Coxen's Fig-parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni Recovery Plan 2001-2005

Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team
© The State of Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, 2001

2. Description

2.1 Description

Coxen's fig-parrot is an attractive, small, predominantly green parrot whose seemingly over-large head and bill, together with an extremely short tail, give it a somewhat dumpy, top-heavy appearance resembling an exotic lovebird (Agapornis spp.). It attains a length of 16cm (Pizzey and Knight 1997). Both sexes are rich green above and yellowish-green below with a yellow-sided upper breast and flanks. The wings are green with the outer sections of the primary feathers dark blue and inner sections dark grey. The edges of the tertial feathers are red. The bill is two-toned: pale grey with a dark grey or black tip. The eye is brown. The male has a distinctive blue forehead surrounded by a few red feathers and an orange-red cheek patch bordered below by a mauve-blue band. The female is similar but with a smaller blue forehead patch with less or no red, and a duller, smaller orange-red cheek patch (Forshaw 1981, Pizzey and Knight 1997). Immatures and juveniles have not been described.

Coxen's fig-parrot can be confused with several species of lorikeet, particularly the little lorikeet Glossopsitta pusilla and the musk lorikeet G. concinna. However, the build, size, bill colour, distinctive head, breast and wing markings, and absence of brown nape and mantle are useful distinguishing features. Furthermore, fig-parrots and lorikeets look and behave differently in flight. The fig-parrot's dumpier build, broader, more rounded wings and almost tail-less silhouette contrast with the overall slimmer, small-headed appearance and the longer, finer and more pointed wings of both the little and musk lorikeets (Norris 1964, Corfe 1977). The flight of the Coxen's fig-parrot is rapid and direct (Norris 1964, Corfe 1977, Peddie in Lendon 1979). Like the related red-browed fig-parrot (C. d. macleayana), it presumably does not adopt the lorikeet style of 'darting and dodging through gaps in the branches and foliage of the tree-tops' (Bourke and Austin 1947, Forshaw 1981).

The flight call of Coxen's fig-parrot is a short, clipped, two note call, variously described as a high-pitched 'zeet-zeet' (Slater et al. 1986, Pizzey and Knight 1997), 'tcheek, tcheek' (Norris 1964), 'yyit-yyit' (Corfe 1977), a medium-pitched 'zzzt-zzzt' (Martindale 1986), or a rather soft lorikeet-like screech (CSIRO 1996). This call is reputedly indistinguishable from that of other Australian subspecies of fig-parrot (Parker in Holmes 1990), but is harsher and more staccato than the screech of a little lorikeet (Martindale 1986). Coxen's fig-parrot does not always call while in flight (Brenan 1924, Peddie in Lendon 1979).

2.2 Taxonomy

Coxen's fig-parrot is the largest subspecies of Australia's smallest parrot, the double-eyed fig-parrot. The name 'double-eyed fig-parrot' refers to the colourful cheek patches. Coxen's fig-parrot was the first of the three geographically discrete Australian subspecies to be recognised. Gould described it in 1867 from skins collected in 1866 by a sawyer at Mount Samson near Brisbane. The other two subspecies are the red-browed fig-parrot C. d. macleayana Ramsay 1874, from Cooktown south to around Cairns, the Atherton Tableland and Paluma in north-east Queensland, and Marshall's fig-parrot C. d. marshalli (Iredale 1947) from eastern Cape York Peninsula (Forshaw 1981). In addition, five subspecies of double-eyed fig-parrot, including the nominate form, are distributed through New Guinea and the Aru Islands of Indonesia (Forshaw 1989).

All eight subspecies of double-eyed fig-parrot possess bright head markings which exhibit some sexual dimorphism. However, in Coxen's fig-parrot this dimorphism is not pronounced (Forshaw 1967). Suggestions that Coxen's fig-parrot is a separate species, based upon its large size and almost entirely blue forehead in both sexes (e.g. Rothschild and Hartert 1901, Mathews 1946) were rejected by Forshaw (1967). However, Keast (1961) recognised that it is approaching the degree of morphological differentiation that is typical of a species and recent unpublished reports of the larger size of Coxen's fig-parrot eggs and the unique shell morphology, as compared to eggs of red-browed fig-parrot and Marshall's fig-parrot (J. Young pers. comm.), suggest a reconsideration of the taxonomy of C. d. coxeni is required. It is expected that detailed genetic analysis will resolve the taxonomic status of Coxen's fig-parrot.

Although currently considered to belong to Cyclopsitta, in the past the double-eyed fig-parrot has been assigned to several other genera. These were Psittacula, Opopsitta and Psittaculirostris.