Warwick Pickwell

The Rosella takes its name from Rosehill in Sydney where the earliest sightings (presumably Eastern Rosellas) were know as Rosehillers and later contracted to the more familiar Rosellas. Two plumage characteristics distinguish these birds in the field from other Australian parrots: well-defined cheek patches and a pronounced "mottling" on the back.

The Rosella genus PLATYCERCUS, is endemic to Australia and consists of eight members though their status is far from clear, one of the more interesting taxonical discussion being their classification. According to the latest R.A.O.U. Check List (1994) there are six full species: Northern Rosella: P. VENUSTUS, Eastern Rosella: P. EXIMIUS, Western Rosella: P.ICTEROTIS, Green Rosella: P. CALEDONICUS, Pale-headed Rosella: P. ADSCITUS and the Crimson Rosella: P. ELEGANS which is divided into two subspecies: the Adelaide Rosella: P. E. ADELAIDAE and the Yellow Rosella: P. E. FLAVEOLUS. While most would agree that the Adelaide Rosella is a hybrid, and therefore a subspecies, J. Forshaw, Australia’s most eminent authority on parrots, points out that many Australian parrots hybridize, especially on the borders of their range with other parrots. Adelaide’s position my be, therefore, still open for discussion. Again I know of at least two nationally prominent ’birdos’ who would seek to upgrade the status of the Yellow Rosella to that of full species. The above, however, is the official position at the present time.

There is a movement, reflected in Simpson and Day’s Field Guide (fifth edition), to re classify the Rosellas according to the colour of their cheek patch. The Rosellas could then be: 1. The White-cheeked Complex, consisting of the Eastern, Northern and Pale-headed Rosellas. (Note: there is a pale-blue cheek form of the Pale-headed Rosella in Northern Australia). It should be further said that to the average field observer a close relationship between the (Black-headed) Northern Rosella and the (Red-headed) Eastern Rosella requires a considerable stretch of the imagination. 2. The Blue-cheeked Complex, consisting of the Green Rosella, the Crimson Rosella and it’s two sub species, the Adelaide and Yellow Rosellas. I have commented on this arrangement above. 3 Presumably the Yellow-cheeked Rosella. This is the Western Rosella only, with no discussion needed.

Another possibility, according to Forshaw’s information, is that of two specific groupings which can be differentiated by immature plumage patterns. One group, consisting of the Green, Crimson and satellite Rosellas, have immatures which are dull green and do not resemble their adults. There are found in eastern Australia only and might be called the Localized Rosella. The other group, comprising the remaining four species of Rosella, have immatures which do resemble one of both of their adults. As these are much more wide spread could they be called the "Ubiquitous" Rosella? It should be noted that for discussion purposes Forshaw treats each member as a "full" species for the time being. If you are not confused completely yet about the classification of Rosellas, read on!

I would like to add a thought of my own to this "cauldron" of Rosella taxonomy. The distribution of Rosellas, though widespread, is mainly confined to the perimeter regions of Australia, the only exception being Tasmania where the Green Rosella is found throughout that state. Further, while no members are found in the country’s vast centre area, Rosellas are found in every state and territory. With this in mind perhaps the eight members could be re-named according to area - with apologies to the A.C.T. The Pale-headed Rosella is found almost exclusively in Queensland - thus becoming the Queensland Rosella; the Western Rosella, being found exclusively in W.A. - the West Australian Rosella; again, the Green, found only in Tasmania - the Tasmanian Rosella.

Now comes the tricky bit, beginning with the Adelaide Rosella which would become the South Australian Rosella. I shall return to the Yellow below. The Northern Rosella is found both in the N.T. and n-e corner of W.A. but has a wider distribution in the former, thus perhaps, becoming the Northern Territory Rosella. Although found on the Queensland border and in Victoria the Eastern Rosella has it closest association with N.S.W. - the New South Wales Rosella. The Crimson is a problem being found in all mainland eastern states by distribution according to size of area and density of population would suggest Victoria - the Victorian Rosella. This leaves the Yellow Rosella. Could I suggest the Border Rosella for this one?

There are obvious flaws in the above but at least it has simplicity and gives a field observer something to which to cling. The alternative is to scrap all of the above and return to pre D.N.A. classification, that is, full specific status for all eight members. Does anyone have a better suggestion?

Forshaw J.M. and Cooper W.T. Parrots of the World, (2nd Edition), Lansdowne Editions, 1978, Melbourne; Rorshaw J.M. and Cooper W.T. Australian Parrots, (2nd Edition), Ure Smity Press, 1991, Willoughby, N.S.W.; Simpson K. Day N. and Trusler P. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, (5th Edition)1996, Viking, Ringwood, Vic.; Schodde R. A Pocket List of Australian Birds, Instant Colour Press, 1987, Canberra; Blakers M. Davies S.J.J.F. and Reilly P.N. The Atlas of Australian Birds, M.U.P. 1985, Melbourne.

This article was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 1997