that they need from the colorful orange, yellow, red, and green foods like pomegranates, mangos, cantaloupe, carrots, red and green bell peppers, kale, collards, dandelion and other greens. All parrots should be given organically grown produce whenever possible because of the damaging cellular effects of pesticides. If a complete diet of whole foods is given, pellets can be fed as a vitamin and mineral supplement but only as a small percentage of the total diet.
Eclectus are hearty birds with no particular health problems. They thrive on exercise, whole foods, and pure water. They need a wide variety of nutritious foods rather than vitamin and mineral supplements. Being "Old World birds", they have no natural resistance to the Sarcocystis falcatula disease that can be a problem in warm climates. This disease requires several intermediate hosts but basically starts with an infected grackle or cowbird eaten by an opossum that sheds the sporocysts in its feces, which then is carried to the parrot by cockroaches and possibly blackflies. Old World parrots that are housed outside, or in any area infested with cockroaches should inhabit tightly screened habitats to avoid Sarco, which is almost always a fatal disease.
When Eclectus parrots were first imported into the United States, little was known of their nutritional requirements and many birdkeepers tried to maintain them on an all-seed diet. Until their owners learned of their need for a variety of colorful, fibrous fruits and vegetables, many of them did not live for as long as they could and should have. Eclectus parrots live as long as other parrots of similar size, such as Amazons and African Greys. I personally know of one pair that is still producing at the age of thirty-plus years, so obviously thirty is not old age for an Eclectus parrot. Because they have not been commonly available in the United States for more than a few decades, there are few Eclectus over the age of thirty in captivity in the U.S. but they are capable of living for 50-75 years just as other parrots of comparable size.
Ten to twelve hours sleep is the general rule for Eclectus parrots, but if the family schedule does not allow for ten to twelve hours of uninterrupted rest, it can be made up with naps during the day if they are provided quiet time. Young Eclectus fledglings play hard and nap soundly throughout the day when they become tired. If it is impossible to provide a dark and quiet place for sleep, covering the cage at night is an option. A small sleeping cage that can be moved around easily is a solution to the problem of small houses where the day cage is in the center of activity. It can be placed in a small quiet room away from the entertainment area of the home.
Eclectus are quiet birds and they prefer talking to screaming, but there are exceptions to every rule and there are a few loud Eclectus. Because most of them are exceptionally quiet for large parrots, they are considered suitable for apartment living; however, if one should obtain one of the few exceptionally loud members of this species, that would not be the case. They are capable of very harsh, loud calls when threatened with danger. Fortunately, most of them do not use their warning call very often.
The female is the dominant member of the Eclectus pair. Puberty and sexual maturity are more dramatic with the female than the male, who seems to change very little as he approaches sexual maturity. The males continue to play like young birds and enjoy their human flockmates even while raising babies. They are happy-go-lucky guys whose ladies manage the home and family. Eclectus females are loyal to all who are lucky enough to win their affection, but they are fiercely protective of their nest and babies. They go through an aggressive stage as they mature sexually and become protective of the "nest area" which includes their cage as well as the nestbox. With consistent love and guidance from the owner, this stage passes and the female Eclectus remains a wonderfully loving companion to her human family. Even though they have a well-deserved reputation for being aggressive toward strangers when they have eggs or chicks in the nest, they will allow a trusted human friend to handle the eggs and chicks. Many small-scale breeders whose Eclectus pairs were loving pets before they became producing pairs, are allowed to be a "third wheel" and function as a member of the "family team". Interference by humans is not tolerated by many parrot species.
Eclectus parrots become mature enough to breed at two to five years of age. The smaller Solomon Island subspecies can reproduce as early as eighteen months of age, and some of the larger subspecies such as the Vosmaeri and Macgillivray, mature sexually as late as four to six years of age. Most subspecies lay two eggs per clutch and the Solomon Island Eclectus occasionally lays three or rarely, even four eggs. Fertile Eclectus eggs generally hatch in 28 days. The chicks hatch blind and naked but quickly double in size. It is important to allow first-time Eclectus parents to raise their chick(s) for as long as they will feed them. If one pulls the chicks after a few days or weeks, the parents will come to expect the babies to leave the nest prematurely and might never feed their chicks to the fledging stage.
Once an Eclectus pair starts producing fertile eggs and hatching and feeding babies, it is difficult to stop them. In captivity, they will lay eggs year round unless forced to rest in order to prevent the problems that accompany overbreeding. Once the birds figure out the logistics of breeding, incubation, and raising chicks, many Eclectus females are so determined to lay eggs that they will lay in food dishes or in any other suitable place they find if they have no nestbox. It is sometimes necessary to change the environment completely to force the birds to rest.
Solomon Island Haley sitting in seed cup
There is a serious problem in aviculture of crossbreeding the Eclectus subspecies. One of several factors responsible for this problem is the difficulty of identifying the subspecies of the male Eclectus. Birds often are paired on the basis of the subspecies that the male appears to be. By the time the pair matures and produces a female offspring by which subspecies purity can be determined with some degree of accuracy, the pair is bonded and likely to have been together for several years. Many owners are reluctant to break up a bonded, producing pair even though the chicks are crossbred.
Murdock gets a kiss from Kaitlyn
With a good diet and environment, Eclectus parrots are relatively easy to maintain. They are the best of all things avian -- in two beautiful packages!
Winged Wisdom Note: Carolyn Swicegood is a devoted fan of Eclectus parrots. Her aviary, The Land of Vos, specializes in the Vosmaeri subspecies. Carolyn writes for a variety of magazines and currently serves as Associate Editor of "Watchbird" magazine published by the American Federation of Aviculture.
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