For birdwatchers, the princess parrot is one of Australia’s most highly desired


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew April 19, 2022
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Among bird enthusiasts who are keen to spot Australia’s most beautiful and elusive species, few parrots are as sought-after as this princess.

A striking bird that calls the sandy deserts of Central and Western Australia home, this species makes birdwatchers earn any wild encounter they might have, though their presence in aviaries is a lot more predictable.

One of three members of the long-tailed parrot genus Polytelis (which literally translates to ‘magnificent’), the princess parrot is closely related to the superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) of south-eastern Australia, which has distinctive sunset hues on its face and throat, and the regent parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus) of southern Australia, known for its patchwork of colours, including red, navy and canary-yellow.

The princess parrot is also famous for its colouring, which in the males comes together in a rather strange combination of fluoro green, olive, rose pink and pastel violet (the females have a more muted colour palette). The cherry on top, so to speak, is the species’ wonderful bright red beak.

As Australian ornithologist and bird watcher Chris Watson points out in this lovely blog post about the princess parrot, these colours might look dissonant and rather ‘thrown together’ in isolation, but that’s because we so rarely see this bird in its natural habitat.

The princess parrot’s range runs across the Western Australia-South Australia border, including throughout the Great Victoria Desert, Australia’s largest, and also spans parts of the Northern Territory.

Throughout its habitat, Watson points out, are lush greens of the giant marble gums (Eucalyptus gongylocarpa) – a favourite nesting spot for princess parrots – the rich pinks of the desert sand, and what has been declared one of the bluest skies in the world.

Combined, these beautiful colours of the Australian outback aren’t too dissimilar to what we see on the princess parrot, which blends in beautifully with its surroundings in the wild.

It’s partly what makes this species so prized by birdwatchers – not only is it difficult to spot, it’s nomadic, which means even if you have a good handle on where it may turn up, there’s no telling if you’ll actually spot one on the day.

Of course, these birds are not hard to spot in captivity – like many of Australia’s pretty parrots, princess parrots are very popular among breeders and collectors, who often seem to favour the blue mutation, much to Watson’s (and I’m sure many other princess parrot purists’) bemusement:

A blue mutation of the princess parrot (Polytelis alexandrae). Image credit: paulgear / Wikimedia

And, in appreciation of the princess parrot’s natural colouring, here’s some footage of a very sleepy one, just trying to get some shut-eye: