Crimson Rosella - Habitat Subspecies Breeding Diet

Crimson Rosella

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Crimson Rosella 30–37 cm; 99–170 g (nominate), 75–140 g (flaveolus), 107–160 g (adelaidae); wingspan 44–53 cm . Plumage predominantly red; bill whitish; dark red frontal band through eye, with broad grey-blue lower cheek; feathers of the mantle, back and scapulars black-edged red, giving scaled effect; lesser wing-coverts black, median and outer secondary coverts and outer secondaries pale grey-blue, flight-feathers blackish; tail above deep blue, lateral feathers tipped white, below pale grey-blue. Female similar to the male, but smaller with the narrower bill, and sometimes shows a wine bar. Immature largely green, retaining red and blue on crown and face, with red on vent, but in N of range immature is mainly red and there are also fewer green immatures on Norfolk I; attains adult plumage after c. 15 months. Race nigrescens darker and smaller (wing 147–168 mm, versus 164–188 mm innominate); firewood apparently has similar plumage to last-named race, but has a size of nominating; melanopterus  is darker red, with narrower red fringes to mantle feathers, thus appears to have more black on back; fleurieuensis is slightly smaller than nominate elegans, but has a more yellowish head and neck, redder fringes to upperparts, more orange-coloured underparts and paler wings; flavours (wing 152–178 mm) is similar to race elegans but has pale yellow 

Crimson Rosella parrot

Crimson Rosella


replacing red, except the orange-red frontal band 

Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella


and lores, with some orange-red on breast, while female usually has more orange-red breast markings and often a pale under­wing stripe, and immature has reduced frontal band, upperparts dull olive-green, underparts tinged greenish-yellow and underwing stripe; race Adelaide (wing 159–182 mm) is very similar to nominate but individually variable, being generally orange-red with narrow yellow edges to feathers of underparts and rump, amount of yellow increasing on flanks and sides of the neck, with edges of the mantle and back feathers yellow, those on wing-coverts orange-yellow, whereas immature is duller with breast and belly greyish green, upperparts olive-green, and underwing stripe; race sub­adelaidae 

parrot Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella

has orange-yellow underparts but head, flanks and rump far yellower.

Systematics History

Editor’s Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

Form flavours is often regarded as separate species (as in HBW), but, despite great distinctiveness (extensive yellow vs red plumage: score 4) and broad hybrid zone (score 1), it is here recombined as a race of present species following reconsideration of published information ; moreover, form adelaidae, treated in HBW as separate species with race subadelaidae, here accepted as intergrade between subadelaidae and fleurieuensis. Races firewood and fleurieuensis not recognized in HBW, but reinstated here as recommended . Hybrids of present species with P. ascites were originally thought to be a separate species, “P. mastersianus” (Masters’s Rosella). Seven subspecies were recognized.


Editor’s Note: Additional distribution information for this taxon can be found in the ‘Subspecies’ article above. In the future, we will develop a range-wide distribution article.


Coastal and adjacent mountain forests and clearings from sea-level to alpine woodlands at 1900 m (but is mainly found at 600–1500 m in N of range), also penetrating outer suburbs of cities; most numerous in wet forests and wet woodlands, where annual rainfall exceeds 500 mm. Race flaveolus inhabits stands of riverine red gums  (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), especially where they form savanna woodland on floodplains, ranging out into adjacent mallee and farmland to feed. Where sympatric, nominate race uses box-ironbark and peppermint forests, not penetrating red gums. Race adelaidae occurs in all types of wooded country, frequently penetrating suburban gardens and parks and regularly visiting farmyards to pick up spilt grain, while subadelaidae, like flaveolus, is largely confined to riverine red gum.


Nomadic movements were reported in winter at edges of range, but generally sedentary (of 1741 ringed, 146 recoveries, of which only six were away from the ringing site). However, some movements observed, with presence or changes in numbers in some areas appear seasonal, though movements may only be local. No regular long-distance movements in Victoria and in parts of New South Wales seasonal frequency of observation varied from 87% in summer to 100% in spring and recorded all year at a variety of localities, even at high altitudes, e.g. Snowy Mts , but some altitudinal movements have been suggested, with claims of movement to lower levels in winter and some seasonal influxes attributed to movement from mountains, while the species is regarded as an occasional or irregular visitor .

Diet and Foraging

Seeds of native pines Callitris endlicheri, blue fig (Elaeocarpus grandis), eucalypts and acacias, plus those of smaller introduced and native plants such as Rosa rubiginosaRumex acetosellaHelichrysum scorpioidesCrataegusCotoneasterPyracanthaDanthoniaStellaria mediaTrifolium dubiumOnopordon acanthium and Olea europaea. At one site in S of range the seeds, fruits or blossoms of LeptospermumMelaleucaBanksiaCasuarinaPomaderrisLeucopogonKunzeaSpyridium and most small shrubs, grasses and seaboard succulents were used. In Canberra, recorded foodstuffs include Cupressus sempervirens (seed), Foeniculum vulgare (seeds), Tragopogon porrifolius (seeds), Catalpa bignonioides (fruit), Abelia Grandiflora (flowers), Allocasuarina torulosa (seeds), Podolobium ilicifolium (unripe seeds), Pultenaea cunninghamii (flowers), Wisteria Sinensis (inflorescences), Ribes uvacrispa (fruit), Albizia julibrissin (buds), Callistemon rugulose (seeds), Eucalyptus crenulata (seeds), E. perriniana (seeds), E. viminalis (buds), Melaleuca decussata (seeds), M. parvistaminea (seeds), Rumex crispus (seeds), Grevillea biternata (fruit), Hakea multilineal (flowers), Cydonia oblonga (fruit), Photinia serrulata (fruit), Sanguisorba minor (fruit), Crowea exalata (fruit) and Lycium ferocissimum (seed). Stomachs have been found to hold Hemiptera and psyllid, termite, aphid and beetle larvae. Diet of flaveolus comprises seeds and blossoms of Eucalyptus camaldulensis and unspecified shrubs and grasses, supplemented in autumn by seeds of Polygonum hydropiper and Onopordon acanthium; seeds of paddymelon (Cucumis myriocarpus), larvae of the cup moth (Limacodes longerans) and sap of Eucalyptus resinifera also recorded. Diet of race adelaidae consists of seeds of Eucalyptus, especially E. camaldulensis, also Solanum nigrumXanthorrhoea spathaTrifolium glomeratumAcaciaCarduus tenuiflorus, plus cultivated cereals, while insect remains have also been found in stomachs, and has been observed consuming berries. The species is sometimes a pest in apple, pear, plum and quince orchards. Nominate race frequently associates with P. eximius while foraging, while race flaveolus joins flocks of Barnardius zonarius Bernardi and Polytelis swainsoni .

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Very vocal (often while feeding), with a range of calls that are generally quieter and deeper than those of P. eximius, including a brassy disyllabic “cussik-cussik” or “cuzzuk-cuzzuk” in contact in flight, a harsh “ter-week”, a piping “per-pi-chi-chuck”, a triple-noted “kwick-kweek-kwick”, various chattering calls when perched, and a fluting, liquid “wcheedoo-cheedle”; the vocalizations of race flaveolus (previously separated as different species) is considered to be on average higher-pitched than nominate (and perhaps generally less vocal), whereas race adelaidae is vocally identical to that of nominating. A recent study of contact calls across c. 1300 km transect encompassing populations of races elegans and flavours, which in addition to plumage also differ in neutral genetic markers, uncovered steep clinal changes in two variables (fundamental frequency and peak frequency position); the positions of the two clines in vocal traits were concordant with steep cline in microsatellite-based genetic variation, but were discordant with the steep clines in mtDNA, plumage and habitat; there is no indication that variation in contact calls is involved in maintaining plumage colour differences between elegans and flavours.


Season Aug–Feb or later (Aug–Jan in race flaveolus, Sept–Dec in race adelaidae). Monogamous and territorial, with pair-bonds surviving several years and possibly life-long. Nest in hollow limb or trunk of a tree (site selected and prepared by female), usually alive or dead eucalypt (also Acmena smithii), lined with deadwood chips and up to 23 m above ground (sometimes < 1 m from it), with minimum spacing between nests of c. 30–40 m; one record of repeat nesting in girder of operating crane, and holes in buildings (including chimneys) may also be utilized, as are nest boxes; favours rotten trunks of Araucaria heterophylla on Norfolk I. May reuse the same nest-site for up to five seasons, but more usually different site within a same small area, or reuses nest previously used by another species; competes for nest-holes with Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla), Laughing Kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae), Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis), common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), common ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) and sugar gliders (Peraurus breviceps), as well as feral bees (Apis). Eggs  3–7, rarely eight, white, size 27·2–30 mm × 21·8–24·6 mm; incubation usually lasts 19–21 (range 16–28) days, by female alone (provisioned by male) and laid at 1–4-day intervals; young hatch asynchronously and have white down (both elegans and flaveolus), mean weight at hatching, 7 g, with a maximum weight of 163 g, but mean weight at fledging 138·5 g (males, which grow faster) or 123·4 g (females); nestling period c. 5 weeks, with young fed by both parents and post-fledging care sometimes occupying another one month. Success at one site, of 142 eggs, 39 (27·5%) hatched, 21 (14·8%) fledged; at another, of 178 eggs, 69 (38·8%) hatched, 55 (30·9%) fledged, and another, of 375 eggs, 66.3% hatched and 50% fledged; a most common source of breeding failure is the destruction of eggs by conspecifics, with 52 nests that failed during egg stage, 31 (59·6%) being destroyed by other P. elegans, six (11·5%) being eaten by mammals, two (3·8%) abandoned and 13 (25%) failed for unknown reasons; hatching success highest in wettest years and lowest in driest years. Known predators of adults include Square-tailed Kite (Lophoictinia isura), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and Greater Sooty-owl (Tyto tenebricosa).

Conservation Status

Not globally threatened. CITES II. Generally common to abundant, with the overall population of elegansnigrescent and Balaenoptera thought to be in excess of 200,000 birds, but has lost ground to land clearance, when it is replaced by P. eximius. Slight expansions of the range were detected in Bendigo area, Victoria, during the 1970s and in South-East and Adelaide Plains regions of South Australia, while numbers around Naracoorte, South Australia, were thought to be increasing in the 1960s, whereas numbers at Comooyne, New South Wales, declined in 1930s after large numbers were shot. Damages orchard crops and possibly young wheat, meaning that species were shot in large numbers in past; in some areas, many (especially young) are trapped for aviculture and species is possibly eaten by foxes, cats or dogs. Common and widespread on Norfolk I were introduced in 1830s, but an attempt to stock Lord Howe I (in 1918) with the species failed, whereas another introduction, to New Zealand, was also successful, where it occurs in parts of the city of Wellington (since 1963) and perhaps also in Dunedin. Race flaveolus is fairly common (numbers placed at > 50,000 individuals) within its restricted range, but has suffered some losses owing to large-scale irrigation schemes. Race adelaidae is also abundant within its small range, being common in parks and gardens in the city of Adelaide, whereas subadelaidae is generally considered to be local and uncommon.

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