The Magnificent Macgillivray (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi)

Carolyn Swicegood


T he Macgillivray Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi) is the largest of all subspecies of the Eclectus parrot. Its impressive size contributes to its stately beauty and its head, beak and tail appear significantly larger than those of all other Eclectus subspecies. Estimates of the Macgillivray's overall size difference vary from a fifth to one quarter larger than the second largest Eclectus subspecies, E. r. vosmaeri.

The E.r. rnacgillivrayi subspecies was named in honor of Dr. W. Macgillvray of Broken Hill, New South Wales. The name was first published in the January, 1914 issue of the magazine, EMU. Dr. Macgillvray sponsored several collecting expeditions in Australia as early as 1910. Although he was credited with the discovery of this Eclectus subspecies, many believe that the credit rightfully belonged to Dr. Macgillvray's employee, W. McLennon, a popular explorer of that time.

A colony of wild Australian Macgillivray Eclectus parrots occupies the restricted range of rainforest-covered hills and forest edges in the Iron Range National Park, Australia's largest tropical lowland rainforest. Dr. David Alderton in THE ATLAS OF PARROTS states that "E.r. rnacgillivrayi is known locally as the Rocky River Parrot and occurs in the eastern part of the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia, extending northwards from Massey Creek, to the Pascoe River, and inland as far as the Mcilwraith Range."

Population and Status

The worldwide population of wild Eclectus parrots, including all subspecies, was estimated in 1998 to be above 300,000 birds by Tony Juniper and Mike Parr in the book, PARROTS, A GUIDE TO PARROTS OF THE WORLD. The Australian Macgillivray colony in the rain-forested Iron Range of eastern Cape York Peninsula is the only large population of the E.r. rnacgillivrayi subspecies in the world and its size is estimated at approximately 3,000 breeding birds.

The status of E. r. rnacgillivrayi was listed as near threatened in the "Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000" report by Stephen Garnett and Gabriel Crowley. The number of Macgillivray Eclectus parrots in the Iron Range colony was reported by Garnett and Crowley to be approximately 3,000 breeding birds. Although no specific confirmed threats to the population were noted in the report, the small population of the wild E. r. macgillivrayi and its limited habitat were factors that contributed to the listing of the Macgillivray as near threatened.

Threats to the Macgillivray

<Amethystine Pythons (Morelia amethistina), Goannas ( Varanus sp) and other predators have been cited by various 

sources as natural threats to the wild Australian Eclectus.

• The scarcity of nest sites and competition from the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) for the few suitable nest hollows are considered threats to the growth of the Macgillivray Eclectus population.

<Nest robbing for the pet trade has been reported but not confirmed as a threat. Several Australian Eclectus breeders who were questioned about the likelihood of Macgillivray smuggling expressed doubt that significant poaching has occurred because there are so few Macgillivray Eclectus parrots in Australian aviculture and because export of the birds is forbidden.

• The regular flooding of nest holes during heavy rains causes the loss of many pre-fledgling stage chicks. Even the largest chicks drown when heavy rainfall occurs before they are mature enough to leave the nest cavity.

• Natural disasters are potential threats to the continued existence of the wild Australian Eclectus. Many of these losses are considered natural in the wild. According to estimates by several sources, only one of ten Eclectus eggs is successfully raised to the fledgling stage.

The Macgillivray Habitat

Until just over a hundred years ago, the Cape York Peninsula was known only to the indigenous Aboriginal people who have inhabited Australia for at least 40,000 years. It is a wilderness area of rich and diverse rainforest areas, rivers, creeks, and waterfalls. This special wild habitat of the Macgillivray is home to diverse fauna and flora that remains largely undisturbed by the intrusion of civilization.

Besides Eclectus parrots, the Cape York Peninsula is populated by Palm Cockatoos (Probosciger atterimus), Yellow-billed Kingfishers (Halcyon torotoro), Golden Bower Birds (Prionodura newtoniana), Northern Scrub Robins (Drymodes superciliaris), Trumpet Manucodes (Manucodia keraudrenii), Frilled Monarchs (Arses telescophthalmus) and other rare fauna and flora.

Directly north of the Cape York Peninsula are the hundred stepping-stone islands of The Torres Strait. These islands were notorious in the late 1860s for their savage inhabitants and their richness in pearls. The main industry in the islands of the strait today is fishing and the production of cultured pears. The Torres Strait extends from the tip of the Cape York Peninsula to within five kilometers of the southern Papua New Guinea (PNG) coastline. The smaller but otherwise identical Red-sided Eclectus (E.r. polychloros) is found in Papua New Guinea which has inspired much speculation about the geographical history of the two subspecies. Is it possible that the smaller Red-sided Eclectus subspecies once migrated southward through the 

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