Echo parakeet

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Echo parakeet
Echo parakeet (Psittacula eques echo) -at Durrell Trust.jpg
Female at Black River Gorges
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittaculidae
Genus: Psittacula
Species: P. eques
Binomial name
Psittacula eques
(Boddaert, 1783)
  • P. e. eques (Boddaert, 1783)
  • P. e. echo (Newton & Newton, 1876)
Echo parakeet range.png
Current range (red) in Mauritius
  • Psittacus eques Boddaert, 1783
  • Psittica torquata Latham, 1822
  • Psittacula echo Newton & Newton, 1876

The echo parakeet or Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula eques), is a species of parrot endemic to the Mascarene Island of Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean. It is the only extant parrot of the Mascarene islands; all others have become extinct due to human activity. The extinct Réunion parakeet of nearby Réunion was previously considered a distinct species, but a 2015 DNA study determined it to be a subspecies of the same species as the Mauritius population. If the Mauritius and Réunion birds are considered the same species, and the subspecies model is considered, then the Echo parakeet becomes the English group name for both, with the Mauritian birds using the scientific name Psittacula eques echo.


Type illustration of P. eques, depicting a male member of the extinct Réunion population, by Martinet, 1779

Its scientific name change from Psittacula echo had recently found widespread approval. A wealth of circumstantial evidence nowadays suggests that the hypothesized Réunion parakeet (described earlier as Psittacula eques, based on a painting and hearsay reports) did indeed exist. The Réunion birds were the closest relatives, and presumably conspecific, with the Mauritius ones.[2]

A study skin had been discovered at the Royal Museum of Scotland, explicitly referencing a book description of the Réunion birds. This may be the only material proof of these birds' existence, or be from Mauritius. Even in that case, ancient DNA analysis of this specimen will give new insight into these questions, because very little data exists on the genetic diversity of the Mauritius parakeet in former times.

In addition to the study skin, it is known from descriptions, as well as illustrations of which it is unknown whether they were drawn from live or stuffed specimens.[3] It was closely related to the extant but endangered Mauritius parakeet and became extinct in about 1770.[4]


Many extant or extinct birds endemic to the Mascarene Islands are derived from South Asian ancestors, including the dodo, and a South Asian provenance has been proposed for the parrots as well. Sea levels were lower during the Pleistocene, so it was possible for species to "island hop" to the isolated islands. Of the about eight endemic Mascarene parrot species, all but the Mauritius parakeet have gone extinct. In spite of many of them being poorly known, fossil remains show that they shared features such as enlarged heads and jaws, reduced pectoral elements, and robust leg elements. Julian Hume has suggested their common origin is within the Psittaculini radiation, based on morphological features and the fact that Psittacula parrots have managed to colonise many isolated islands in the Indian Ocean.[3] This group may have invaded the area several times, as many of the species were so specialised that they may have diverged on hot spot islands before the Mascarenes emerged from the sea.[5]

The following cladogram shows the phylogenetic position of the Mauritius and Réunion subspecies, according to Jackson et al., 2015:[6]

Psittacula krameri parvirostris (Abyssinian rose-ringed parakeet)

Psittacula krameri manillensis (Indian rose-ringed parakeet)

Psittacula krameri borealis (Boreal rose-ringed parakeet)

Psittacula echo (Mauritius parakeet)

Psittacula eques (Réunion parakeet)

Psittacula exsul (Newton's parakeet)

Psittacula krameri krameri (African rose-ringed parakeet)

However, Cheke and Justin J. F. J. Jansen pointed out in 2016 that the sole specimen thought to be a Réunion parakeet has no clear provenance information, and may simply be a Mauritius bird. They also doubted whether the birds of Réunion and Mauritius were different species.[7]


Perched male; note the neck-ring

The echo parakeet is 36–42 cm (14–17 in) long and weighs 167–193 g (5.9–6.8 oz). It is generally green, with a darker back and yellowish underside. It has two ring collars on its neck, one pink and one blackish blue. The udnerside of the tail is brownish grey witha yellow edge. The upper bill is red, and the lower is blackish brown. The iris is yellow, and the feet are blackish grey. It is very similar to the rose-ringed parakeet, though its green plumage is darker and richer green, and its nape has a bluish wash. Its tail is greener above, and shorter. The female is similar to that of the rose-ringed parakeet though darker, and more emerald green, with an all black bill. The immature is similar to the female.[8][9][10] The bill of the juvenile is red orange, similar to that of the adult male, until two to three months after it fledges, when it changes to black, similar to that of the adult female. The echo parakeet has comparatively shorter, broader, and more rounded wings than its relatives, as well as a shorter and broader tail.[11][10]

The most common vocalisation of the echo parakeet is a short, nasal squawk sounding like "kaah", which is emitted singly or in a fast series. It emits more melodious chirrups and whistles while perched.[12]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Individual near Le Pétrin

The echo parakeet feeds on the fruits of native Mauritian plants such as Calophyllum, Tabernaemontana, Labourdonnaisia, Mimusops, Syzygium, Sideroxylon, Nuxia, Diospyros, Eugenia and Erythrospermum, as well as introduced species.[10]

Conservation and status[edit]

Chick at Black River Aviaries

The Mauritius parakeet is one of the most remarkable successes of wildlife conservation.

In the early 1980s, this parakeet was almost extinct. The roughly 10 birds that were left had hardly ever bred successfully since the early 1970s due to lack of suitable trees, nest predation,[13] disturbance by humans and feral pigs and deer, and competition with more plentiful bird species including the introduced rose-ringed parakeet. The Mauritius parakeet seemed doomed to extinction.

But with the team of Carl Jones (of Mauritius kestrel and Last Chance to See fame) taking over, a dedicated research and conservation effort was launched to save the birds. By the late 1980s, the situation had stabilized – though at a precariously low level – and more young birds were being hatched. By the mid-1990s, some 50–60 individuals were known altogether (including young birds) and an intensive management of the wild population by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation could begin. These efforts paid off handsomely; by January 2000, the population had exceeded 100 birds total.

Illustration of a male Réunion parakeet, by Barraband, 1801

Since then, the rapid recovery has continued. The total wild population is presently some 280-300 individuals of which some 200 are adult, half of which being breeding pairs and most of the other half single males.[14] A captive fall-back population was originally held at the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary, however only one individual male remains of the collection.[15]

Recognizing that the Mauritius parakeet was not acutely threatened with extinction anymore but "merely" very rare, it is downlisted from critically endangered to endangered in the 2007 IUCN Red List. The goal for the near future is to have a stable population of 300 mature birds in the wild by 2010[needs update], and it is most likely that this will be achieved. At present, not all remaining and reconstituted habitat is utilized by the birds, so that it's hoped that the population will continue to expand in the near future. It is still threatened by unforeseeable events like tropical cyclones and psittacine beak and feather disease, the impact of which is at present unknown, and of course the threats which had brought it to near-extinction only some two decades ago continue to hamper its recovery.[16]


  1. ^ Birdlife Intetrnational (2013). "Psittacula eques". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
  2. ^ BirdLife International (2006, 2007b), Hume (2007)
  3. ^ a b Hume, Julian Pender (2007): Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from the Mascarene Islands, with comments on their ecology, morphology, and affinities. Zootaxa 1513: 1–76 PDF abstract.
  4. ^ NHM: Reunion Parakeet
  5. ^ Cheke, A. S.; Hume, J. P. (2008). Lost Land of the Dodo: an Ecological History of Mauritius, Réunion & Rodrigues. T. & A. D. Poyser. ISBN 978-0-7136-6544-4.
  6. ^ Jackson, H.; Jones, C. G.; Agapow, P. M.; Tatayah, V.; Groombridge, J. J. (2015). "Micro-evolutionary diversification among Indian Ocean parrots: temporal and spatial changes in phylogenetic diversity as a consequence of extinction and invasion". Ibis. 157 (3): 496–510. doi:10.1111/ibi.12275.
  7. ^ Cheke, Anthony S.; Jansen, Justin J. F. J. "An enigmatic parakeet – the disputed provenance of an Indian Ocean Psittacula". Ibis. 158 (2): 439–443. doi:10.1111/ibi.12347.
  8. ^ Jones, C. G. 5 - The larger land-birds of Mauritius. pp. 208–300. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511735769.007.
  9. ^ Hume, J. P.; Walters, M. (2012). Extinct Birds. London: A & C Black. pp. 176–177. ISBN 978-1-4081-5725-1.
  10. ^ a b c Collar, N.; de Juana, E.; Boesman, P. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E., eds. "Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 7 October 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
  11. ^ Groombridge, J. J.; Jones, C. G.; Nichols, R. A.; Carlton, M.; Bruford, M. W. (2004). "Molecular phylogeny and morphological change in the Psittacula parakeets". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 31 (1): 96–108. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2003.07.008.
  12. ^ Home, J. F. M. Vocalisations of the endemic land-birds of the Mascarene Islands. pp. 101–150. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511735769.005.
  13. ^ Mainly by black rats and crab-eating macaques: BirdLife International (2007b).
  14. ^ There was and still is a surplus of males, which continue to be about thrice as numerous as females.
  15. ^ See BirdLife International (2007b) for a detailed report of the species' recovery
  16. ^ See BirdLife International (2006, 2007a,b).