As breeders of Eclectus Parrots, it is our responsibility to produce only purebred birds.
Why? As a teenager many years ago, I was just starting to get interested in bird keeping. My father, who had kept and bred budgies for many years, had taught me the importance of breeding only the best of the pure breeds. When I decided to keep Australian parrots and cockatoos, I put into practise what my father had taught me; keep the species and subspecies pure, and not cross breed for any reason.
Later, when I became interested in the Eclectus Parrot, I was told that all you needed was one green and one red one, and you had a pair of Eclectus. Here in Australia, back in the early 1960s, little was known about all the different subspecies. When you saw a pair of Eclectus Parrots offered for sale, the advertisement read – For Sale: Eclectus Parrots. There was no mention of any subspecies, so you had no idea of what you would end up with. Even if you telephoned the seller of the pair, they would have no idea which subspecies they were. They would merely say, ‘they are pair of Eclectus Parrots, do you want them or not?’ When I did purchase my first pair of these parrots, it was a number of years before I realized what they were. They were crossbred birds.
Crossbred is very different to hybrid birds. Crossbred is the cross breeding between the subspecies of a given species, while Hybrid is cross breeding between species.
For example: A cross between a Rosella and a Grass Parrot is a hybrid, and a cross between a New Guinea Eclectus and a Solomon Island Eclectus is a crossbred. This example is to show that the Rosella and the Grass Parrot are of different species and are not related, where the breeding of the New Guinea and Solomon Eclectus are linked, as they are of the same species.
In recent years, breeders throughout the world had access to more and more information, especially via the Internet. Breeders of Eclectus Parrots became much more aware of the different subspecies and their availability. All of the nine known subspecies of Eclectus Parrots are now being successfully bred in captivity.
Only in the last ten years or so have the two rare subspecies, the Eclectus roratus cornelia and the Eclectus roratus riedeli been successfully bred in Germany and Spain. It should not be long before these subspecies become available in aviculture.
Here in Australia, there are only limited numbers of subspecies of the Eclectus Parrot. They are the Eclectus roratus vosmaeri, Eclectus roratus roratus, Eclectus roratus polychloros, Eclectus roratus aruensis, Eclectus roratus solomonensis and the Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi. Of these, there are a number of crossbred birds. The most common crossbred Eclectus in Australian aviaries is the cross between the New Guinea and the Solomon Island Eclectus. This crossbreeding happened quite a few years ago during the 1950s when a shipment of live birds arrived from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. These birds were destined for the Sydney Zoo and were being quarantined at a facility away from the Zoo. As they were to be under quarantine for three months, they were all housed together in a large open flight aviary. The birds from both locations were unpacked, and as they all appeared the same in appearance to the workers unloading the birds, they were housed together. After the quarantine period had finished, the remaining birds were relocated to the zoo, and as they were considered to be all of the same subspecies, they were again housed together. This gene pool of crossbred birds is the prime source of many of the New Guinea Eclectus held in Australian aviaries today. Thankfully, over the past few years, many breeders of Eclectus have made a concerted effort to obtain only purebred birds and if this continues, then in time the crossbred bird will be a thing of the past. People breeding purely for the pet bird trade seem to think it does not matter if Eclectus are crossbreed or not. Their customers are only interested in a single bird as a pet, and give no thought at all to if they are crossbred or pure bred. But it is the unsuspecting customer that buys this pet bird that we should be concerned about. After a year or two, he decides to breed them, so he goes back to the same pet dealer and gets another bird, putting them together in a breeding situation, not knowing that these birds are not pure and the line of crossbred birds continues.
How do we tell a crossbred Eclectus from a purebred one? Well, as we all know, its hard enough identifying the different subspecies, let alone a crossbred bird! There is one reasonably sure way and that is by comparing tail feathers from a suspected crossbred bird with a known tail feather of a purebred bird. I have included on this site a section entitled – Tail feather identification. Here you will find images of all the tail feathers of the subspecies of Eclectus. All these feathers are from purebred Eclectus Parrots and took me years to collect. Each subspecies is shown in true colour. Included in the caption text is the overall size of each feather, so if you can obtain a central tail feather from the suspected crossbred bird, then compare it to the image in the tail feather section, if there is a size or colour difference. Then that bird is most likely a crossbred.
I have also included in this tail feather identification section a selection of feathers from known crossbred birds. This, I hope, will assist in the identification of these suspected crossbred birds. Of course, obtaining a tail feather from a bird that you are interested in buying can be difficult. Most breeders will not allow you to pluck a feather, but the opportunity may present itself if you are a regular visitor to this aviary. Tail feathers moult out like most feathers and if one is lying in the aviary, then try and retrieve it so you have something to compare. A lot of breeders collect the moulted tail feathers and have them sitting on their desk or table. If I see one that I would like, I just ask if I can have one of those feathers. Then is just a matter of comparison when I return home.
I hope the few ideas above are helpful to the breeders and future breeders of Eclectus Parrots.