Polytelis alexandraeAlexandra's parrot(Also: princess parrot)

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Geographic Range

Polytelis alexandrae (princess parrot), is found only in central and western Australia. (Eastman, 1966; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

Habitat

Princess parrots are nomadic; they usually search out acacia trees, their favorite food source, which are found about twenty miles from water. They live in some of the largest deserts in the world, such as the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert and the Great Victoria Desert. These areas are open, sandy and dry with spinifex, casuarinas and acacia trees, eucalyptus scrubland, and grassland savannah. (Barrett, 1949; Eastman, 1966; Verlag, 2000)

Physical Description

Princess parrots are sexually dimorphic by color. The male has a blue crown with blue-gray on the sides of head, and pink around the chin and throat. His body is olive-green, and the tops of his wings are bright green with a blue-violet under wing. He has orange eyes and an orange beak. His legs are gray with pink, and each foot has three black tipped toes. The female looks like the male, except her crown is a gray-mauve, her wings are a duller color green, and her tail feathers are shorter than the male's. The male has a wingspan of 161.5 mm on average, and the female has an average wingspan of 155.2 mm. Young are a duller color than their mothers until they are eight to nine months old. At this point the color differences between the males and females start to appear.

Princess parrots weigh 113.4 g, on average, and are about 45.72 cm in length. (Bird World, 1998; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    113.4 g
    4.00 oz
  • Average length
    45.72 cm
    18.00 in
  • Range wingspan
    155.2 to 161.5 mm
    6.11 to 6.36 in

Development

The female Princess Parrot will lay on an average of four to six eggs. The incubation period for the eggs are approximately three weeks, where only the female sits on the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the amount of time it takes until the young leave the nest, or fledging time, is about two to three months. The young will leave the nest and accompany their parents; it is very common for them not return to that breeding area for many years.

(Hiddert, 2001; Arndt Verlag, 2000; Wildlife Fact File, 1993; Barrett, 1949)

Reproduction

During courtship the male is very aggressive when approaching the female. The male will be in an upright position with raised head feathers, and his pupils will dilate and contract while he bobs his head. He will spread his wings and tail as he runs back and forth in front of the female.

We do not have information on mating systems for this species, however, since most parrots (family Psittacidae) are monogamous, it is likely that this species is too. (Sibley, 2001; Verlag, 2000)

The breeding season is from September to December. The nests are usually found in holes at the top of high trees, or in holes of eucalyptus tree branches. There is often more than one nesting pair per tree. Nests are composed of fine sawdust/ wood shavings and are lined with small pieces of rotted wood. Females lay four to six eggs, on average. Eggs hatch in approximately 3 weeks and the chicks fledge after about 2 to 3 weeks. Princess parrots reach sexual maturity at the age of three to five years old, although some start breeding at a younger age. The earliest documented age at first reproduction is seven months. There are subtle physical traits that indicate sexual maturity, these include: blue feathers that appear on the front of the crown and on the rump of males; females acquire pinkish-mauve feathers on the crown and gray feathers on the rump. (Bird World, 1998; Hiddert, 2001; The Oakland Zoo, 2001; Verlag, 2000; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

  • Breeding season
    September to December
  • Average eggs per season
    5
  • Average time to hatching
    3 weeks
  • Average fledging age
    2-3 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3-5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3-5 years

The incubation period for the eggs is approximately three weeks. Young are altricial. Once the eggs hatch, it takes about two to three weeks for the chicks to fledge. Once the young leave the nest neither they nor their mother will return to that particular area for many years.

Most parrots (family Psittacidae) have both male and female parental care; usually both parents take part in incubation and feeding young. This is likely to be true for this species as well. (Bird World, 1998; Hiddert, 2001; Sibley, 2001; Verlag, 2000; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning

Lifespan/Longevity

There are no documented reports of the lifespan of princess parrots, however, other members of this family (Psittacidae) have been reported to live 20 to 30 years in captivity. (Sibley, 2001)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    23.9 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Princess parrots are rarely seen by humans; when seen they are usually in pairs or small groups of up to fifteen or twenty individuals. They often breed in small colonies. They are nomadic; they will nest in an area and then depart, sometimes not returning for up to twenty years. They relocate in relation to seasonal plant growth, this way they have food year round. They are remarkably tame and easily approached by humans. (Verlag, 2000; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

Communication and Perception

Princess parrots communicate with a "Clack-clack" followed by a clucking sound, which sounds similar to domestic hens. Their call note is a simple whistle, however, they are quiet and rarely call. (Eastman, 1966)

Food Habits

Princess parrots are herbivorous. Their diet is mainly herbaceous plants low to the ground, and grass seeds. Fruit and blossoms of the acacia are their preferred food. They also eat berries and other seeds. (Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

There are very few reports of animals that prey upon princess parrots. This may be due to their rarity; they are not frequently seen by humans, and may also be infrequently seen by predators. (Bird World, 1998; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

Ecosystem Roles

Because of their feeding habits, princess parrots have an impact on the plants and seeds they eat.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Australian Aborigines have been known to occasionally eat princess parrots and their young. Princess parrots can also be found in aviaries. (Verlag, 2000; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of princess parrots on humans.

Conservation Status

These birds are rarely seen, and are labeled as a lower risk/near threatened species by the IUCN and as Appendix II by CITES. They are protected by law from capture. Threats to these birds include: habitat modifications, changes in the amounts of water available, changes in burning regimes, introduced predators and introduced competitors. BirdLife International estimates the population size to be 5,000 individuals. (BirdLife International, 2003; Wildlife Fact File, 1993)

Contributors

Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Crystal Bauer (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

colonial

used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Barrett, C. 1949. Parrots of Austrailia. Australia: Morris & Walker PTY.

Bates, H., R. Busenbark. 1978. Parrots and related birds. Brookvale, Australia: T.F.H. Publications.

Bird World, 1998. "Bird World" (On-line). Accessed 02/05/04 at http://www.oaklandzoo.org/atoz/azprncs.html.

BirdLife International, 2003. "BirdLife's online World Bird Database: the site for bird conservation. Version 2.0. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International" (On-line). Accessed February 06, 2004 at http://www.birdlife.org.

Eastman, W. 1966. Parrots of Australia. Sydney, Australia: Angus & Robertson LTD.

Forshaw, J. 1973. Parrots of the World. Australia: Lansdowne Press.

Hiddert, C. 2001. "Parrot Society of Australia Inc. The Princess Parrot" (On-line). Accessed 02/05/04 at http://www.parrotsociety.org.au/articles/.

Sibley, D. 2001. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

The Oakland Zoo, 2001. "The Oakland Zoo in Knowland Park" (On-line). Accessed 02/05/04 at http://www.birdworld.com.au/records/parrots/princess.html.

Verlag, A. 2000. "The Complete Lexicon of Parrots" (On-line). Accessed 02/05/04 at http://www.arndt-verlag.com/austral.html.

Wildlife Fact File, 1993. Wildlife Fact File Princess Parrot. USA: IMP BV/IMP Inc.