By Carolyn Swicegood
The myths that surround the eclectus parrot species may be an example of our inherent belief in the old adage that warns, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." Surely a parrot species so breathtakingly beautiful to gaze upon could not be a desirable pet too. There must be a catch; they surely must be dull, lethargic, unhealthy, short lived, difficult to breed, unfriendly, mute egg eaters and feather pluckers! How could one expect these striking beauties to be intelligent, good natured, healthy, clear speaking, and relatively problem free? Add to the "too good to be true" syndrome some unfortunate and inaccurate descriptions written long ago by people who had limited experience with eclectus parrots, and you have the makings of an undeserved negative reputation.
No one realized when eclectus parrots first were imported in the early seventies, that they needed fresh foods to maintain health. Therefore, there were some unhealthy specimens around. At the time, no one knew that this parrot species "studied" new or threatening situations instead of reacting with panic, and that they might appear calm when in reality, they were stressed. The "eclectus freeze", a term used to describe their tendency to remain stock still when faced with a new situation that they perceive as danger, had not yet been coined. This led some to believe that they were dull and unintelligent.
The truth is that eclectus parrots are highly intelligent and anything but dull and lethargic. Healthy eclectus parrots are a joy to watch at play. Give them a rope, a swing, and some toys, and prepare to be well entertained by their clever antics. I often think that they might best be described as "feathered monkeys" when they are absorbed in play. Their gymnastics rival that of any Amazon parrot and one can almost see them planning ways to manipulate and have fun with their toys. They mock attack them with gusto and hang upside down while doing battle with imaginary rivals. An eclectus parrot that is improperly cared for, or that is forced to live in a small cage without toys, might appear to be dull or lethargic due to neglect by the owner.
On the issue of health and longevity, despite myths to the contrary, eclectus parrots are robust and hearty! It is a joy to feed them. They love to eat and if they are properly weaned onto a variety of fresh foods, they will be happy and healthy for a normal life span of thirty to fifty years. If they are given a varied diet of fresh vegetables and fruits, sprouts, a variety of small seeds, and protein foods such as beans and rice, eggs, turkey, and bits of fish, they will not require supplementation with Vitamin A as we so often have heard. In fact, just the opposite of this myth seems to be true. Many eclectus parrots seem to be sensitive to the addition of vitamin and mineral preparations. Many of the problems seen in this parrot species can be traced to the feeding of pellets that have a full complement of vitamins and minerals, and then further supplementing with other vitamin and mineral preparations, such as spirulina. The danger of overdosing these birds on vitamins and minerals will not be an issue if we remember that they need only good food to stay healthy. There is no substitute for feeding them nutrient dense foods with deep color, such as kale, collards, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, papayas, mangos and pomegranates, all high in Vitamin A. A super eclectus diet would consist of these foods PLUS sprouted grains, seeds, beans, peas, and lentils. Eclectus parrots relish sprouts and will repay your sprouting efforts with unbelievably shiny feathers and bright, alert eyes. If one has only one or two birds and does not want to bother with sprouting, most supermarkets now carry a variety of sprouts, including the powerhouse of anti-cancer nutrients--sprouted broccoli seeds. The eclectus parrot's reputation as a voracious eater is not a myth!
Many owners of eclectus parrots have discovered that their birds do not enjoy the formulated diets. Some people are able to get their birds to eat a few of certain brands of pellets, and some large breeding facilities have succeeded in converting all of their birds to a pellet-only diet, but most eclectus parrots demand "real food" with all the tastes, textures, and colors that Mother Nature intended them to eat. Because eclectus pets are so well loved by their owners, most are not forced to eat exclusively formulated foods--so much for the myth that they do not bond with their human flock. Eclectus owners are the most devoted bird slaves imaginable! Many of the cases that one hears of eclectus parrots screaming, destroying their feathers, and engaging in other aberrant behaviors can be traced to the failure of their owners to give them good food, rather than an "unnatural" diet with vitamins and mineral supplements.
The myths that plague the eclectus species of parrots extend to the issue of breeding too. Having only a small flock of eclectus parrots myself, I posed the question of the validity of these myths to an aviculturist who has thirty years of experience breeding them, more than anyone else I know. Dale Thompson has raised over six hundred eclectus parrot babies so I feel that he is exceptionally qualified to comment on the truth or fiction of some of the often-quoted descriptions of them. I specifically asked Dale about the occasional claims that eclectus parrots are egg eaters and difficult breeders. He said that he did not find this to be true at all and that in his experience, cockatoos were the worst offenders in the egg trashing department--not eclectus. He commented that he found eclectus to be easy breeders and good parents.
Finally, the myth that eclectus parrots do not talk, or that either males or females are not good talkers, seems to finally have been laid to rest. So many owners of eclectus parrots now have living proof of the superior talking ability of this parrot species that recently there have been articles in national magazines listing them among the best of talking birds. For years, I have written that they are among the top three, right alongside the African grey and the talking Amazons such as yellow napes, double yellow heads, blue fronts, and Panamas. It is most gratifying to see eclectus parrots finally being recognized for their clear bell tones and their ability to mimic perfectly the human voice and various other sounds. Many owners of eclectus parrots write of their uncanny ability to say the right things at appropriate times.
Although the hasty generalizations made in the late seventies by a few uninformed writers have haunted the eclectus species of parrot for many years, the general public has fallen madly in love with these Psittacine beauties, and what's not to love? The males with their candy corn beaks and their stunning shades of emerald and fluorescent greens with striking red wing accents can make an amazon parrot look "washed out" by comparison. The females with their vast array of colors like maroon, mauve, cobalt blue, lavender, and even daisy yellow in the vosmaeri sub-species can stop the first time viewer in their tracks! Eclectus parrots do not need our help to overcome the myths that have surrounded them for so long--they are proving themselves to be not only the most beautiful bird in the world, but the best bird buddy in the world as well...one devotee at a time.