Sunday, February 26, 2006

Parrots mock nature's normal colour scheme

The conventional wisdom in the avian kingdom is that females are dowdy because their job keeps them near the nest rearing the young while the need to pull partners and scare off rivals has male birds sporting colourful plumage.

Eclectus parrots, a threatened species that lives in Australia's far north, are exceptions to that rule.

The males are green and the females are a snazzy combination of red and blue. In fact, the boys and girls are so different that it was initially thought they were different species.

"There is no other bird like it," the Australian National University's Robert Heinsohn told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Heinsohn has studied eclectus parrots for eight years. He believes that lifestyle and not gender is key determining factor to their odd marking.

Female of the Eclectus roratus species spend almost all their time near the nest. Their brilliant red and blue helps frighten off hawks and other parrots.

The males, who roam farther, have a green that is easy for other parrots to spot. The green also serves as a camouflage against the green forest canopy where they forage. -