|Male Australian king parrot (Alisterus scapularis) in Canberra, Australia|
The king parrots are three species of medium-sized parrots in the genus Alisterus; the Australian king parrot (Alisterus scapularis), the Papuan king parrot (Alisterus chloropterus), and the Moluccan king parrot (Alisterus amboinensis). The three species are found in Eastern Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesian islands including the Maluku Islands respectively. Predominantly of red and green plumage, the long tailed parrots are related to the genera Aprosmictus and Polytelis.
King parrots are medium-sized parrots, 35–43 cm (14–17 in) in length with long broad tails. They have relatively small beaks for their size. The beaks of the adults are two colours, blackish and orange-reddish, except for the subspecies buruensis of the Moluccan king parrot which has a grey-black beak, and female Australian king parrot which has a grey beak.
The Papuan king parrot and the Australian king parrot show sexual dimorphism in their plumage and beak colouration, which contrast to the Moluccan king parrot where the male and female have an identical external appearance.
The two subspecies of the Australian king parrot are similar except in size. The male has a red head and neck, red lower parts, blue back and rump, and green wings, each with a pale-green band (resembling a shoulder stripe). In the female, the head is green, the green being continuous over the neck, chest, and back. There is red plumage over the lower abdomen, and the pale-green wing band is small or absent. Juvenile males also have a green neck and head. 
The three subspecies of the Papuan king parrot all show sexual dimorphism and in all three subspecies the male can be identified by a prominent broad pale-green band on each wing. The differences in the females between subspecies are more marked than the differences in the males. The female of subspecies A. c. moszkowskii has green wings, and a red head, neck, chest and abdomen resembling the male, and differs from the male with its much smaller pale-green wing band. The females of A. c. chloropterus and A. c. calloterus differ from the males with broadly similar sexual dimorphism to the Australian king parrot with extended green plumage, except the chests of the females of these two Papuan king parrot subspecies have vague transverse green and red striations.
Behaviour and ecology
The three species are forest-dwelling, and are found singly, in pairs, or in groups. Australian king parrots sometimes gather in groups of up to 30 or more around food sources, while Moluccan king parrots sometimes form groups up to ten, and the Moluccan king parrots may gather in groups of fives or sixes. They generally feed on seeds, fruits and berries in trees.
Classified in the subfamily Psittacinae within the true parrot family, the genus Alisterus was described by Australian amateur ornithologist Gregory Mathews in 1911. They were previously considered part of the genus Aprosmictus, which contains the red-winged and olive-shouldered parrots.
The king parrots appear to be most closely related to the genera Aprosmictus and the long-tailed parrots of the genus Polytelis, united by similarities in food begging and contact calls by chicks, and by more recent molecular analysis in 2005. The molecular work placed this group in turn as sister to a group containing Eclectus, Tanygnathus, and Psittacula.
There are three species and several subspecies of king parrots:
- Alisterus amboinensis (Linnaeus, 1766) - Moluccan king parrot
- Alisterus amboinensis amboinensis (Linnaeus, 1766)
- Alisterus amboinensis buruensis (Salvadori, 1876)
- Alisterus amboinensis dorsalis (Quoy & Gaimard,1830)
- Alisterus amboinensis hypophonius (S. Müller, 1843)
- Alisterus amboinensis sulaensis (Reichenow, 1881)
- Alisterus amboinensis versicolor Neumann, 1939
- Alisterus chloropterus (E.P. Ramsay, 1879) - Papuan king parrot
- Alisterus chloropterus callopterus (Albertis & Salvadori, 1879)
- Alisterus chloropterus chloropterus (E.P. Ramsay, 1879)
- Alisterus chloropterus moszkowskii (Reichenow, 1911)
- Alisterus scapularis (Lichtenstein, 1816) - Australian king parrot
- Alisterus scapularis minor Mathews, 1911
- Alisterus scapularis scapularis (Lichtenstein, 1816)
|Common and binomial names||Image||Description||Range|
|Moluccan king parrot
||35 cm (14 in) long. Male is similar to female in all six subspecies. Wings do not have a scapular band. Five subspecies have green wings and one subspecies has blue wings. Orange irises. Dark grey legs.||Numerous islands and western New Guinea of Indonesia.|
|Papuan king parrot
||36 cm (14 in) long. Three subspecies all showing sexual dimorphism. The differences in the females between subspecies are more marked than the differences in the males. The pale green band on wing is much more marked in the males. Orange irises. Dark grey legs.||New Guinea|
|Australian king parrot
||43 cm (17 in) long. Male is mainly red and green and the female is mainly green. A band of pale green feathers on each wing is prominent in the male and small or absent in the female. Blue back and rump. Yellow irises. Grey legs. Its two subspecies are similar except in size, the northern subspecies being the smaller.||Eastern Australia|
- Forshaw (2006). plate 49.
- Forshaw (2006). page 70–71.
- Mathews GM. "On some necessary alterations in the nomenclature of birds. Pt II". Novitates Zoologicae 18: 1–22.
- de Kloet, RS; de Kloet SR (2005). "The evolution of the spindlin gene in birds: Sequence analysis of an intron of the spindlin W and Z gene reveals four major divisions of the Psittaciformes.". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36 (3): 706–721. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.03.013. PMID 16099384.
- "Zoological Nomenclature Resource: Psittaciformes (Version 9.024)". www.zoonomen.net. 2009-05-30.
- Forshaw, Joseph M. (2006). Parrots of the World; an Identification Guide. Illustrated by Frank Knight. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09251-6.
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