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Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from the Mascarene Islands, with comments on their ecology, morphology, and affinities

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The parrots (Psittacidae: Lophopsittacus, Psittacula, Necropsittacus, Mascarinus) of the Mascarenes (Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues) have been relatively poorly studied. Most analyses have been based on a few skins, insufficient fossil material, and unreliable contemporary accounts and illustrations, which have led to erroneous interpretations. The discovery of new fossil remains of parrots and new interpretations of contemporary descriptions and illustrations has clarified many issues. One problematic species, Lophopsittacus bensoni is here removed to the genus Psittacula. A detailed comparative analysis of fossil skeletal elements indicates that the affinities of the Mascarene parrots lie within the Psittaculini, a wide ranging tribe of parrots that occurs mainly in Southeast Asia and Australasia. The Mascarenes are remote volcanic islands and biogeographical evidence presented here suggests that parrots reached this isolated group by island-hopping from India, probably during low sea level stands.
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ZOOTAXA
Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from
the Mascarene Islands, with comments on
their ecology, morphology, and affinities
JULIAN PENDER HUME
Magnolia Press
Auckland, New Zealand
1513
HUME
2 · Zootaxa 1513 © 2007 Magnolia Press
Julian Pender Hume
Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from the Mascarene Islands, with comments on their
ecology, morphology, and affinities
(Zootaxa 1513)
76 pp.; 30 cm.
25 Jun. 2007
ISBN 978-1-86977-123-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-86977-124-9 (Online edition)
FIRST PUBLISHED IN 2007 BY
Magnolia Press
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other than private research use.
ISSN 1175-5326 (Print edition)
ISSN 1175-5334 (Online edition)
Accepted by S. Olson: 23 Apr. 2007; published: 25 Jun. 2007 3
ZOOTAXA
ISSN 1175-5326 (print edition)
ISSN 1175-5334 (online edition)
Copyright © 2007 · Magnolia Press
Zootaxa 1513: 176 (2007)
www.mapress.com/zootaxa/
Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from the Mascarene Islands, with
comments on their ecology, morphology, and affinities.
JULIAN PENDER HUME
Correspondence Address: Bird Group, The Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, Akeman St, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP
Palaeobiology Research Group, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Hants PO1
3QL. E-mail: J.Hume@bun.com
Table of contents
Abstract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Materials and methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
Species accounts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Class Aves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Order Psittaciformes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Family Psittacidae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Genus Lophopsittacus Newton, 1875 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Raven Parrot; Broad-billed Parrot Lophopsittacus mauritianus (Owen, 1866) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Genus Psittacula Cuvier, 1800 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Thirioux’s Grey Parrot Psittacula bensoni (Holyoak, 1973), new combination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Réunion grey parrot Psittacula cf. bensoni . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Echo Parakeet Psittacula echo (Newton & Newton, 1876) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Réunion ring-necked parakeet Psittacula eques Boddaert, 1783 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Rodrigues parakeet Psittacula exsul (Newton, 1872) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
Seychelles parakeet Psittacula wardi (Newton, 1867). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Genus Necropsittacus Milne-Edwards, 1874 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Rodrigues parrot Necropsittacus rodericanus (Milne-Edwards, 1867) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Réunion red and green parakeet, genus indeterminate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34
Genus Mascarinus Lesson, 1831 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
Mascarene parrot Mascarinus mascarinus (Linnaeus, 1771) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36
Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44
Appendices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50
Appendix 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50
Appendix 2. Osteological descriptions and comparisons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51
Appendix 3. Measurements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .66
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Abstract
The parrots (Psittacidae: Lophopsittacus, Psittacula, Necropsittacus, Mascarinus) of the Mascarenes (Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues)
have been relatively poorly studied. Most analyses have been based on a few skins, insufficient fossil material, and unreliable contem-
porary accounts and illustrations, which have led to erroneous interpretations. The discovery of new fossil remains of parrots and new
interpretations of contemporary descriptions and illustrations has clarified many issues. One problematic species, Lophopsittacus ben-
soni is here removed to the genus Psittacula. A detailed comparative analysis of fossil skeletal elements indicates that the affinities of
the Mascarene parrots lie within the Psittaculini, a wide ranging tribe of parrots that occurs mainly in Southeast Asia and Australasia.
The Mascarenes are remote volcanic islands and biogeographical evidence presented here suggests that parrots reached this isolated
group by island-hopping from India, probably during low sea level stands.
Key words: Mascarene parrots, extinction , affinities, morphology, ecology, biogeography, Psittaculini, Psittacula bensoni new comb
Introduction
The Mascarene Islands, comprising Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues, lie on the southern edge of the tropics
in the western Indian Ocean. The nearest large land mass is Madagascar, some 665 km to the west of Réunion,
whilst the continental land mass of Australia is situated 4800 km east of Rodrigues. Mauritius (20.25° S
57.5°E) lies 164 km ENE of Réunion (21 S° 55.5°E) and Rodrigues (19.75°S 63.5°E) is situated 574 km to the
east of Mauritius (Fig.1).
The isolation of the Mascarenes has resulted in high faunal endemism, although adaptive radiation, partic-
ularly among birds, is extremely low. Terrestrial mammals and amphibians are absent, but endemic reptiles
(Arnold 1979; 2000; Bour 1981) and fruit bats of the genus Pteropus (Cheke & Dahl 1981; Cheke 1987) are
diverse. Mascarene environments remained pristine until comparatively recently. The first serious human
activity did not occur until the late 16th century (Moree 1998), so that early travellers were able to provide a
number of contemporary accounts and illustrations (Cheke 1987), which, although generally crude, give some
indication as to the original ecology. The subsequent discovery of fossil material has allowed some corrobora-
tion of species described in early accounts. Because parrots were considered ‘preferred game’ to early mari-
ners visiting the islands, most accounts unfortunately refer only to the ease with which they could be taken for
the pot (Strickland & Melville 1848; Cheke 1987). Intense hunting led to their depletion or rapid extinction so
that most species of parrots disappeared before they could be described scientifically except from fossil
remains (see Table 1). In attempting to determine the original composition of the Mascarene parrot fauna,
some influential works (Rothschild 1907a, b; Hachisuka 1953) confused rather than clarified the situation,
with some parrots being based on inadequate evidence. Nethertheless, the number of species is remarkable for
such a small archipelago and endemism is high. Because of the paucity of fossil parrot remains, the number of
species may well have been higher than recognised here.
TABLE 1. Parrots of the Mascarenes and their status.
Species Distribution Types of evidence
Lophopsittacus mauritianus Mauritius Fossil record, contemporary illustrations and accounts
Necropsittacus rodericanus Rodrigues Fossil record and contemporary accounts
Psittacula bensoni new comb. Mauritius Fossil record, contemporary illustrations and accounts
Psittacula cf. bensoni Réunion Based on reliable contemporary accounts
Psittacula echo Mauritius Extant. Skins, fossil record and contemporary accounts
Psittacula eques Réunion Contemporary illustrations and accounts
Psittacula exsul Rodrigues Skins, fossil record, contemporary illustrations and accounts
Mascarinus mascarinus Réunion Skins, fossil record, contemporary illustrations and accounts
Necropsittacus(?) borbonicus Réunion Hypothetical, based on one reliable account. Indeterminate genus.
†Necropsittacus francicus Mauritius Invalid taxon based on misinterpretation of accounts
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
FIGURE 1. The Mascarene Islands of Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues with the distribution of Mascarene species of
parrots (boxed).
This paper deals mainly with psittaciform osteological remains, but relevant historical accounts are also
included, especially those where no English translations existed and the works had thus been ignored by other
writers. The Seychelles Parakeet Psittacula wardi is also discussed, as it appears to be closely linked to the
colonisation of the Mascarenes by other species of Psittacula.
The geological, palaeontological, and historical record
Although the Mascarenes are of similar volcanic origin (Courtillot 1999), the islands are strikingly differ-
ent and have evolved in isolation, having never had connections among themselves or any connections to a
continental landmass (Saddul 1995). Mauritius is the oldest island with rocks > 7 my; its youngest volcanics
are dated at 20,000 BP (Saddul 1995). Réunion is still volcanically active, and its oldest rocks are only 3 my
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old (Rivals 1989; Saddul 1995). The supposed youthful age of Rodrigues, recorded as the youngest island at
1.5 MY (McDougall et al. 1965; Saddul 1995) is not supported by the nature of the biota as endemism at the
familial and generic level in some taxa is higher than that of Mauritius or Réunion (Hume unpubl). Réunion
and Mauritius, unlike Rodrigues, lack extensive limestone caverns and their main fossiliferous sites are in
marshes, cliff undercuts, small caves, and boulder fields (Clark 1866; Slater 1879b; Cowles 1987; Mourer-
Chauviré et al. 1999), all of which are scarce within the archipelago. Fossil assemblages are taphonomically
biased, particularly in element type and species representation (Hume 2005). Bone preservation is generally
poor to good on Mauritius and Réunion but may be excellent on Rodrigues. Parrot remains are generally rare
at all fossil localities. Unlike Rodrigues, much of the avifauna of Réunion was derived from the older fauna,
including parrots, pigeons, rails, and passerines.
Parrot remains have been discovered on Réunion in three different cave localities and have been referred
to the extinct endemic species Mascarinus mascarinus (Mourer-Chauviré et al. 1999). At least three other
species may have existed on Réunion (Dubois 1674), none of which is known from skins or fossils. On Mau-
ritius, only the large extinct parrot species Lophopsittacus mauritianus has been recovered from the Mare aux
Songes, a marsh situated in southeast Mauritius famous for harbouring the remains of almost all endemic
Mauritian species (Owen 1866a; Clark 1866; Newton & Gadow 1893). The marsh sediments present today
are black and peaty containing <30% fine to medium coral sand, but the original sedimentology cannot now
be determined as all material was removed for agriculture (pers. obs). Furthermore, the marsh was infilled
with basalt boulders by the British Armed Forces during the 1940s to control malaria, an act instigated by Dr
Herman André, head of the Department of Health, Mauritius (P. André, British Veterinary Hospital Associa-
tion, pers.comm., 20 July 2006). The marsh is inundated with fresh water for at least six months of the year
but run-off is slow (Hume 2005). George Clark excavated the marsh during the mid 1860s and Théodore
Sauzier further worked there under a Government commission in 1889–1890 (Newton and Gadow 1893;
Koenig 1932). Paul Carié re-excavated the Mare aux Songes in the early 1900s and, along with Etienne Thiri-
oux, discovered additional material in cave (boulder field?) deposits located at Le Pouce (northwest), Corps
de Garde (central west) and Le Rouche (northeast) (Carié 1916; Koenig 1932; Florens 2002). At least three
species of parrot once coexisted on Mauritius (Cheke 1987; Hume 1996), but no skin specimens of the extinct
species are known. The only surviving Mauritian parrot, Psittacula echo, is critically endangered and now
confined to the Black River Gorges in southwest Mauritius (Jones 1987), although, a successful captive breed-
ing program has substantially increased the population (Thorsen & Jones 1998). Numerous fossil specimens
referable to this species (see below), discovered by Thirioux in the Le Pouce and Corde de Garde locations,
suggest a much greater distribution on the island than at present.
Rodrigues was once inhabited by at least two species of parrot, both now extinct. They are known from
fossil remains found in cave deposits and one is represented as well by two skins collected in the early 1870s
(Newton & Newton 1876). The Plaine Corail in southwest Rodrigues is an extensive limestone deposit (cal-
carenite) containing a complex network of caverns and caves carved out by the action of underground streams
and percolating water (Caldwell 1875; Slater 1879b; Saddul 1995). Roof collapses and narrow entrances
formed a natural trap for the original fauna. Most of the fossil material is perfectly preserved with many skel-
etal elements often in articulation. Despite the discovery of thousands of bird bones (Newton & Gadow 1893),
parrots are extremely rare in these deposits.
Materials and methods
Comparative material examined
Skeletal material of the following species was examined, all at BMNH:
Cyanoramphus unicolor S/1955.5.57 (unsexed); Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae S/1992.62.1 ; S/
1983.26.2 (unsexed); Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae hochstetteri (Antipodes) S/1952.3.163 Tanygnathus
Zootaxa 1513 © 2007 Magnolia Press · 7
PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
megalorhynchus S/1989.26.20 S/1983.26.2 Psittacula krameri krameri S/1993.15.1 S/1993.15.2
S/1993.15.3 S/1993.15.4 (unsexed) S/1993.15.5 S/1993.15.8 S/1993.15.8 S/1993.15.10 ; Psit-
tacula krameri borealis S/1975.103.70 S/1975.103.62 ; S/1975.103.68 Psittacula krameri manillensis
S/1952.2.442 (unsexed); S/1952.2.444 (unsexed); S/1973.66.111 ; Psittacula echo Juvenile (loan MWF)
(unsexed); S/2000.44.1 Psittacula eupatria S/1999.11.5 ; S/1990.20.4 (unsexed); S/1994.61.4 ; S/
1990.20.5 (unsexed); S/1990.20.3 (unsexed); S/1990.20.2 ; S/1990.20.1 (unsexed); S/199018.30 ; S/
1990.18.28 : S/1990.18.27 ; S/1990.18.26 ; S/1990.18.29 ; S/1990.18.25 ; Coracopsis nigra S/
1972.1.83 (unsexed); 1897.5.10.45 (unsexed); Coracopsis vasa S/2002.4.3 ; S/1972.1.84 (unsexed);
Agapornis cana 1876.3.16.1 (unsexed); Psittrichas fulgidus S/1983.74.1 (unsexed); S/2001.50.168 Psitta-
cus erithacus S/1994.61.3 S/1997.32.1 ; Psephotus pulcherrimus 1868.4.15.4 ; Geopsittacus occidenta-
lis 1868.4.15.3 Eclectus roratus S/1990.12.1 ; S/1991.44.6 ; Calyptorhynchus magnificus magnificus S/
1969.4.22 ; S/1997.32.2 ; Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus S/1973.66.104 ; S/1955.22.9 (unsexed); Pro-
bosciger aterrimus S/1958.9.2 ; S/1989.26.5 ; Nestor notabilis 1862.5.13.1 (unsexed); S/1958.10.11 ;
Nestor meridionalis S/1952.2.411 (unsexed); S/1952.3.12 (unsexed); Strigops habroptilus S/1972.1.71
(unsexed); S/1952.2.410 (unsexed); S/1955.5.27 (unsexed); 1881.1.17.71 (unsexed).
Measurements
All measurements were made using dial calipers and rounded to the nearest 0.1mm. TL = total length; cra-
nium, from naso-frontal hinge to margin of crista occipitalis in a median plane; rostrum, from tip of crista
tomialis to nasofrontal hinge; mandible, from distal margin of rostrum mandibulae to furthest point on the
proximal articulating surface; sternum, from cranial tip of spina externa to margo caudalis in a median plane;
coracoid, measured on the medial side; ulna, measured in dorsal aspect. LIT = length inner trochlea; length
from trochlea. metatarsi II to proximal end. GW = greatest width; cranium taken between processus postorbit-
ales; mandible, greatest width taken across the mandible articulating surfaces; coracoid, proximal end from
processus extensorius to facies articularis ulnacarpalis. GD = greatest depth; cranium from medial point of
parietal to medial ventral surface; mandible, greatest depth of symphysis taken from angulus mandibulae to
ventral surface of symphysis. NFW = naso-frontal width; width across naso frontal hinge. NW = nares width;
width taken between medial edges of nares. LS = length of symphysis; mandible, greatest length of symphysis
taken in a medial plane. WS = width of symphysis; mandible, symphysis width taken from internal lateral
most edges. PL = palatine greatest length; ventral surface from proximal edge to distal edge of pars lateralis.
PD = palatine greatest depth; taken from processus rostralus to ventral surface of pars lateralis. PW = proxi-
mal width; in lateromedial plane; femora, from the acetabulum through mid-depth point of the neck to lateral
side. SW = shaft width; in lateromedial plane. SD = shaft depth; in dorsoventral plane. DW = distal width; in
lateromedial plane; cranium, taken across width of the cranionasal hinge; ulna, taken in dorsal aspect. WSE =
width of the sternal end of coracoid. DL = dorsal length; sternum excluding spina externa taken in medial
plane. LC = greatest length of carina sterni; from apex carinae to margo caudalis of sternum. IC = intercostal
width; sternum width taken across sternum between 2nd intercostals. LK = greatest depth of keel; taken from
facies muscularis sterni to apex carinae.
Abbreviations
The following abbreviations are used: BMNH, The Natural History Museum, London (formerly the Brit-
ish Museum (Natural History)); UMZC, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge; RMS, Royal Museum
of Scotland; MNHN, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; UCB, Université Claude Bernard-Lyon 1,
France; NMW, Naturhistorisches Museum Wien; MWF, Mauritius Wildlife Foundation; FLMR, Francois
Leguat Museum, Rodrigues.
In listing skeletal material, the following abbreviations are used: left (L) or right (R) prefixed by ‘p’ prox-
imal,‘s’ shaft or‘d’ distal. † indicates an extinct genus or species. In Figs. 2 through 13, if unspecified, the sex
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of the specimen is indeterminate.
Anatomical nomenclature follows Baumel & Witmer (1993).
Etymology
In order to clarify nomenclature, the etymology of Mascarene parrots is presented here in its entirety and
is taken from Jobling (1991), but where unavailable, etymology of fossil taxa is taken from the original
description.
FIGURE 2. Crania of Mascarene parrots, ventral aspect. A, UMZC578 Lophopsittacus mauritianus (mis-identified as
Necropsittacus rodericanus); B, UMZC1551 Lophopsittacus mauritianus. In 1., the fonticuli orbitocraniales form deep
pits and are not connected to the cranial cavity by large openings and 2., the two triangular processes projecting ventro-
anteriorly. Both of these structures are particularly diagnostic in Lophopsittacus; C, UMZC562 Necropsittacus roderica-
nus. Scale bar = 10mm.
Species accounts
Class Aves
Order Psittaciformes
Family Psittacidae
Genus Lophopsittacus Newton, 1875: 349.
Psittacus (Lophopsittacus) mauritianus; Newton, 1875a: 349, Type (by original designation).
Etymology: From Greek lophos, crest and psittakos, a parrot, in reference to the distinct feathered crest.
Diagnosis: A monotypic genus with disproportionately large head and jaws, distinct frontal crest of feath-
ers, broad rounded wings and long graduated tail, the two central tail feathers longer than the rest. Cranium
dorso-ventrally flattened with distinct dorsal surface ridges confined to the frontal region; fonticuli orbitocra-
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
niales form deep pits and are not connected to the cranial cavity by large openings; in sternum, comparatively
reduced with shallow carina sterni; pronounced flattening of the surface of facies muscularis sterni and ante-
rior projection of the spina externa; in humerus, condylus dorsalis comparatively reduced and deflected less
medially with a small proximal depression; in femur, impressiones iliotrochantericae markedly ridged and
deeply excavated.
Raven Parrot; Broad-billed Parrot Lophopsittacus mauritianus (Owen, 1866)
Indische Raven, Het Tweede Boeck 1601; Begin en de voortgangh 1646:30; Soete-boom 1648:19; Granaet 1666., in
Barnwell, 1948: 25. Visits and Despatches 1598–1948. Port Louis, Mauritius Standard Printing Establishment [Orig-
inal not seen]; Hoffman 1680., in Grandidier & Grandidier. 1905, III, 374. Ouvrages ou extraits d’ouvrages anglais,
hollandaise, portugais, espagnols et allemands, relatifs à anciens Madagascar (1640 à 1716) [Original not seen].
Psittacus mauritianus Owen, 1866a: 168; figs 1– 4; Owen, 1866b: 88; Milne-Edwards, 1866: 91.
Broad-billed parrot; Owen, 1869: 53.
Psittacus (Lophopsittacus) mauritianus; Newton, 1875a: 349, Type (by original designation).
Lophopsittacus mauritianus; Newton, 1875b: 732, figs. 44, 46.
Holotype: symphysis of mandible. The present location of this specimen is unknown.
Measurements: See Appendix 3, tables 1–11.
Type locality: Mare aux Songes, Mauritius. Holocene material collected in 1865 by George Clark. Fur-
ther material collected by Théodore Sauzier in 1889–1890 (Newton & Gadow 1893).
Additional locality: Le Pouce, Mauritius. Specimens collected by Etienne Thirioux in the late 1890s and
early 1900s and deposited in MNHN. The precise locality where Thirioux procured his specimens has not yet
been determined, but Thirioux in correspondence with Alfred Newton held at UMZC states that it was at 2000
m on the side of Le Pouce valley.
Distribution: Mauritius, Mascarenes, Indian Ocean
Etymology: mauritianus, from the island of Mauritius, named in honour of Stadhouder Maurits, Prince of
Orange (1567–1625).
Paratypes: None designated.
Referred material: Subfossil material collected from the Mare aux Songes and Le Pouce, Mauritius: cra-
nium Type A BMNH 1551; mandible Type A UMZC 424AA, BMNH A3298, BMNH A3298, BMNH
A3298, BMNH A3298, BMNH A3297, BMNH A3297, BMNH A3297, BMNH A3296, Type B BMNH
A3296, BMNH A3297, BMNH A3298; palatine Type A BMNH 01(L); BMNH 02(R); BMNH 03(L);
BMNH 04(L); BMNH 05(R); BMNH 06(R); BMNH 07(R); BMNH 08(R); BMNH 09(L); BMNH 10(R);
BMNH 11(L); BMNH 12(L); BMNH 13(R); BMNH 14(L); BMNH 15(R); BMNH 16(R); BMNH 17(L);
UMCZ A24AA(R); UMZC A24AA(R); UMZC A24AA(L); MNHN MAD4986; MNHN MAD4985; MNHN
MAD4997(R); MNHNMAD4995(R); MNHN MAD4996; Type B BMNH A3300(L); BMNH A3300(R);
BMNH A3300(L); BMNH A3300(L); sternum UMZC 424.AA; furcula UMZC 599; UMZC 599(p); coracoid
UMCZ 599(L), UMZC 599(Ld); MNHN MAU496(R); MNHN MAU525(R); MNHN MAU767(L); humerus
UMZC 596(L); UMZC 596(Lp); UMZC 596Rp); MNHN MAD6800(L); MNHN MAD7011(R); ulna Type A
UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(L); UMZC 601(Rp); Type B MNHN MAD6969(L); MNHN MAD7187(R);
carpometacarpus MNHN MAU569; MNHN MAU539; MNHN MAU537; MNHN MAU597; MNHN
MAU542; MNHN MAU378; femur Type A UMCZ 424AA(L), UMZC 424AA(R), UMZC 424AA(R);
UMZC 600(Rs); MNHN u/c(L); MNHN u/c(R); MNHN MAU367(L); tibiotarsus Type A UMZC
424AA(L), UMZC 424AA(R), UMZC 424AA(L), UMZC 424AA(R), UMZC 424AA(R), UMZC 424AA(R),
UMZC 424AA(L), UMZC 424AA(R); UMZC 424AA(L); BMNH A3301(L), BMNH A3301(R), BMNH
A3301(Ld), BMNH 829B(L), BMNH A3299(Lp), BMNH A3299(Rd), BMNH A3299(Rd), BMNH
A3299(Rd), BMNH A3299(Ld), BMNH A3299(Rd), BMNH A3299(Ld), BMNH A3299(Ld), BMNH
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A3299(L), BMNH A3299(Rd), BMNH A3299(Ld), BMNH A3299(Ld), BMNH A3299(R), BMNH
A3299(L), BMNH A3299(R); MNHN MAD6829(R); MNHN MAD6825(L); MNHN MAD5005(L); MNHN
MAD6819(R); MNHN MAD5006(R); MNHN MAD6822(R); MNHN MAD6821(L); MNHN MAD6827(R);
Type B UMZC 424AA(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(Lp); UMZC 600(Rp); UMZC 600(Ld); BMNH
A3300(L), BMNH A3300(L), BMNH A3300(Ld), BMNH A3300(Rd), BMNH A3300(Rd), BMNH
A3300(L), BMNH A3300(Lp), BMNH A3300(L), BMNH A3300(Rd), BMNH A3300(Rd), BMNH
A3300(R); MNHN MA3299(R), MNHN A3299(Rs), MNHN MAU5671; tarsometatarsus Type A UMCZ
424AA(R), MNHN MAU368; MNHN MAU366, MNHN MAU507; Type B MNHN MAU557. The ele-
ments are derived from at least 28 individuals.
Additional referred specimen: Posterior part of a cranium UMZC 578 (Fig. 2A).This specimen, acces-
sioned in 1908, was catalogued as Necropsittacus rodericanus, “collected on Rodrigues Island, by E. Thiri-
oux, who died in 1918 on Rodrigues, aged 71. As far as known, Thirioux did not collect any fossil material on
Rodrigues and the preservation of this specimen is similar to that of other cave material from Le Pouce on
Mauritius collected by Thirioux and is almost certainly from the same source. It is similar in morphology to
Lophopsittacus mauritianus from Mauritius. In comparison with Necropsittacus, the preserved ventral area is
much broader, the articulations for the quadrates are larger, and the foramen magnum is most similar to that in
Lophopsittacus, i.e., shaped like a figure eight with a prominent condylus occipitalis. It is also highly unlikely
that two extremely large parrots coexisted along with P. exs ul on Rodrigues. Therefore, I refer this specimen
to Lophopsittacus mauritianus (only the second cranium known), collected on Le Pouce, Mauritius, by E.
Thirioux between 1897 and 1908.
Description and comparison: See Appendix 2a.
Diagnosis: As for the genus.
Remarks: A detailed drawing of Lophopsittacus in life executed in 1601 illustrates a distinct crest con-
fined to the frontal region (Hume 2003). No such adornment is known in any other Mascarene parrot. The
ridges on the frontal region indicate that the crest was firmly attached to the cranium. This implies that the
crest was not raised or lowered in life, but remained stiff and stationary as in all other crested parrots except
the Cacatuinae. It is also apparent from subfossil remains and one account (Begin en de voortgangh 1646, p.
30) that size differences occurred in this species. Sexual dimorphism is difficult to determine from fossils
when dealing with small samples, yet the material clearly falls into two size classes. Does this indicate sepa-
rate species or different sexes? Smith (1975) and Forshaw (1989) state that many parrots are sexually dimor-
phic in color, and males have larger skeletons (Shine 1989). The kakapo Strigops habroptilus exhibits the
greatest sexual dimorphism in any living parrot (Livezey 1992), with the males being much larger, but show-
ing only marginal size differences in the skeleton, primarily in the cranium and bill, humerus, femur, and scap-
ula. The cranial elements of Lophopsittacus exhibit the greatest size difference, the largest in any psittaciform
(Holyoak 1971), with the larger mandibles and palatines being approximately 21% and 19% greater in total
length than the smaller ones, whereas post-cranial differences are less striking, e.g. 8% difference in total
length of tibiotarsus. Hereafter, the larger fossil specimens are designated male (type A) and the smaller ele-
ments female (type B). Sexual dimorphism in bill size is also common to other parrot genera, with males of
Palm Cockatoo Probosciger aterrimus stenolophus and North Island Kea Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis
being 24.8% and 12.3% larger than female in exposed culmen length respectively (Moorehouse et al. 1999).
The 21% size difference in the bony core of the mandible of Lophopsittacus would be increased if the rham-
photheca were preserved.
Measurements of Lophopsittacus indicate that although the cranial elements were comparable in size with
those of the largest living parrots, the pelvic elements in the male were only equal in size to or slightly larger
than in Nestor notabilis, whilst the pelvic elements of the female approximated those of Nestor meridionalis.
However, the pectoral elements are very much more reduced. In Lophopsittacus the male would have been
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
approximately 55–65 cm in total length, whilst the female may have been 45–55 cm. Both sexes had dispro-
portionately larger heads and jaws than in Nestor and longer tails. The big-headedness of this species is
readily apparent in the only known detailed drawing of the bird in life (Fig. 5a), executed by Joris Laerle in
1601 (Hume 2003), and in a reconstruction comparing Lophopsittacus with the largest living psittaciform,
Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus (Fig. 3).
Using x-radiographs, Holyoak (1971) proposed that L. mauritianus had a weakly constructed mandible.
This assumption was based on the internal trabeculae being widely spaced, the palatines narrow, and the sup-
position that the lack of preservation indicated such delicateness that none survived, as opposed to their sim-
ply not having been found. Smith (1975:33) questioned Holyoak’s conclusion that the internal trabeculae
could predict jaw strength, and in reference to the genera Cyanorhamphus, Melopsittacus, Neophema and
Psephotus remarked:
FIGURE 3. Author's reconstruction of the head of the Mauritian parrot Lophopsittacus mauritianus (below), compared
with that of the largest living parrot Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus (above) from South America. Scale bar = 10mm.
Holyoak’s conclusion (1973b), following his examination of radiographs, that parrots of these four
genera have ‘strong beaks’ is not borne out by experience of the live birds.
These genera are in fact extremely weak jawed in the hand (Smith 1975). Holyoak (1971) further con-
cluded that L. mauritianus ‘ate soft fruit or other such material’. These suggestions are incorrect due to a num-
ber of factors. Parrot jaws have a number of significant properties that allow great manipulative and physical
pressure to be applied whilst feeding (Newton & Gadow 1893; Vlasblom 1953; Bock 1974; Homberger
1980,1986). The specialised synovial joints found between the craniofacial hinge and within the palatine and
jugal bars in large parrots and macaws (Bühler 1981), as opposed to a narrow strip of bone or hinge in most
birds, increase the flexibility and heavy biting forces of the upper jaw (Bock 1974; Bühler 1981). Jaw flexibil-
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ity is further increased by limited vertical and forward/backward sliding movements via the quadratomandib-
ular attachments of the mandible (Bühler 1981).
The palatines in Lophopsittacus are robust and in size equal to or greater than those of most large-jawed
psittaciforms (cf. Holyoak 1971) (Figs. 20A and 6). Furthermore, the posterior expansion of the palatines pro-
vides large areas for attachment of L. mesethmopalatinum and the M. pterygoideus dorsalis lateralis. Their
arrangement, however, inhibits the swallowing capability of parrots (Homberger 1981), thus the need for them
to hold food in their feet and break the food down into manageable morsels. The jaws of the largest frugivo-
rous parrots, e.g. Pesquet’s parrot Psittrichas fulgidus, and the hawk-headed parrot Deroptyus accipitrinus, are
far less massive, and their proportions of head to body length are 1:4 whilst in the granivorous Anodorhynchus
and Probosciger they are 1:3. The palatines in Psittrichas (Fig. 6E) and Deroptyus are also reduced, hence the
ability of Psittrichas, for example, to swallow large chunks of fruit (Homberger 1981). The bony core of the
mandible is covered by a rhamphotheca with a chisel-like end, the gnathotheca (Fig. 3). The apical third part
of the maxilla has a corrugated structure that acts as a sharpening implement for the gnathotheca during hon-
ing movements of the mandible (Homberger & Ziswiler 1972). The width of the gnathotheca is proportional
to the size class of food consumed, i.e. the larger the gnathotheca, the larger the food size (Yamashita & Valle
1993). Therefore, the robust jaw of Lophopsittacus enabled this species, convergently with large macaws and
cockatoos, to exploit large hard nuts and seeds (Fig.4) rather than soft fruit.
The cranial size dimorphism present in Lophopsittacus may have been a result of intraspecific sexual selec-
tion. It is now impossible to determine what ecological and behavioural factors were involved, but in other
groups of birds, including parrots, with pronounced sexual differences in bill size, each sex prefers food items
of different sizes (Selander 1972), has differing ecological requirements (Shine 1989), the males have bill-
enhanced courtship or combat rituals (Trivers 1972), or each sex has specialised reproductive roles for nest-
building and provisioning the offspring (see Moorehouse et al. 1999).
FIGURE 4. Examples of large, hard Mascarene seeds and fruits that may have been taken as food by Lophopsittacus
mauritianus. A, Latan Palm Latania loddigesii Mart. (Arecaceae); B, Makak Mimusops maxima Vaughan (Sapotaceae);
C, Tambalacoque Sideroxylon grandiflorum A. DC (Sapotaceae); D, Ebony Diospyros egrettorium Richardson (Eben-
aceae); E, Screw Pine Pandanus utilis Bory (Pandanaceae). Scale bar = 10mm.
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
FIGURE 5a. Lophopsittacus mauritianus sketched by Joris Laerle in 1601 (from Moree 2001). Note the larger bird
(possibly male) behind; Figure 5b. Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus feeding on palm fruit regurgitated by cattle. The cattle
do not swallow the seeds but expel them after rumination. The macaws are attracted to this source of food. Photo cour-
tesy of Carlos Yamashita. Note the kinetics of the rostrum and mandible during manipulation of food and the similar big-
headiness and bill morphologies between this species and Lophopsittacus mauritianus.
FIGURE 6. Comparison of palatines of Mauritian parrots, left lateral views, with typical granivorous and frugivorous
species of parrots. A, BMNH S/1955.22.9; Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus; B, UMZCA24AA (type A) Lophopsittacus
mauritianus; C, BMNH01 (type B) Lophopsittacus mauritianus; D, UMZC577 Psittacula bensoni, new comb.; E,
BMNHS/1983.74.1; Psittrichas fulgidus. Scale bar = 10mm.
In addition to fossils, Lophopsittacus is known from three drawings and two written descriptions executed
in the 17th century (Hume 2003). The assumption that this species was flightless originated in a pencil and ink
sketch of a live bird drawn in 1601 and inferences (short wings, large size) made from this illustration by
Newton & Newton (1876) and their followers (Newton & Gadow 1896; Rothschild 1905 [1907]; Hachisuka
1953; Holyoak 1971; Day 1981). The original drawing (Fig. 5a), however, reveals obscured pencil outlines
ab
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beneath the finished ink that demonstrate that the wing to body length is not particularly short (Hume 2003).
Furthermore, the wings of Lophopsittacus in the drawing appear broad rather than narrow, as also characteris-
tic of Psittacula echo and commonly associated with forest-adapted species (Campbell & Lack 1985: 218–
223; Jones 1987). A large alula is also more clearly defined in the underlying pencil sketch (Hume 2003), an
adaptation that prevents stalling in slow-flying birds (Campbell & Lack 1985: 218–223, 654–656). The ster-
nal keel is reduced in Lophopsittacus but not so much as to preclude flying, as Hoffman’s account in 1673–75
(Grandidier & Grandidier 1905) indicates that Lophopsittacus could fly but with some difficulty. Parrots of
the genus Cyanoramphus, which are adept and powerful fliers (Forshaw 1989, Livezey 1992), also have a
reduced keel. Moreover, even with a nearly obsolete keel, the ‘flightless’ kakapo Strigops habroptilus is quite
capable of sustained downward glides and short upward ascents (Merton 1985; Forshaw 1989; Livezey 1992).
In the flightless New Zealand kakapo, the tarsi are comparatively long, which is presumably an adaptation
for a terrestrial existence. Most parrots are arboreal and have proportionately short and stout tarsi (Forshaw
1989), with the distal width being half the length (Table 11). In Nestor and Strigops, the tarsometatarsus is
approximately 2.5 times as long as it is wide, whereas in Cyanoramphus it is 3 times as long as wide. Thus the
volant but terrestrially adapted species of Cyanoramphus (along with Pezoporus and Geopsittacus; see
Livezey 1992) have proportionately the longest tarsometatarsi of any parrots. It is apparent from its short and
stout tarsometatarsus that Lophopsittacus retained arboreal characteristics even though it may have fed on the
ground and been only weakly flighted. It appears that only on the ancient oceanic islands of New Zealand has
a parrot (Strigops) become nearly functionally flightless.
In life, Lophopsittacus was probably a dull-coloured bird with at least two, and perhaps three, discernable
colours (Het Tweede Boeck 1601), one of which was evidently a blue head as described by Hoffman (Grandi-
dier & Grandidier 1905), and the remaining plumage possibly greyish or blackish. It was certainly not all blue
as described by Newton and Gadow (1896), Rothschild (1907a, 1907b) and Hachisuka (1953). A grey/blue
plumage is found in 50% of Mascarene genera of parrots (see Thirioux’s Grey Parrot and Rodrigues Parakeet
below), and occurs in other members of the Psittaculini. A number of other Indian Ocean parrots also exhibit
dull dark colours, e.g. Coracopsis and Mascarinus, and it is common to other large, big-headed parrots such
as Anodorhynchus and Probosciger. A bright red bill is diagnostic for the tribe Psittaculini (Forshaw 1989;
Collar 1997; Juniper & Parr 1998), but unfortunately, not one account mentions the beak colour of Lophopsit-
tacus or that of other endemic Mascarene parrots (Necropsittacus or Psittacula bensoni) for which no skins or
coloured illustration exists. In 1673–75, Hoffman (Grandidier & Grandidier 1905) refers to Lophopsittacus as
red crows with recurved beaks’, which may be a reference to beak colouration.
The ecology of Lophopsittacus is unknown, but species with similar morphologies may provide an insight
into possible ecological traits. The hyacinth macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus and palm cockatoo Pro-
bosciger aterrimus are reasonable analogues. Anodorhynchus is a habitual ground dweller that eats the
extremely hard nuts of palms (Forshaw 1989; Yamashita & Valle 1993; Yamashita 1997). Yamashita noted
that cattle provide a similar modern ecological analogue to the now extinct megaherbivores by amassing undi-
gested endocarps (the extremely hard shell surrounding the kernel) in dung heaps. Anodorhynchus does not
eat the fleshy and often fibrous pulp of the palm mesocarp but the nutritious kernels within the endocarp, and
cattle provide macaws with a pre-prepared food source around which macaws concentrate (Fig. 5b), even
when ripe, fruit-laden palms are available nearby (Yamashita 1997; Juniper & Parr 1998). Probosciger aterri-
mus also feeds on the undigested endocarps gleaned from the droppings of cassowaries Casuarius sp. (Mack
& Wright 1996). On Mauritius, Lophopsittacus may well have had a similar ecological niche. Palms and
palm-like plants are an important part of the Mascarene flora. The true palm genera Hyophorbe, Dicty-
osperma, Latania as well as the screw pines Pandanus, have evolved into a number of endemic species inhab-
iting montane bogs to coastal spray zones (Staub 1993). Palms and screw pines formerly dominated the
lowland areas (Soete-boom 1648); they produce prodigious amounts of fruit (Staub 1993), which concentrate
beneath the parent plants. An endemic genus of giant tortoise, Cylindraspis, occurred on Mauritius (2 spe-
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
cies), Réunion (1 species) and Rodrigues (2 species) (Arnold 1979, 2000; Bour 1981), which may have had
the densest populations of tortoises on earth (Arnold 2000). These tortoises may have been analogous to the
large mammalian herbivores on continents. After eating the fruits of the endemic Mauritian Round Island bot-
tle palm Hyophorbe lagenicaulis and ebony Diospyros egretarrum, captive Aldabran giant tortoises Aldab-
rachelys gigantea excrete the undigested endocarps, after which a high percentage of germination takes place
(Owen Griffiths pers. Comm., 02.09.2005; Hume pers. obs). It is possible, therefore, that Lophopsittacus
exploited this food source.
The notion that Lophopsittacus was a nocturnal species comes entirely from the fertile imagination of
Hachisuka (1953). Although he stated that ”We have many reasons to believe that the Broad-billed Parrot was
nocturnal in its habits”, he did not say what any of the reasons were and only analogized Lophopsittacus with
two recent nocturnal ground parrots, the New Zealand kakapo Strigops habroptilus and the Australian night
parrot Geopsittacus occidentalis. From the meager information available (see below) we can conclude that all
observers found Lophopsittacus to be active during daylight hours and depicted or described it accordingly
(see Strickland & Melville 1848; Hume 2003). Furthermore, although the only existing cranium of Lophopsit-
tacus is incomplete, enough of the orbits remain to suggest that they were similar in size to other large parrots
such as macaws and cockatoos, despite the dorso-ventral compression of the cranium. In the nocturnal
Kakapo Strigops habroptilus, which lacks a dorso-ventrally compressed cranium, the orbits are comparatively
reduced. In general, nocturnal birds have large orbits, so presumably flightlessness and the specialised ecol-
ogy of Strigops resulted in atypical cranial morphology.
The broad-billed parrot was called the ‘Indian raven or crow’ from its discovery in 1598 until the last
first-hand account in 1673–4. As these accounts are brief and some are not widely known, they are repeated
here in their entirety. The first account stems from the voyage of Admiral Jacob Cornelis van Neck in 1598
(Het Tweede Boeck 1601) and his report reads:
Is a bird which we called the Indian Crow, more than twice as big as the parroquets, of two or three
colours (Strickland & Melville 1848: 123).
This account also includes the first, albeit poor, illustration of Lophopsittacus (see Hume 2003). The sec-
ond mention stems from Captain Willem van West-Zanen (Soete-boom 1648) who first visited Mauritius
under van Neck in 1598 and returned in 1602 to write an account of the island and its fauna that was published
in 1648 (Soete-boom 1648:19):
The birds (of which the island is full) are of all kinds: Doves, Parrots, Indian Crows, Sparrows,
Hawks, Thrushes, Owls, Swallows, and many small birds; white and black Herons, Geese, Ducks,
Dodos….[translation from Cheke & Hume in prep.].
Reyer Cornelisz remained on Mauritius for three months in 1602 (Begin en de voortgangh 1646, p. 30)
and wrote a journal during his stay. He is the only observer to recognise size differences in Lophopsittacus:
In this country occur Tortoises, Wallichvogels [dodos], Flamingos, Geese, Ducks, Field-hens, large and
small Indian Crows [=Lophopsittacus], Doves, some of which have red tails (by eating which many of the
crew were made sick), grey and green Parrots with long tails, some of which were caught [Strickland &
Melville 1848: 125].
Jacob Granaet was a bookkeeper who arrived in Mauritius on 30 July 1666. Although his account is rather
vague, he mentions the large size of the ravens (=Lophopsittacus):
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Within the forests dwell parrots, turtle and other wild doves, mischievous and unusually large ravens,
falcons, bats and other birds whose names I do not know, never having seen before [Barnwell
1948:25].
Granaet also mentions that cattle and pigs were found in most remote areas of forest. The last unequivocal
account stems from Johann Christian Hoffman, who was appointed preacher to Commandeur Hugo from
1673–5 (Moree 1998). Hoffman’s description in 1673–5 (Grandidier & Grandidier 1905) was better than that
of any other observer, although even his account leaves much to be desired:
There are also geese, flamingos, three species of pigeon of varied colours, mottled and green perro-
quets [=parakeets], red crows with recurved beaks and with blue heads, which fly with difficulty and
have received from the Dutch the name of ‘Indian crow’ [my translation].
The terminology of ‘Indian raven/crow’ distinguished Lophopsittacus from the perroquets, papegayen, or
perruche, names applied to the smaller grey and green parrots. The early observers, therefore, were seemingly
impressed by the distinctiveness of Lophopsittacus insomuch that they clearly separated it from the other par-
rots. The reasons for this may have been its probable crow-like (raucous) call, some behavioural trait, or sim-
ply its dark colouration, which must have reminded the Dutch of another group of birds. As further evidence
of the association of a corvine appellation with a parrot, South American macaws were also termed “Indian
ravens” or Kakataws (=cockatoos) by the Dutch during the mid 17th century (Nieuhoff (1682: 315), as were
southeast Asian hornbills (Bucerotidae) (Ray 1678: 126). Furthermore, the greatest French nature artist of the
17th century, Nicolas Robert (1614–1685), made a series of vélins (illustrations on fine vellum) for Gaston
d'Orléans (Louis XIV's uncle) prior to 1660 (Jackson 1999). Robert included a Scarlet Macaw Ara macao
which he labelled Corbeau d'Inde (Cecilé Mourer-Chauviré pers.comm. 08.08.2004). Some authors (Strick-
land & Melville 1848; Staub 1993) were convinced that ‘Indian raven’ referred to a ground hornbill Bucorvus
sp. This assumption was based on the above-mentioned drawing of the Indian raven included in the account of
the Dutch Admiral Jacob Cornelis van Neck (Het Tweede Boeck 1601). No hornbill bones have ever been dis-
covered on the Mascarenes, and no hornbills occur on any other remote oceanic island except New Caledonia
in the South Pacific (Steadman 2006).
Lophopsittacus must have provided a ready source of food for early mariners (Fig. 7a, and 7b). Its tame
and confiding nature, large size, and reluctant or feeble flight, coupled with a possible nesting requirement of
large tree cavities or even rocks (the Cuban Amazon Amazona leucocephala bahamensis nests in rock cavities
on Abaco Bahamas---Juniper & Parr 1998) would have made this species extremely vulnerable to humans and
introduced animals. No doubt rats and monkeys were particularly harmful to nesting birds.
The few records of Lophopsittacus are from the drier, leeward side of the island, the most easily accessi-
ble part of the island for people. The first mention of parrots was made by the crews of the fleet under Admiral
van Neck in 1598. A junior merchant, Rochus Pieterzoon, led an expedition that went 8–10 miles inland from
Vieue Grand Port on the southeast drier side of the island (Moree 1998; Payandee 2002). Interestingly, Pieter-
zoon noted that the nearer that they were to the coast, the richer was the bird life, therefore, it is not unreason-
able to suggest that this zone harboured a more diverse and abundant fauna (see also Hume 2005). Hoffman’s
account of 1673–5 is the last record of Lophopsittacus, but the Dutch presence on Mauritius was extremely
limited by this time (Moree 1998) and it is possible that this parrot persisted for some time after. Surprisingly,
despite the fact that parrots were regularly transported from one place to another as pets, there is no record of
a specimen of Lophopsittacus ever being taken out of Mauritius alive or dead, possibly an indication of stig-
mas associated with ravens.
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Genus Psittacula Cuvier, 1800:
table with no pagination.
Etymology: From Latin Psittacus meaning parrot, and -ula, a diminutive suffix.
Diagnosis: Cranium moderately dorso-ventrally flattened, craniofrontal hinge medially concave, proces-
sus postorbitalis long but not fused to the lacrimal; mandible comparatively broad; diameter of nares greater
than the width of internarial septum; tomium distinctly notched, with a concavity that abruptly indents the cra-
nial border, creating a single tooth; spina externa prominent with an indistinct distal division. Species of Psit-
tacula are large-billed, long-tailed parrots, the tail graduated with the attenuated central feathers longest. Red
bills and neck rings are also common to the majority of taxa in this genus (see Forshaw 1989).
Thirioux’s Grey Parrot Psittacula bensoni (Holyoak, 1973), new combination
Grauwe papegayan, Begin en de voortgangh 1646:30; Soete-boom 1648: 20, pl. 20v., with note.
Lophopsittacus bensoni Holyoak, 1973: 417.
Holotype: Although Holyoak (1973a:417) clearly designated mandibular symphysis UMZC 18/Psi/37/a/1
(now UMZC 577a) as the holotype and illustrated it in dorsal view (pl. 8a), he erroneously labeled a mandible
in ventral view (pl. 8b) as also being the holotype, whereas the illustration actually shows a different specimen
(Cowles 1987; Hume, pers. obs.). The latter (now UMZC 577b) is to be included among the various
paratypes illustrated by Holyoak and listed below.
Measurements: See Appendix 3, tables 1–11.
Type locality: Le Pouce, Mauritius
Distribution: Mauritius and possibly Réunion Island, Mascarenes (see below)
Etymology: In honour of C. W. Benson (1909–1982).
Paratypes: Subfossil material collected from Le Pouce, Mauritius. The second symphysis of lower mandi-
ble (UMZC577b) ( Holyoak pl. 8b); upper mandible (UMZC 577) (Holyoak pl. 8c, 8d and 8e); palatine
(UMZC 577 (L)) (Holyoak pl. 8f and 8g); tarsometatarsus (UMZC 577(R) (Holyoak pl. 8i and 8o); (UMZC
577(R) (Holyoak pl. 8l and 8r); (UMZC 577(R) (Holyoak pl. 8m and 8s); (UMZC 577(Ld) (Holyoak pl. 8k
and 8q). Two of the tarsi assigned by Holyoak to ‘Lophopsittacusbensoni (UMZC 577) (Holyoak pl. 8h and
8n) and (UMZC 577) (Holyoak pl. 8j and 8p) are referable to another species (see Psittacula echo).
Referred material: Subfossil material collected from Le Pouce, Mauritius; mandible UMZC 577(d);
UMZC 577 (d); rostrum UMZC 577 (d); UMZC 577(d); palatine UMZC 577(L); sternum UMZC 599(p);
UMZC 599(p); UMZC 599(p); coracoid MNHN MAU566(L); MNHN MAU579(R); MNHN MAU576(L);
humerus UMZC 596(L); UMZC 596(L); UMZC 596(R); UMZC 596(Rp); UMZC 600(Lp); UMZC 596(R);
UMZC 596(L); MNHN MAU562(L); carpometacarpus MNHN MAU515; femur MNHN MAU556(R);
MNHN MAU540(R); MNHN MAU549(L); tibiotarsus MNHN u/c(R); MNHN u/c(L); MNHN MAU514(R);
MNHN MAU550(R); tarsometatarsus UMZC 594(Lp); UMZC 594(Ld); UMZC 594(R) (juv); MNHN u/c(L)
(juv); MNHN u/c(R); MNHN MAU593(R); MNHN MAU368(R); MNHN MAU366(L); MNHN
MAU527(R); MNHN 508(R); MNHN 553(L); MNHN 524(L).
Diagnosis: This species was previously placed in the genus Lophopsittacus (Holyoak 1973; Cowles
1987), but re-examination of the fossils now available indicates that it belongs in the genus Psittacula. Differs
from Lophopsittacus and Psittacula echo by the following suite of characters: rostrum approximately 29%
larger in total length than in P. echo; rami of mandible more laterally deflected indicating that this species had
a comparatively broad bill; in sternum spina externa less anteriorly projected; incisura costalis more pro-
nounced with the 5th deeply excavated; one anteriorly situated foramen pnematicum present; sulcus articularis
coracoideus distinctly unequal; in humerus, processus flexorius distinct, emphasising the sulcus humerotricip-
italis with fossa olecrani comparatively wide; crista bicipitalis merges sharply with the shaft distally, proximal
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fossa pneumotricipitalis circular and sulcus transversus deeply excavated; processus supracondylaris dorsalis
prominent and a small depression occurs proximal to the condylus dorsalis; tuberculum ventrale deflected
mediolaterally and distolateral edge of crista bicipitalis not angled as it merges with the shaft; in coracoid,
processus procoracoideus short with shallow cotyla scapularis, and projects further medially; in tarsometatar-
sus, two canals formed by crista intermediae hypotarsi shallow; two foramina vascularia proximalia present.
In life, P. bensoni was described as a long-tailed grey parrot.
Description and comparison: See Appendix 2b.
Remarks: As specimens of P. bensoni are known only from the fossil collections of Etienne Thirioux and
the species was described in life as grey, to avoid further confusion with the green Psittacula echo, the English
name Thirioux’s grey parrot, honouring the collector and indicating the colouration, is proposed here.
Holyoak (1973a) diffidently placed bensoni in Lophopsittacus and he separated it from Lophopsittacus mauri-
tianus on size alone, although there are discernible generic differences that he did not discuss. The species is
clearly derived from Psittacula stock and is similar to Psittacula eupatria but larger and more robust in some
elements (Fig. 19). It also appears to have been atypical in colouration, being all grey, as the majority of spe-
cies of Psittacula are green or partially green.
The the ease with which P. bensoni could be caught in abundance is reported by Willem van West-Zanen,
who visited Mauritius in 1602. His account, published in 1648 (Soete-boom 1648), included the only known
drawing of this species (Fig. 7b) and described the first encounter West-Zanen’s crew had with parrots:
….some of the people went bird hunting. They could grab as many birds as they wished and could
catch them by hand. It was an entertaining sight to see. The grey parrots are especially tame and if
one is caught and made to cry out, soon hundreds of the birds fly around ones’ ears, which were then
hit to the ground with little sticks. Also just as tame are the pigeons and turtle doves, that let them-
selves be caught easily…..[my translation].
Admiral Steven van der Hagen visited Mauritius in 1606 and 1607 (Begin en de voortgangh 1646; Barn-
well 1948). Der Hagen mentions again the ease with which the birds could be caught and that the catching of
a single parrot ultimately could lead to the entire flock being taken:
During all our time there, we lived on turtles, dodos, pigeons, doves, grey parrots, and other game,
which we caught in the woods with our hands. Besides their usefulness to us, there was also much
amusement to be got from them. Sometimes when we had caught a grey parrot, we made it call out,
and at once hundreds more came flying around, and we were able to kill them with sticks [Barnwell
1948:17].
Thirioux’s grey parrot was particularly sought after as game. Despite this persecution, grey parrots
remained reasonably common until the 1750s, but the population must have crashed shortly afterwards as
Cossigny’s account in 1764 (Cheke 1987) is the last time that they were mentioned. It was during the 1730s
that the French instigated large-scale slash and burn forest clearance (Toussaint 1972), which undoubtedly had
a serious effect on cavity-nesting species such as parrots.
Réunion grey parrot Psittacula cf. bensoni
Perroquets gris; Dubois 1674: 172; Borghesi 1705., in Lougnon 1992: 187. Sous le Signe de la Tortue. Azalées Editions.
[Original not seen]; Feuilley 1705: 129. Mission à I’lle Bourbon du Sieur Feuilley en 1704., in Recueil trimestriel de
documents et travaux inédits pour servir á l’histoire des Mascareignes françaises. [Original not seen.]; Cossigny
1732: 168–96,205–82, 305–16, in Trieze letters de Cossigny á Reaumer. Recueil trimestriel de documents et travaux
inédits pour servir á l’histoire des Mascareignes françaises. [Original not seen.].
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
FIGURE 7. a. The Dutch on Mauritius in 1598 (from De Bry, 1601). Note the ease with which parrots are depicted as
being caught; b. Parrot catching on Mauritius in 1601 (from Soete-boom, 1648). One bird was captured and made to call
out, which subsequently attracted other parrots, and an entire flock could be taken by the hunters.
Holotype: None.
Measurements: None.
Type locality: Réunion Island, Indian Ocean.
Distribution: Réunion Island, Indian Ocean.
Etymology: As for Psittacula bensoni.
Referred material: None.
Diagnosis: Presumably as for Psittacula bensoni.
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Description & comparison: Described as larger in size than Psittacula eques.
Remarks: A grey parrot occurred on Réunion at least until 1732. It was first mentioned by Bontekoe
(1646) as present in 1618 and, as with the population on Mauritius, was easily killed with sticks:
Coming further inland we found [a] great number of geese, doves, grey parrots and other birds, also
many land-turtles; seeing as many as twenty to twenty-five lying in the shade of a tree, so that we
could have as many as we desired. The geese were not wise enough to fly up when we pursued them,
and we beat them to death with sticks without their making a motion to fly……And what we most
did marvel at, when we held one of the parrots and other birds and squeezed it till it screamed, there
came all the others from thereabout as if they would free it and let themselves be caught as well, so
we had enough of them to eat [translation from Bodde-Hodgkinson & Geyl 1929: 30].
Dubois (1674), in 1671–2, mentions the destructive nature of grey parrots toward crops and the altitudinal
migration of the birds:
Grey parrots, as good [to eat] as the pigeons…..All the birds of this island have their season at differ-
ent times, being six months in the low country and six months in the mountains, when returning, they
are very fat and good to eat. I exclude the river birds and the solitaires, the partridge and the blue
birds [=Oiseaux bleu] that do not change…..There are caterpillars at certain seasons that are very
irritating. The sparrows [=fodies Foudia], grey parrots, pigeons and other birds, bats [=flying foxes
Pteropus sp.], cause plenty of damage, some to cereals others to fruit [my translation].
Feuilley (1705) in 1704 provides a more detailed account and confirms that at least 3 species of parrots
were present on Réunion:
There are several sorts of parrot, of different sizes and colours. Some are the size of a hen, grey, the
beak red; others the same colour the size of a pigeon, and yet others, smaller, are green. There are
great quantities, especially in the Sainte-Suzanne area and on the mountainsides. They are very good
to eat, especially when they are fat, which is from the month of June until the month of September,
because at that time the trees produce a certain wild seed that these birds eat [translation from Cheke
and Hume in prep.].
The parrot described as being the size of a hen refers to Mascarinus, the pigeon-sized species is presum-
ably the grey parrot and the third green species is Psittacula eques. According to Feuilley (1705), all species
of parrot on Réunion were subject to a seasonal fat cycle, being particularly good to eat from June to Septem-
ber. It is apparent that grey parrots were particularly sought after as game, and coupled with their reputed
damage to crops, were persecuted accordingly. A mention of unspecified Réunion parrots in 1754 may have
included grey parrots (see Cheke 1987), but the last unequivocal mention of this bird was by Cossigny in
1732:
The woods are full of parrots, either completely grey or completely green. They were eaten a lot for-
merly, the grey especially, but both are always lean and very tough whatever sauce one puts on them
[my translation].
As with such birds as Anas theodori and Fulica newtoni, the Réunion grey parrot was possibly conspecific
with a species that also occurred on Mauritius, in this case the grey parrot Psittacula bensoni (Cheke 1987;
Hume & Cheke 2004). The Réunion grey parrot has sometimes been referred to the genus Coracopsis
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
(Coquerel 1864; Vinson 1868), but no fossils assignable to that genus or to Psittacula have been found
(Mourer-Chauviré et al. 1999) to resolve its affinities. An indeterminate species of Coracopsis was introduced
to Réunion sometime prior to 1800 (Newton and Newton 1876; Berlioz 1946; Cheke 1987), but did not
become established.
Echo Parakeet Psittacula echo (Newton & Newton, 1876).
Perroquet vert, Cossigny, 1732: 168–96,205–82, 305–16., in Trieze letters de Cossigny á Reaumer. Recueil trimestriel de
documents et travaux inédits pour servir á l’histoire des Mascareignes françaises. [Original not seen.]
Perruche; La Motte 1754, 1756., in Cheke 1987: 45. Mascarene Island Birds. Cambridge University Press. [Original not
seen]
Palaeornis echo Newton & Newton, 1876: 284; Rothschild 1907: 68.
Palaeornis eques; Salvadori, 1891: 442; Meinertzhagen, 1912: 94.
Psittacula echo; Peters, 1937: 243.
Measurements: See Appendix 3.
Type locality: Mauritius, Mascarenes.
Distribution: Mauritius, Mascarenes.
Etymology: From Latin echo, meaning a woodnymph.
Syntypes: UMZC18/Psi/67/k/1-4. Collected on Mauritius, 2 immature males, Vacoa, 12 Apr and male and female on 31
Dec 1860 by C.E.Banks, Bois Sec, Oct 1873.
Referred material: Despite this species being known from at least 34 museum skins (Cheke 1987), their
comparative use is limited therefore they are not included here. Trunk skeleton including sternum, pelvis,
femora, and coracoids removed from spirit specimen of captive bird BMNH S/2000.44.1. Subfossil material
collected by E. Thirioux, Le Pouce, Mauritius and elsewhere: rostrum MNHN MAU528; mandible MNHN
MAU599; MNHN MAU509; MNHN 760; MNHN MAU602; MNHN MAU573 (juv); palatine MNHN
MAU593(L); sternum UMZC 599(p); UMZC 599(p); UMZC 599(p); UMZC 599(p); UMZC 600(p); cora-
coid UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC
600(R); UMZC 600(R); UMZC 600(L); MNHN MAU534(L); MNHN MAU516(L); MNHN MAU589(R);
MNHN MAU578(R); MNHN MAU543(R); MNHN MAU504(L); MNHN MAU577(R); MNHN
MAU545(R); MNHN MAU554(R); MNHN MAU588(R); humerus UMZC 600(L); UMZC 600(Lp); MNHN
u/c(L); MNHN u/c(R); MNHN u/c(L); MNHN MAU505(L); MNHN MAU512(L); MNHN MAU586(R);
MNHN MAU506(L); MNHN MAU517(R); MNHN MAU552(R); MNHN MAU498(L); MNHN
MAU551(R); MNHN MAU7017(L); MNHN MAD7000(L); MNHN u/c(L); ulna UMZC 600(L); UMZC
600(R); MNHN MAU547(R); MNHN MAU495(R); MNHN MAU555(L); MNHN MAD7189(L); MNHN
MAD7200(L); MNHN MAD7188(R); MNHN MAD7195(L); radius UMZC 600(L); carpometacarpus
MNHN MAU500; MNHN MAU560; femur MNHN u/c(R); MNHN u/c(L); MNHN MAU570(L); MNHN
MAU548(L); tibiotarsus MNHN u/c(L); MNHN u/c(L); MNHN MAU511(L); MNHN MAU601(R); MNHN
MAU535(Rd); MNHN MAU529(Ld); MNHN MAU761(Rd); tarsometatarsus UMZC 594(Lp) (juv); UMZC
594(Lp) (juv); UMZC 594(Lp) (juv); UMZC 594(Lp) (juv); UMZC 594(Lp) (juv); UMZC 594(Lp) (juv);
UMZC 594(Ld); UMZC 594(Ls); UMZC (Rp); UMZC (Rp); UMZC (Rp); UMZC 577(Rs); UMZC 593(Rs);
UMZC 593(Rs); UMZC 593(Lp); UMZC 593(R); UMZC 593(L); MNHN u/c(L); MNHN 560(L); MNHN
582(L); MNHN 597(L); MNHN 546(R); MNHN 507(R); MNHN 579(R); MNHN 596(L); MNHN 758(R);
MNHN 556(R); MNHN MAD6880(L); MNHN MAD6864(L); MNHN MAD6888(L) (juv).
Diagnosis: Apart from its distinctly smaller size, Psittacula echo may be distinguished from P. bensoni by
the following suite of characters. Sternum; spina externa weakly bifurcated. Coracoid; lateral margin of angu-
lus medialis pointed; proximal to facies articularis clavicularis, a small circular deeply excavated foramen
present; processus procoracoideus short with a shallow cotyla scapularis.Humerus: shorter condylus dorsalis,
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distal end mediolaterally less expanded and fossa olecrani shallow.Tarsometatarsus: impressiones retinaculi
extensorii less defined. Despite molecular evidence for a sister relationship between P. echo and the Indian P.
krameri (borealis) (Groombridge et al. 2004), my morphological analysis indicates that P. echo is more
closely related to P. eupatria than to P. krameri.
Description and comparison: See Appendix 2c, tables 1–11.
Remarks: This species, the last surviving Mascarene parrot, was reduced to fewer than 12 birds by the
1980s (Cheke 1987; Jones 1999), but has now recovered to 250+ after conservation efforts (Cheke and Hume
in prep.). La Motte in 1754 & 1756 described their former abundance:
One eats here [in Mauritius] a good number of long-tailed green parrots called perruches whose flesh
is black and very good. A hunter can kill three or four dozen in a day. There is a time of year when
these birds eat a seed that makes their flesh bitter and even dangerous [Cheke 1987: 45].
Unsurprisingly, the Echo Parakeet is very rare in skeletal collections and its osteology is known mainly
from fossil remains. It is easily distinguishable from all other Mauritian parrots by size, all elements being
much smaller and less robust. It is intermediate in size between P. krameri and P. eupatria. The Echo Parakeet
is the smallest Mauritian parrot and the one most frequently found in cave fossil deposits, where both adult
and juveniles are represented. Groombridge et al. (2004) concluded from a DNA analysis that P. echo is
derived from the Indian Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri borealis, as opposed to the nominate sub-
species P. k. krameri in Africa (Smith 1975). As no species of Psittacula occurs on Madagascar, it is reason-
able to assume that P. krameri populated Africa via the Middle East and not the Indian Ocean islands.
The Echo Parakeet has been afforded species-level status, being stockier than P. krameri with shorter, more
rounded wings, and a broader shorter tail (Jones 1987; Forshaw 1989; Low 1994; Juniper & Parr 1998), and
has been reported to measure 25% larger in weight and body size than P. krameri (Low 1994). The size differ-
ence in the live bird is also particularly noticeable in the bill (Juniper & Parr 1998; Hume pers. obs.). Most
available skeletal elements, when compared to its closest relative Psittacula krameri borealis (Groombridge et
al. 2004), are similar in size except the hindlimb elements being 4.8% – 6.8% larger and the sternum 6.4%
smaller. According to Glenny (1957), parrots generally have limited powers of flight compared to many other
bird groups, but many are agile, swift fliers. Psittacula echo is an adept but not a long distance flier, and can
rapidly maneuver between small openings in the forest canopy making clear observation of the birds difficult
(pers. obs.). The reduction of the sternum thus appears to have had little affect on its flight capabilities. A sim-
ilar proportional reduction in the sternum is found in the endemic Mauritian Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri,
when compared to similar-sized columbids (Hume unpubl.), also without any noticeable reduction in flight
capabilities (Hume pers.obs.).
The Echo Parakeet feeds on buds, emergent shoots, leaves, flowers, berries, seeds, twigs and bark/sap,
never descending on the ground to forage (Jones 1987; Jones & Owaddally 1988; Forshaw 1989). This behav-
iour is in direct contrast to P.krameri, which regularly feeds on the ground (Smith 1979) and is a bird of open
areas, not dense forests (Forshaw, 1989). If the other species of parrot already established on the Mascarenes
were adapted to a ground niche, the most recently arrived may have had to adjust its habits accordingly; there-
fore, the different morphology of P.echo may be linked to an arboreal habitat adjustment (Jones 1987).
Réunion ring-necked parakeet Psittacula eques Boddaert, 1783
Perroquets verts ayant un collier noir, Dubois, 1674:172.
Perroquets verts, Borghesi, 1705., in Lougnon 1992: 187. Sous le Signe de la Tortue. Azalées Editions. [Original not
seen]; Feuilley 1705: 129., in Mission à I’lle Bourbon du Sieur Feuilley en 1704. Recueil trimestriel de documents et
travaux inédits pour servir á l’histoire des Mascareignes françaises. [Original not seen.]; Cossigny 1732: 168–
Zootaxa 1513 © 2007 Magnolia Press · 23
PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
96,205–82, 305–16., in Trieze letters de Cossigny á Reaumer. Recueil trimestriel de documents et travaux inédits
pour servir á l’histoire des Mascareignes françaises. [Original not seen.].
Psittaca borbonica torquata Brisson, 1760: 328, pl. xxvii.
Psittacus alexandri var. ; Linnaeus, 1766: 142.
Perruche à double collier, Buffon, 1779: 143.
Alexandrine Parakeet var. C, Latham, 1781: 326.
Perruche à double collier de I’Isle de Bourbon, Daubenton, 1783. Planches Enluminées, p.13, pl. 215 (based on a paint-
ing by Martinet).
Psittacus eques Boddaert, 1783. Planches Enluminées, p.13 (Based on Daubenton’s figure.).
Psittacus alexandri var. ; Gmelin, 1788: 321.
Psittacus semirostris; Herman, 1804: 125.
Psittacus bitorquatus; Kuhl, 1820: 92.
Rose-ringed Parakeet var.B, Latham, 1822: 161.
Psittacus bicollaris; Viellot, 1823: 1385.
Palaeornis bitorquatus; Vigors, 1825: 51; Souancé, 1856: 185.
Palaeornis cubicularis; (part) Wagler, 1832:.507.
Palaeornis torquatus; (part) Gray, 1846: 409.
Palaeornis borbonicus; Bonaparte, 1854: 152, n.140.
Palaeornis eques; Gray, 1859: 20; Salvadori, 1891: 442; Oustalet, 1896: 28; Rothschild, 1907: 67.
Psittacula eques; Peters, 1937: 243.
FIGURE 8a. Psittacula eques (Barraband in Levaillant, 1805); 8b. P. eques (Martinet in Buffon, 1779).
Holotype: Boddaert’s name eques was based on a painting described as Perruche à double collier de I’Isle de
Bourbon in Daubenton’s (1783) work on Buffon’s Planches Enluminées, p.13, pl.215.
Measurements: None available.
Type locality: Réunion Island, Mascarenes
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Distribution: Réunion Island, Mascarenes
Etymology: From Latin eques referring to the military colours of a French cavalryman.
Referred material: None.
Diagnosis: Presumably as for Psittacula echo.
Description and comparison: Presumably as for Psittacula echo.
Remarks: The Réunion ring-necked parakeet is known from illustrations only but it is not known
whether the subjects of the illustrations were based on living individuals or stuffed specimens. The type illus-
tration is a poor rendition (Fig. 25b) by Martinet in Buffon (1779: pl. 215). According to Jones (1987), a skin
(Fig. 20) held at the Royal Museum, Edinburgh, may be the specimen used for Martinet’s illustration, but
recent work concerning the provenance of this specimen raises doubts about its origin (A. Cheke pers. comm.
19.10.2004). A far superior illustration (Fig 23a), hitherto not cited by ornithologists, was done by Barraband
(Levaillant 1805). From this illustration, there are few, if any, distinct plumage differences between the
Réunion and Mauritius populations, which may have been conspecific. If this can be shown to be the case,
either by fossils or skin specimens, the name P. eque s has many years priority over P. ech o. It has been sug-
gested that at least three specimens reached Paris during the latter half of the 18th century (Cheke 1987), the
first described by Brisson (1760), followed by Buffon (1779), Mauduyt (1784) and Levaillant (1805), but
there is no evidence from the descriptions or the plates that certain ones were based on the same or different
specimens. Brisson (1760) describes the Réunion ring-necked parakeet (termed ”double-collared parakeet”)
as follows:
Its length is thirteen inches, in a fixed line from the extremity of the beak to the end of the tail : it is a
little larger than a turtle-dove : the head, the neck, the back, the rump, the coverts on top of the tail,
the scapulars and the breast are of a bright green : at the base of the head and at the back is a narrow
band the colour of rose, which extends each side around the neck, becoming much wider toward the
throat and forming a sort of collar, at the top edge the green is mingled with a little blue ; under the
throat is another band or half-collar with the two extremities joining the rose-coloured collar ; the
belly, the sides, the legs are of a green drawn on a yellow ; the wings are green and the large feathers
are ashen underneath : the tail is lined yellowish ashen ; it is uniformly green on top ; the beak is
blackish at its tip, of a bright red at its upper part and a duller red at its lower part; the feet are of a
dark ashen, the claws blackish [my translation].
Buffon (1779) describes the bird in less detail:
Two small rings, one rose-coloured and the other blue, entirely encircle the neck of this parakeet,
which is of the size of a turtle dove; the rest of the plumage is green, which is darker on the back, yel-
lowing under the body; and in several parts with a dusky streak on the middle of each feather; below
the tail and laid out on each quill is a yellowish fringe bordering the brown-grey; the superior half of
the beak is a fine red; the inferior is brown; it is probable that this parakeet, coming from the island
of Bourbon, is also found on the corresponding continent, either Africa or India [my translation].
Considering the available habitat on Réunion and the fact that P. ec ho survived on Mauritius, it is surpris-
ing that this parakeet died out very early in Réunion’s post-human history. Wild ring-necks were mentioned in
1671-2 by Dubois (1674), in 1703 by Borghesi (Lougnon, 1992), in 1704 by Feuilley (1705), and in 1732 by
Cossigny (Cheke, 1987; Lougnon, 1992). The birds must have still been fairly common during the early years
of the 18th century as Borghesi, in 1703, stated that:
Still in this Isle, I have observed numerous sorts of perroquets, of large or of small size : some green,
the others grey, and others mottled of different colours [my translation]
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Cossigny’s account in 1732 is the last time that green or grey parrots were mentioned (see also Réunion
Grey parrot).
FIGURE 9. An enigmatic skin of Psittacula RMS missing its tail, supposedly representing Psittacula eques held at
RMS. This specimen is labelled ‘Plate 39’ from Buffon’s planche elumineé (1779), the same plate number of Psittacula
eques (see Systematic Palaeontology), from which the species was described. This may be the one and same specimen
(see Jones 1987), or that the label refers to a Mauritius specimen, as these two populations were considered conspecific.
Rodrigues parakeet Psittacula exsul (Newton, 1872)
Perroquets verds et bleus, Leguat, 1708: 107.
La seconde espéce [of parrot], text attributed to Tafforet, 1726: 25.
Perruche, Pingré, 1761., in Alby, J., & Serviable, M (eds.) 1993: 45,51.
Palaeornis exsul Newton, 1872: 31; Salvadori, 1891: 459; Oustalet, 1896: 14; Rothschild, 1907a: 65.
Psittacula exsul; Peters, 1937: 244.
Holotype: Preserved skin UMZC 18/Psi/67/h/I female, Rodrigues, 1871 collected by police magistrate
George Jenner and originally preserved in spirit.
Measurements: See Appendix 3, tables 1–11..
Type locality: Rodrigues Island, Mascarenes.
Distribution: Rodrigues Island, Mascarenes.
Etymology: From Latin exsul meaning an exile, a banished person.
Paratype: Preserved skin (originally in alcohol) UMZC 18/Psi/67/h/2 male, Rodrigues, 1874 (Fig. 21).
Referred material: Mandible (removed from holotype) UMZC 564; sternum (removed from holotype)
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UMZC 564(p). Subfossil material collected by George Jenner, Graham Cowles and the author from the Plaine
Corail caverns, Rodrigues: palatine FLMR (L); sternum UMZC 997; pelvis BMNH Rod1(p); furcula UMZC
997; coracoid UMZC 997(R); UMZC 997(L); BMNH A1463(L); BMNH A1463(Ld); scapula UMZC
997(R); UMZC 997(L); humerus BMNH A1463(L); BMNH A1463(R); FLMR R166 (L); ulna BMNH
Rod1(R); FLMR R206 (R); femur BMNH A1463(L); BMNH A1463(L); tibiotarsus BMNH A1463(R);
BMNH A1463(R); (u/cR).
FIGURE 10. Psittacula exsul holotype UMZC18/Psi/67/h/I (above); UMZC18/Psi/67/h/2 (below).
Diagnosis: Differs from all other Mascarene Psittacula parrots by the following suite of characters man-
dible: when viewed in dorsal aspect, the internal margin of symphysis oval, not square-shaped. Humerus:
proximal end proportionally less expanded than in Psittacula bensoni or P. echo. Coracoid: processus procora-
coideus reduced with a shallow cotyla scapularis; a small raised ridge distal to angulus medialis forms a
square-shaped lateral edge; proximal to facies articularis clavicularis, a foramen pneumaticum present but not
markedly excavated or pneumaticized. Femur: distinct impressiones obturatoriae with deep excavation distal
to the trochanter. The Rodrigues parakeet exhibits osteological characters that suggest a close relationship
with other Mascarene species of Psittacula, which is particularly evident in the comparatively reduced ster-
num with an anterodorsal projection of the spina externa and the pelvic elements proportionally robust.
Description and comparison: See Appendix 2d.
Remarks: It has been suggested that Psittacula eupatria may be the founding species for all species of
Psittacula that occur on islands in the Indian Ocean. These species tend to lose characters of P. eupatria,
including reduction in size, as one progresses southward (Smith 1975; Jones 1987). The present day distribu-
tion of P. eupatria includes India and parts of Southeast Asia (Fig. 18) and southward colonisation appears to
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
have given rise to the parrots of the islands of the Indian Ocean (see Discussion). Skeletal morphology further
supports a close relationship between P. exsul and P. eupatria, but the derived nature of P. exs ul suggests that
it has long been on Rodrigues.
Leguat (1708) briefly described parakeets during his stay on Rodrigues and commented on their partiality
to the nuts of Bois d’olive Cassine orientale. He took a living bird that had been taught to speak French and
Flemish with him to Mauritius (see below). Leguat’s account of the Rodrigues parakeet also opened a histori-
cal conundrum that has not been satisfactorily resolved (Grant 1801; Newton 1872; Newton & Newton 1876):
There are abundance of green and blew Parrets, they are of a midling and equal bigness; when they
are young, their Flesh is as good as young Pigeons [Leguat 1708: 77].
Leguat’s account suggests either that there were green parrots and blue parrots of the same size (possibly
referring to Necropsittacus rodericanus and Psittacula exsul), or that he was describing colour variations of
Psittacula exsul. The two surviving skins are blue (Fig.21), but in the original description by Newton (1872),
which may partly explain the contradictory statements (see also the account of the Mascarene parrot, below),
he states that the ‘head, nape, shoulders, upper wing-coverts and retrices above dull greyish-glaucous, the blue
tinge in which predominates when the bird is seen against the light, and the green when seen in contrary
aspect.’ Furthermore, a live specimen was received by the naturalist Philibert Commersen on Mauritius dur-
ing the 1770s, where it was described as long-tailed, greyish-blue parrot with a black collar (Oustalet 1897:
11). This individual was illustrated by Jossigny on at least 2 occasions, the only time this species was depicted
in life (Hume & Prys-Jones 2005), and here published for the first time (Fig. 27). Frustratingly for science, a
more detailed account by Tafforet in 1726 [Dupon 1973]) describes a predominantly green P. exsul but fails to
mention a blue one:
The parrots are of three kinds, and in quantity……The second species [= P. exsul] is slightly smaller
and more beautiful, because they have their plumage green like the preceding [Necropsittacus], a lit-
tle more blue, and above the wings a little red as well as their beak. The third species [= P. exsul] is
small and altogether green, and the beak black [translation from Cheke & Hume in prep.].
Despite the lack of detail, Tafforet’s account is extremely important because he describes the green bird as
having a red shoulder patch. The astronomer Abbé Pingré, who visited Rodrigues in 1761 to monitor the Tran-
sit of Venus, discussed the fauna in some detail, including parrots. He may have been referring to this charac-
ter as well:
the perruches I saw at Rodrigues were entirely green, without any [word illegible] of red or other
colour [Cheke 1987: 47].
The red shoulder is found only in Psittacula eupatria but not in P. kr amer i. In selective breeding by avi-
culturists, green to blue colour alteration is the most frequent change in psittacines (Nemésio 2001) and easily
produced in Psittacula (Fig.18). Furthermore, the suppression of yellow (which produces the blue coloura-
tion) also results in the suppression of red (Jones 1987; Nemésio 2001), so a blue bird might lack red shoulder
patches. As the two skins were originally preserved in alcohol, the blue colouration may have been an artifact
of spirit storage with the original green changing to blue, but examination of specimens preserved in alcohol
averaging 75 years old (Psittacula cyanocephala BMNH1933.3.5.1; P. calthrapae BMNH1929.7.1.1 and P.
alexandri fasciata BMNH1924.4.7.11) show negligible changes in colour. The greens, which have a caro-
tenoid component, are dull and browner whereas the blues, based on melanin, are unchanged.
The Rodrigues parakeet survived until comparatively recently but the species was in decline from
the1760s. Leguat reported it as abundant during his stay in 1691-2, and amused himself with captive birds,
primarily because they were too easy to kill:
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FIGURE 11. Psittacula exsul (Jossigny in Oustalet, 1897). These illustrations by Jossigny c.1770 are the only
known depictions of a live bird (Hume & Prys-Jones 2005).
Hunting and Fishing were so easie to us, that it took away from the Pleasure. We often delighted our-
selves in teaching the Parrots to speak, there being vast numbers of them. We carried one to Maurice
Isle, which talk’d French and Flemish [Leguat 1708: 95].
It was still common during Tafforet’s stay in 1726 (Dupon 1973), but had become rare by the time of Pin
gré’s visit in 1761 (see also Necropsittacus below; Alby & Serviable 1993). Like Necropsittacus, however, it
still occurred on the southern islets:
On the 19th [June 1761] at Isle Mombrani [=Gombrani], the multitude of grey terns on our side [of the
boat] served exactly as a parasol; they fly about our heads, in the manner more or less to ease the heat
of the sun. In an additional premium to this there were tropic birds and their eggs. There are also
some frigates, some tratras [Red-footed Booby Sula sula], some perruches [Psittacula exsul] [my
translation].
FIGURE 12. Grey and fawn-colour morphs of Psittacula eupatria. The grey is easiest colour to produce though artificial
selection in captivity. Photograph courtesy of Lorna Steel.
ab
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
After the visit of Pingré, Rodrigues suffered severe deforestation and increased land use for free-roaming
livestock (North-Coombes 1971). Government surveyor Thomas Corby was sent to survey Rodrigues in
1843, to ascertain the suitability of the land to support cattle (North-Coombes 1971: 85). Corby remarked that
the western side of the island, although severely deforested, still contained the best stands of palms and vacoas
(Pandanus sp.). He also mentioned the presence of many wild bullocks, pigs, great flights of guinea fowl and
green parrots, indicating that P. exsul must still have been fairly numerous. The first specimen was received by
Alfred Newton in 1871 (Newton 1872), but by this time, the parakeets had become pitifully scarce. The biolo-
gist Henry H. Slater stayed on Rodrigues for 3 months during the 1874 Transit of Venus expedition and saw
only one parakeet on 30 September in forests on the southwestern side of the island (Slater 1879a). The assis-
tant colonial secretary William James Caldwell, arriving on 12 May 1875, saw several during his stay of 3
months but failed to obtain a specimen (Caldwell 1875). He did, however, receive a male of the species from
ships’ pilot and local resident William Vandorous on 14 August 1875 (Newton & Newton 1876). Alfred New-
ton received this individual at Cambridge, England, and this was the last time the species was recorded. A
devastating series of cyclones struck the following year (North-Coombes 1971), perhaps wiping out the last
few survivors (Cheke 1987). Contrary to Greenway’s (1967) suggestion that P. exsu l might survive on off-
shore islets, the Rodrigues islets are probably too small to support viable populations of birds.
Seychelles parakeet Psittacula wardi (Newton, 1867).
Cateau vert, Newton, 1867: 348.
Palaeornis wardi Newton, 1867: 335.
Psittacula wardi; Peters, 1937.242.
Measurements: See Appendix 3.
Type locality: Mahé, Seychelles.
Distribution: Mahé, Silhouette and possibly Praslin, Seychelles.
Etymology: Named after Swinburne Ward (1830–1897), British Civil Commissioner to the Seychelles,
1862–1868.
Syntypes: UMZC18/Psi/67/g/1-3. 2 females, 1 male collected on Mahé by Swinburne Ward.
Diagnosis: Although of limited use, some morphometric comparisons have been made using an x-radio-
graph of a female P. wardi BMNH1890.10.10.5 (Fig.13D). This specimen is larger than female P. eupatria in
the cranium, rostrum, mandible, ulna, and tibiotarsus but smaller in tarsometatarsal and carpometacarpal
length; male P. eupatria are larger in all elements.
Description and comparison: Skeletal specimens are unavailable. In the skin (Fig.13C), P. w ardi is
smaller and shorter-winged, with the bill (rhampthotheca) slightly less robust than its mainland congener P.
eupatria. Males of P. wardi differs from those of P. eupatria by the lack of a rosy collar, the cheeks and hind-
neck are suffused with blue rather than blue-grey, the black band encircling cheeks is finer, extending to the
hind neck, and the undersides are more yellowish. The wings and tail are shorter and broader. Newton (1867:
346) describes this species as similar to P. alexandri [=P.eupatria], but with stouter bill, purple red shoulder
patches, and the hind neck without a red band. Several authors (e.g., Greenway 1967) have reduced P. wa rd i
to a subspecies of P. eupatria. Although Groombridge et al. 2004) did not include P. ward i or P. e xsu l in their
study, the distinctive characters just mentioned surely warrant specific status for the Seychelles bird.
Remarks: The Seychelles Parakeet is known only from 10 specimens. It died out in the early years of the
20th Century, persecuted for supposed damage to maize crops (Newton 1867; Newton & Newton 1876; Green-
way 1967; Forshaw 1989). E. Newton (1867) gave a brief description of the bird during a visit to Silhouette:
The cocoa-nuts are now planted more than halfway up the mountain, and it is probable that in ten
years none of the native forests will remain……; and here we saw the :”Cateau vert’ [=Psittacula
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wardi] at the edge of the forest, in a place some 600 or 700 feet high, where was a patch of maize; but
they had been so often fired at that they would not come within shot [Newton 1867: 357].
FIGURE 13. Skins of Psittacula echo A, BMNH 1859.11.22.42 ; B, BMNH 1890.10.10.8 ; and Psittacula wardi. C,
BMNH80.6.3.1 and D, BMNH1890.10.10.5 x-radiograph. Although the x-radiograph is of limited use, it illustrates
the big-headiness of P. wa rd i with comparatively reduced but robust wing and leg elements. Scale bar = 10mm.
Newton personally never saw the green parakeet on Mahé, but while there was informed that:
The “Cateau vert,” from the constant persecution against it brought on by its unfortunate partiality
for ripe maize, was said to be nearly exterminated [Newton 1867: 348].
The Civil Commissioner, Swinburne Ward had, however, procured three skins of the bird from Mahé.
Newton (1867) described the species from these specimens naming it to commemorate the donor. Newton
also gathered hearsay evidence that the species had also once occurred on Praslin (Newton & Newton 1876;
Diamond 1984). Rothschild (1907a) gave the last word on the continued persistence of the Cateau vert stating
that:
On the Seychelles another Ringed Parakeet, Palaeornis wardi, is practically gone, for whereas a few
years ago it was fairly common on Mahé, it is now confined to the small island of Silhouette, near
Mahé, and is even there almost extinct [Rothschild 1907a: 203].
The granitic Seychelles are an ancient part of the Gondwanaland continental landmass of which only the
mountain tops now remain above sea level (Plummer & Belle 1995). Although it is now difficult to determine
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
how much faunal turnover may have occurred since human colonization, much of the Seychelles avifauna is
little differentiated from the mainland at the generic level (Prys-Jones & Diamond 1984), and can be consid-
ered comparatively recent. It is not known if P. wa rdi has any relationships with other Indian Ocean Psittacula
as no fossil or skeletal remains are available and no DNA analysis has yet been undertaken.
Genus Necropsittacus Milne-Edwards, 1874: 18.
Necropsittacus; Milne-Edwards, 1874 [1873]: 18, pl.15, fig. a–b. Type by original designation: Psittacus Rodricanus A.
Milne-Edwards.
Etymology: From Greek necros, meaning dead, and psittakos parrot, in reference to this species being extinct.
Diagnosis: A monotypic genus of large, big-headed parrot with a long tail and lacking the distinctive crest
of Lophopsittacus. The genus is distinguished from all other Mascarene parrots by the following suite of char-
acters. Cranium: dorsoventrally flattened with lateral edge of the craniorostral hinge sharply right-angled; pro-
cessus postorbitalis short; crista nuchalis transversus forms a prominent ridged semi-circle; parietals gently
slope toward occipital region, which is steeply angled and has a deeply excavated fossa temporalis. Rostrum:
narial openings oriented on a different plane, i.e. upward as opposed to forward. Mandible: when viewed in
dorsal aspect, the internal margin of symphysis broad and square-shaped. Coracoid: processus procoracoi-
deus reduced with a shallow cotyla scapularis; distal to the angulus medialis, a raised ridge forms a small
square-shaped lateral edge; proximal to the facies articularis clavicularis, a deeply excavated, pneumaticised
circular pit present. Femur: comparatively indistinct impressiones obturatoriae with a shallow excavation dis-
tal to the trochanter; sulcus patellaris narrow and deeply excavated; fovea ligamenti capitis forms a shallow
rounded depression; sulcus distal to fossa poplitea deeply excavated. Tibiotarsus: reduced pons supratend-
ineus with no enclosing of the canalis extensorius. Tarsometatarsus: reduced fossa metatarsi I.
Rodrigues parrot Necropsittacus rodericanus (Milne-Edwards, 1867)
Les plus gros [perroquet] sont plus gros qu’in pigeon, text attributed to Tafforet, 1726: 25.
Perroquet, Pingré, 1761., in Alby, J., & Serviable, M (eds.) 1993: 45.
Psittacus rodericanus Milne-Edwards, 1867: 151, pl.7, figs. 1–2.
Necropsittacus rodericanus; Milne-Edwards, 1874 [1873]: 18, pl.15, fig. a–b.
Holotype: Anterior portion of rostrum designated by Milne-Edwards (1867: 151, pl. 7, figs. 1–2), where-
abouts now uncertain. A specimen catalogued as UMZC 575 matches Milne-Edwards’ description and draw-
ing of the holotype. It was sent by Milne-Edwards to Alfred Newton, Cambridge, some time after 1880 and is
still in the collection. This specimen might be the missing holotype but confirming data are lacking.
Measurements: See Appendix 3, tables 1–11.
Type locality: Rodrigues Island, Mascarenes
Distribution: Rodrigues Island, Mascarenes
Etymology: rodericanus, of Rodrigues, the island having been named in honour of the Portuguese navi-
gator Diego Rodriguez, who discovered it in 1528.
Referred material: Subfossil elements collected from the Plaine Corail, Rodrigues: cranium UMZC 562;
rostrum UMZC 562; mandible UMZC 562; UMZC 575; BMNH A1455(d); humerus BMNH A1455(R);
BMNH A1455(R); BMNH A1455(R); BMNH A1455(L); BMNH A1455(L); BMNH A1455(L); FLMR R205
(L); coracoid BMNH A1455(R); BMNH A1455(L); u/c (L); ulna BMNH A1455(R); BMNH A1455(L); (Rp);
(Lp); FLMR R205 (R); carpometacarpus (Ld); (Rd); femur UMZC A1455(R); UMZC A1455(Lp); (Ld);
FLMR R141(Lp); FLMR R34(Rd); tibiotarsus UMZC A1455(R); UMZC A1455(L); FLMR R205 (Rp);
FLMR R205 (Ld) tarsometatarsus BMNH A1455(L). At least 4 individuals are represented, including one
partial associated skeleton.
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FIGURE 14. Author's scaled drawing of the Mascarene parrots, based on skins and skeletal evidence, in comparison
with species of Psittacula. A, Psittacula krameri; B, Psittacula echo; C, Psittacula eupatria; D, Psittacula wardi; E,
Psittacula exsul; F, Psittacula bensoni new comb.; G, Mascarinus mascarinus; H, Necropsittacus rodericanus; I,
Lophopsittacus mauritianus (Type B = female); J, Lophopsittacus mauritianus (Type A = male).
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
FIGURE 15. Author's scaled drawing illustrating the morphologies of the larger endemic Mascarene parrots. A, Necrop-
sittacus rodericanus (extremely large head and jaws, comparatively small body with long tail); B, Lophopsittacus mauri-
tianus (frontal crest, extremely large head and jaws, comparatively small body with long graduated tail, the two central
tail feathers longer than the rest); C, Psittacula bensoni, new comb. (typical Psittacula morphology, most similar to Psit-
tacula eupatria); D, Mascarinus mascarinus (comparatively large head and jaws, stocky body with a moderately long,
broad and rounded, not graduated tail).
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Diagnosis: As for the genus.
Description and comparison: See Appendix 2e.
Remarks: Necropsittacus was smaller than female Lophopsittacus (e.g. 32% in the tibiotarsus), but had
pectoral elements of equivalent size and had proportionally the largest head and jaws of any of the Mascarene
parrots (see also Newton & Gadow 1893). The pectoral and pelvic elements are comparable in size to the New
Zealand Kaka Nestor meridionalis, so in life it may have looked somewhat similar to Tanygnathus megalo-
rhynchus, but with an even larger head and longer tail (Figs. 14 & 15). For lack of sufficient fossil material, it
is not at all certain if this species exhibited the distinctive sexual dimorphism seen in Lophopsittacus, and
there are also no cranial characteristics to suggest that it may have had a Lophopsittacus-type crest. Characters
of the postcranial skeleton indicate a distant relationship with Lophopsittacus and there are also some similar-
ities to Psittacula and Tanygnathus.
In 1725, Tafforet in 1726 (Dupon 1973) gave the only detailed description of the Rodrigues parrot in life:
The largest [=Necropsittacus] are larger than a pigeon, and have a tail very long, the head large as well as
the beak. They mostly come on the islets which are to the south of the island, where they eat a small black
seed, which produces a small shrub whose leaves have the smell of the orange tree, and come to the mainland
to drink water…..they have their plumage green [translation from Cheke & Hume in prep.].
Tafforet also mentions a species of tree on which the parrots (presumably Psittacula exsul as well) fed:
The “Bois de buis” [=Fernelia buxufolia] is common there [Rodrigues] and very small. The perro-
quets eat the seeds [my translation].
Today this shrub is endangered and restricted to a few localities (Strahm 1989). It was considered com-
mon during Tafforet’s visit and grew at any altitude on Rodrigues including the islets. Even as early as 1725,
the parrots were frequenting or nesting on these numerous islets within the Rodrigues lagoon as did the now-
extinct Rodrigues starling Necropsar rodericensis and Rodrigues pigeon ”Columbarodericanus. This was
also reported by Leguat (1708) and was attributed to the huge rat population inhabiting the mainland. Unfortu-
nately, all of the islets gradually became rat-infested and it can be assumed that Necropsittacus and other
endemic birds of Rodrigues disappeared shortly after. In 1761, Pingré regretted most the increasing scarcity of
the parrots – because they were so good to eat:
The perruche [=Psittacula exsul] seemed to me much more delicate [in flavour, compared to the fly-
ing-fox]. I would not have missed any game from France if this one had been commoner in Rod-
rigues; but it begins to become rare. There are even fewer perroquets [=Necropsittacus rodericanus],
although there were once a big enough quantity according to François Leguat; indeed a little islet
south of Rodrigues still retains the name Isle of Parrots [Isle Pierrot] [translation from Cheke and
Hume in prep].
This suggests that both Rodrigues parrots had become rare by 1761, the larger Necropsittacus particularly
so. Pingré noted the large number of fires that were lit to clear the vegetation by tortoise hunters, so deforesta-
tion as well as direct hunting had probably seriously reduced parrot populations by this time. Pingré’s account
is the last mention of Necropsittacus in life and presumably it died out shortly thereafter.
Réunion red and green parakeet, genus indeterminate
Perroquets verts de méme grosseur, ayant la teste, le dessus des aisles, & la queue couleur de feu, Dubois 1674: 173.
Necropsittacus ? borbonicus Rothschild 1907b: 62.
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Holotype: none, based entirely on the description of Dubois (1674).
Measurements: None available.
Type locality: Réunion Island.
Distribution: Réunion Island.
Etymology: from Bourbon, the original name of Réunion Island.
Diagnosis: None available.
Description & comparison: Described as the same size as Psittacula eques.
Remarks: The most enigmatic species of Réunion parrot is the bird described by Dubois (1674:173) in
1671–2 as:
Green parrots of the same size [presumably as P. eques] with head, upper parts of the wings, and tail
the colour of fire [my translation].
A fourth species of parrot mentioned by Lespinay in 1671 (Barré et al. 1996: 38) might refer to this spe-
cies as well, but he gave no description. Rothschild (1907a: 197)) named this red and green species as Necrop-
sittacus (?) borbonicus assuming that it was related to N. rodericanus of Rodrigues, probably because he
mistakenly incorporated Dubois’ account into his description of the appearance of the Rodrigues parrot
Necropsittacus rodericanus:
On Rodriguez were two Parrots; one, Necropsittacus rodericanus, a very large parrot allied to Palae-
ornis [=Psittacula], but with head, tail, and wings red [my italics]. Of this we have bones as well as
Dubois’ and Leguat’s descriptions; the second species was grey, probably a Vaza (Coracop-
sis)[=Psittacula exsul] [Rothschild 1907a:197].
Dubois never visited Rodrigues or Mauritius and the Rodrigues parrot was almost certainly all green.
Then Rothschild completely confounded himself by attributing Dubois’ description of a Réunion parrot to a
third species:
On Mauritius there were two [species of parrot], one of which we only know from Dubois’ descrip-
tion to have been green, with a red head and tail [my italics], which I will call Necropsittacus franci-
cus, nom. nov (Rothschild 1907a: 197).
This name has no basis other than the muddled imagination of Lord Rothschild. Hachisuka (1953) recog-
nised Necropsittacus? borbonicus, and included an elaborate artistic reconstruction combining the colour pat-
tern described by Dubois with a Necropsittacus-like body plan.
If Dubois’ description was a parrot endemic to Réunion, this may have been a derivative of Psittacula
eupatria’ as it corresponds well with the colouration of P. eupatria except for the red tail. Red feathering on
the head, scapulars, and tail are typical psittaculine signal areas (Smith 1975).
Genus Mascarinus Lesson, 1831: 188.
Mascarinus madagascariensis Lesson, livre 3, 1831: 188. Type by tautonomy: Mascarinus madagascariensis Lesson
(1831: 189), based on "Psittacus mascarinus, Gm; Levaill., Perroq., pl. 139" (Lesson, 1831: 189).
Etymology: From the French name for the parrot Le Mascarin referring to the Mascarene Islands, which were
named after the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, who discovered them in 1505.
Diagnosis: An aberrant monotypic genus, with large bill and a moderately long and broadly rounded tail.
Cranium moderately dorso-ventrally flattened; in rostrum, diameter of nares greater than width of the interna-
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rial septum; indistinct notch on the ventral surface; in mandible, fenestra mandibulae absent; proximal edge of
symphysis broadly oval; angulus mandibulae flattened not angled and symphysis sharply angled, projecting
ventrally (description based on drawings in Milne-Edwards (1866, 1867) (Fig.24b), who had the skull and
jaws removed from the Paris skin).
FIGURE 16. Mascarinus mascarinus MNHN 211 u/s. Note the damaged tail destroyed by sulphuric acid.
Mascarene parrot Mascarinus mascarinus (Linnaeus, 1771)
Perroquets un peu plus gros que pigeons, ayant le plumage de couleur de petit gris, un chaperon noir sur la teste, le becq
fort gros, & couleur de feu, Dubois, 1674: 172.
Les uns sont de la grosseur d’une poulle, de couleur grise, le bec rouge, Feuilley, 1705: 129., in Mission à I’lle Bourbon
du Sieur Feuilley en 1704. Recueil trimestriel de documents et travaux inédits pour servir á l’histoire des Masca-
reignes françaises. [Original not seen.].
Psittacus Mascarinus Brisson 1760: 315 (nonbinomial).
Psittacus mascarinus, Linnaeus, 1771: 524; Hahn, 1834: 54, pl.39 (probably based on the type specimen held in the
MNHN, Paris).
Mascarin, Daubenton, 1779: pl. 35; Buffon, 1779: 120, pl.v; Mauduyt, 1784: 194.
Mascarine Parrot, Latham, 1781: 265, n.72.
Perroquet Mascarin, Levaillant, 1805: II, 171, pl. 189, “Madagascar,” errore.
Mascarinus madagascariensis Lesson, 1831: 189, “Madagascar,” ex Levaillant.
Coracopsis mascarina; Wagler, 1832.: 679; Pelzeln, 1863: 934; Gray, 1846:.407, n,i.
Mascarinus obscurus (non Psittacus obscurus Linnaeus); Bonaparte, 1854: 154. (Linnaeus, Psittacus obscurus, 1758, X,
97, ex Hasselquist M.S – identified with Psittacus mascarinus in error. See Appendix 1).
Vaza mascari na; Schlegel, 1864: 71.
Psittacus madagascariensis; Finsch, 1868: 306 (Finsch was unfamiliar with the history of this parrot and still thought it
origins were in Madagascar); Finsch, ibid (footnote); Pelzeln, 1873: .32.
Coracopsis obscura; Gray, 1870: pl.159, n. 8262.
Coracopsis mascarinus; Newton & Newton, 1876: 289.
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Mascarinus mascarinus; Salvadori, 1891: 421, Réunion.
Mascarinus duboisi Forbes; 1879: 304, 306, fig.306; Milne-Edwards & Oustalet; 1893: 191, pl. 1.
Holotype: skin (unsexed) MNHN 211 (Fig. 16). This may be the same specimen that was described by Bris-
son (1760). See below and Forbes (1879).
Measurements: See Appendix 3, tables 1–11.
Type locality: Réunion Island, Mascarenes
Distribution: Réunion Island and possibly Mauritius (see below)
Etymology: As for the genus.
Referred material: Skin (unsexed) NMW 50.688. For fossil material see Mourer-Chauviré et al (1999).
The Mascarene parrot Mascarinus mascarinus is known from two ancient skins, the type in Paris (Milne-
Edwards and Oustalet 1893) and a partially albinistic specimen in NMW (Greenway 1967). The presence of
white feathers in this specimen is almost certainly a result of a long period in captivity (Schifter 1994). This
specimen, listed as ‘5828 Parrot, a curious variety, America,’ was obtained at the sale of the Leverian
Museum, London in 1806 (Pelzeln 1873; Sassi 1940; Schifter 1994).
Diagnosis: As for the genus.
Description and comparison: See Appendix 2f.
Remarks: Facts concerning the natural colouration and date of extinction of the Mascarene parrot have
long been documented (Hahn 1834; Newton & Newton 1876; Milne-Edwards & Oustalet 1893; Rothschild
1907b; Hachisuka 1953; Forshaw 1989; Day 1981; Fuller 1987, 2001), all based on the account of Hahn
(1834). Hahn supposedly saw the last of the species, an aged specimen living in the King of Bavaria’s menag-
erie in 1834, although other evidence suggests that this may not have been the case (Hume 2004; Hume &
Prys-Jones 2005). Hahn’s (1834: 54) account reads:
bill red; base of bill black; head and throat bluish-grey; remainder of body brownish-red, lower parts
paler; tail white at base, remaining half brownish-red; feet blackish. ORIGIN: Madagascar. WHERE
FOUND: Unknown. FOOD: Fruits. BREEDING: Unknown. CHARACTERS: It is not very lively
and its call is harsh. There is a living example in the menagerie of King Maximilian of Bavaria at
Munich on which the illustration is based [my translation].
Although Hahn supposedly based his illustration of the Mascarinus in his book, Ornithologischer Atlas:
Papageien (Fig. 17b) on this living example, it is almost a direct copy of Martinet’s plate (Fig. 17a) in Buffon
(1779: pl. 35) executed some 50 to 60 years before. After the death of the king on 13 October 1825, the
menagerie was auctioned off on 25–28 August 1826, and an inventory lists all species in precise detail (Anon-
ymous 1826). No Mascarene parrot is on the list. Furthermore, such a rare parrot would surely have been
mounted after death, but no such specimen was preserved. Without giving reasons, Newton & Newton (1876,
p. 287) suspected Hahn’s veracity on the subject, but one important fact is overlooked: Hahn’s account of a
live bird says nothing about the date of his observation. The book was published in 1834 and, in Hahn’s
defense, it is possible for him to have made an observation well before that date, as the collection of data and
final publication may have taken many years. Hahn died the following year in 1835 (Schifter 1994).
Nonetheless, inconsistencies in Hahn’s description (i.e. date and provenance of observation and plagia-
rized image of Mascarinus), cast doubt on his statement. Although not conclusive, it is very doubtful that
Hahn saw a living Mascarene parrot as late as 1834, if at all, and he may have derived his description and
illustration from other sources, even hearsay evidence.
The 1834 date of extinction is, therefore, unfounded and the species had almost certainly died out long
before then. The Mascarene parrot was last mentioned alive on Réunion in the 1770s (Cheke 1987) and cap-
tive birds were alive in Paris during the 1780s and described by Mauduyt (1784):
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The Mascarin is found at Ile Bourbon [=Réunion]; I have seen several alive in Paris, they were rather
gentle birds; they had in their favour only that the red beak contrasted agreeably with the dark back-
ground of their plumage; they had not learnt to talk (translation from Cheke and Hume in prep.)
FIGURE 17a. Mascarinus mascarinus (Martinet’s illustration in Buffon, 1779); 17b. M. mascarinus (Hahn, 1834).
No records indicate that they survived longer, which suggests that Mascarinus probably became extinct
before 1800.
It has been suggested that Mascarinus may have also once inhabited Mauritius (e.g. Hachisuka 1953;
Greenway 1967), based on the account of Peter Mundy (1608–67 [1914]), quoting his observation of ‘russet
parrots’. Réunion and Mauritius share a number of genera, including parrots, so a possibility exists that Mas-
carinus occurred on both islands, which can only be resolved by the discovery of fossil material on Mauritius.
The accounts of Dubois (1674), Feuilley (1704 [1939]) and Borghesi in 1703 (Lougnon 1992) include
descriptions of live Mascarinus on Réunion. At least 3 specimens also reached France alive (Brisson 1760;
Mauduyt 1784; Levaillant 1805; Finsch 1867; Milne-Edwards & Oustalet 1893) and two of these live birds
were described, the first and most detailed by Brisson (1760) and a second by Mauduyt (1784) (see above). A
third specimen belonged to the Cabinet Aubry (Newton & Newton 1876; Milne-Edwards & Oustalet 1893),
eventually becoming part of the Cabinet du Roi (Cheke 1987). Buffon (1779: pl 35); Martinet (1787); Levail-
lant (1805) and Hahn (1834) followed by Rothschild (1907b), Hachisuka (1958) and Forshaw (1989),
describe or depict a brown bird with bluish-lilac head – a colouration that has become the orthodox image
today. Dubois (1674), however, described Mascarinus as Petit-gris, which is the colour of the dark phase of
the Eurasian red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) (Mourer-Chauviré et al. 1999), a variable dark blackish grey/
brown (pers. obs.). Feuilley (1705 [1939]) in 1704 mentions Mascarinus and other parrots on Réunion (see
Réunion Grey parrot), and Brisson (1760:315) described a captive Mascarinus as follows:
ab
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Upperparts of head and neck clear (ash) grey. Back, rump, underparts of neck, breast, belly, sides,
legs, scapular feathers, uppercoverts of tail very-dark (ash) grey. Wing feathers of the same colour.
The tail is composed of 12 feathers: the two median ones are also very-dark (ash) grey. All the lateral
ones are of the same colour, except that they have a little white at their base.
The eyes are surrounded by a naked skin, bright red. Pupil black, iris red. The base of the superior half of
the beak is also surrounded by a red naked skin in which the nostrils are placed. Beak similarly red.
Legs pale flesh. Claws grey-brown. I am unaware from which country it is found. I have seen it living in
Paris [my translation]. As above
The overall grey colouration is in direct contrast with more modern interpretations. Buffon (1779:120)
also described Mascarinus, based on a mounted specimen:
Its bill is red; a grey hood covers the back of the head and neck; the rest of the body is brown; the
quills of the tail, which are brown for two-thirds of their length, are white at their origin [my transla-
tion].
Finsch (1867) also described the Vienna specimen as brownish grey. The contradictory colour descrip-
tions I believe are an artifact of aging in museum specimens in which blacks and greys can change to brown, a
process hastened if specimens are not kept out of light (see Brothwell 1987). For example, Spiza townsendi, a
unique specimen collected by Audubon in the 1830s was originally grey but is now brown (see Fuller 2001).
Furthermore, Dubois (1674) and Brisson (1760) described wild and captive birds as dark grey. Another prob-
able erroneous depiction is the bluish-lilac head. No such colour is mentioned in any of the early accounts of
live birds in which the head is described as grey (e.g. Brisson 1760). Levaillant (1805) followed by Salvadori
(1891), gave the following description of a stuffed individual:
….the rest of the head and the neck is an ashen grey, lightly purplish [or mauvish]; upper back , man-
tle, wings and all coverts are dull brown, greyish in certain aspect [or appearance] [my translation].
The light purplish head and the greyish colouration are obviously subtle colours, perhaps evident only in
certain angles of light. The overall dark colouration can swamp these colours when seen from any distance
and this may well account for the confusion. The origin of the purplish and brown bird stems from a painting,
the first coloured illustration of Mascarinus, by Martinet (in Buffon 1779: pl.35) (Fig.17a). Martinet was
employed to illustrate Buffon’s work, and would not have been responsible for all final reproductions. He was
head of a workshop employing over 80 artists and workers and was subject to a strict timetable for completing
Buffon’s and other works (Jackson 1999). Furthermore, the original plates were hand-coloured, a standard
practice during the 18th and early 19th centuries (Dance 1978) that led to considerable variation. Martinet’s
depiction is almost certainly the same stuffed bird described by Buffon, and examination of several copies of
his plates of Mascarinus showed marked discrepancies in colouration between them (Table 2). Despite the
best efforts of the artists, depicting subtle colours using water-based paints is extremely difficult and in the
renditions of Mascarinus the purples and browns appear much too strong. It is not surprising, therefore, that
so many inconsistencies exist.
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TABLE 2. Variations in the plates of Mascarinus by Martinet in Buffon (1779 planches enluminées edition.
Martinet’s plate also has one feature that links it to the majority of the subsequent illustrations of Mascar-
inus: the absence of two dark central tail feathers without white bases as described by Brisson (1760). In Mar-
tinet’s illustration, the central tail feathers are shown with a white base which suggests that the specimen
(almost certainly the Paris bird) lacked these feathers. This might have arisen from the fact that the Paris spec-
imen was severely damaged during an attempt to fumigate the cases in the 1790s by burning sulphur (Milne-
Edwards & Oustalet 1893), which combined with water to produce sulphuric acid, and almost all of the tail
and distal wing areas were destroyed (Fig. 16). Unfortunately the Vienna specimen, which has an undamaged
tail, cannot be used as a comparison because the tail is almost entirely albinistic (Hume pers.obs.). Martinet
(locs.cit.), Martinet (1787), Hahn (1834), Keulemans (in Milne-Edwards & Oustalet, 1893), Keulemans (in
Rothschild, 1907b) have all included this feature in their works. This implies that Martinet’s illustration,
which was an unreliable source to begin with, provided the basis for all of these renditions of Mascarinus.
Further confusion appears in the account of Forbes (1879), who described Mascarinus as having nostrils
entirely covered with feathers. This may not have originally been the case. Brisson (1760) and Wagler
(1832[1835]) clearly stated that the nostrils are exposed and surrounded by red skin. Forbes examined the
specimen after Milne-Edwards had removed the skull and presumably when the rampthotheca was reattached
to the skin, the nostrils were obliterated. The removal of the skull and jaws also explains the unnatural shape
of the head (Fig. 16) in this specimen.
Based on the distinctive large red bill, Garrod (1874), Forbes (1879) and Oustalet (1897) suggested a
close relationship among Mascarinus, Tanygnathus and Psittacula. A red bill is a diagnostic feature of the
tribe Psittaculini (Forshaw 1989, Collar 1997, Juniper and Parr 1998). Although Mascarinus possessed a
bright red bill, it exhibited atypical plumage patterns, including a moderately long tail with white bases to the
dorsal surface of the outer tail feathers, and a thick, black, velvety facemask (Fig. 17a & 17b). Black facial
feathering occurs widely within the Psittaculini, however, and may range from moderate, e.g. Tanygnathus
gramineus, to extensive, e.g. Psittacula derbianus and P. caniceps.
An enigmatic specimen, mentioned here for completeness, was housed in the Cabinet du Roi. It was noted
by Buffon (1779: 132) in his description of Mascarinus:
We have an individual in the King’s Cabinet of the same size and of the same colour [as Mascari-
nus], except that it has not got a black mask, nor the white on the tail, and that all its body is equally
brown; the beak is also smaller, and it that respect, it resembles a vaza [Coracopsis], of which it
would appear to be a variety, if it does not form an intermediate species between that bird and the
Mascarine. To the same species or variety, we would refer the brown parrot of Brisson [my transla-
tion].
Location Head colouration Body and wings Tail
Rothschild Library, Tring 14/G Bluish-grey Chocolate brown, wings blackish brown Light grey
Rothschild Library, Tring 16/A Grey-blue Chestnut brown washed with rufous,
paler below. Wings dark chocolate Mid grey
Errol Fuller collection Grey-blue Greyish chocolate, paler below. Wings
blackish brown Dark grey - brown
Bodleian Library, Oxford Dove-grey Medium brown, paler grey-brown below.
Wings dark blackish brown Light grey
Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle,
Réunion Bluish-grey Chocolate brown. Wings blackish Blackish grey-brown
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Although it is now impossible to determine what species is being discussed here, it is clearly not a mis-
identified vaza Coracopsis vasa or Mascarinus. Of the 2 species of Coracopsis, the larger, C. vasa, is 50 cm in
total length, much larger than Mascarinus, whereas C. nigra, at 35 cm, is roughly equal in size. Thus this
specimen may have been C. nigra or an aged specimen of the now long extinct Réunion Grey parrot Psittac-
ula cf. bensoni and, as with Mascarinus, the greys had changed to browns. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of
this specimen are now unknown.
Discussion
Extinction
Parrots have suffered considerably at the hands of man. Their bright colours and raucous nature invite
detection and coupled with an apparent tameness, island parrots have been particularly vulnerable. Although
referring to Mauritian birds in general, an account written in 1662 by assistant minister Simon van den Kerk-
loven (1663) epitomises the vulnerability of the avifauna:
But what appeared strange to me of a certain (sort of) fowls (or birds) which often feed in great num-
bers in the trees, and which were daily asundered by our people, who killed (or struck them dead)
with sticks, although it was never observed that a single one flew away; for it (as) one received the
blow, the others (quickly) looked after him and even if twenty were wounded, the rest remained (in
their place) after the blows [translation in correspondence between Bouton and Strickland, 31st
March 1848].
On the Mascarenes, 8 out of 9 parrot species are now extinct due to a combination of three factors; direct
hunting by humans, the introduction of exotic animals, and deforestation. On Réunion, the enigmatic red and
green parrot disappeared between 1672 and 1704, possibly as a direct result of the Black Rat Rattus rattus
having become established on the island about 1675. However, both Psittacula eques and Psittacula cf. ben-
soni survived until at least the 1730s, but became extinct after an escalation of hunting and deforestation
between 1730–50. Remarkably Mascarinus survived until at least the 1780s with captive birds in Paris outliv-
ing the wild population by a decade. On Mauritius, Lophopsittacus mauritianus disappeared by the 1680s at a
time when large-scale harvesting of endemic palms was taking place (Barnwell 1948:48). These parrots may
have been palm specialists. Despite parrots of various species being reported as numerous by Leguat during
1693–4 (Leguat 1708), Psittacula bensoni disappeared sometime after the 1730s when forest cleareance, par-
ticularly in the lowlands, was being made for agriculture (see Cheke 1987). On Rodrigues Necropsittacus
rodericanus became extinct between 1726 and 1770 as a result of forest clearance, rat predation and hunting,
while Psittacula exsul finally succumbed to almost complete deforestation of Rodrigues by the 1870s. Only
on Mauritius, and then only on one mountain range in the southwest, did the sole surviving but critically
endangered Mascarene parrot Psittacula echo persist.
Biogeography
It is evident that many Mascarene birds, but not all (e.g. Streptopelia/Nesoenas doves, Johnson et al.
2001), are derived from southeast Asia, including the Dodo Raphus cucullatus, Solitaire Pezophaps solitaria,
blue pigeons (Alectroenas sp., Shapiro et al. 2002), and starlings (Sturnidae, Hume et al. in prep.), and this
appears to be the case with parrots as well. For parrots to reach isolated archipelagos such as the Mascarenes,
it is probable that sea level changes provided opportunities for island-hopping. During periods of lower sea
levels that occurred during the Pleistocene, some low stands continued for tens of thousands of years and were
up to 145 m lower than present (Haq et al. 1987; Rohling et al. 1998). Indian Ocean islands situated on pla-
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teaux would therefore have been much greater in land area. This would not only have provided long-term
stepping stones for species dispersal but also narrowed the distances for over-water crossing. It is now impos-
sible to determine with any certainty which route parrots took in order to reach the Mascarenes, but the
present distribution of Psittaculini provides a number of options. The dispersal events may have occurred via
India or south-east Asia. An Indian route concurs with present day Indian Ocean geomorphology (Fig. 18),
where islands and island groups such as the Maldives, Chagos Archipelago, and St Brandon are situated along
or adjacent to the Central Indian Ridge. The ridge forms a north-south corridor of comparatively shallow
water terminating with the Seychelles in the north and the Mascarenes in the south, providing opportunities to
reach the Mascarenes over a considerable period of time. Parrots evidently colonised the Mascarenes in
pulses, as the parrots have not radiated in situ, a scenario similar to dispersal of Aplonis starlings in the Pacific
(Hume 2000). Ultimately, however, the Mascarenes and Seychelles became dead ends for parrot colonisations
across the Indian Ocean because parrots never advanced any further west.
FIGURE 18. Map of the Indian Ocean and a possible route used by parrots (blue) in order to reach the Mascarene
Islands. A number of islands, seamounts and atolls are situated along the Indian Ocean ridge, which may have provided a
series of island stepping stones. Black outline illustrates the present range of Psittacula eupatria (based on Forshaw
1989: 355), a possible founding species for all Mascarene species of Psittacula.
Zootaxa 1513 © 2007 Magnolia Press · 43
PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
Affinities
The order Psittaciformes is a remarkably homogeneous group in structural terms (Forshaw 1989, Collar
1997, Juniper & Parr 1998). Parrots are characterised by a generally disproportionately large hooked bill and a
zygodactyl foot with a reversible fourth toe. Defining osteological characteristics at the specific and generic
level from the fossil record is problematic, as differences are often of degree only. Despite its inadequacies,
the fossil record indicates that all Mascarene parrots to a greater and lesser degree evolved disproportionately
large heads and jaws, comparatively reduced pectoral elements, particularly in the sternum, and robust pelvic
elements (Fig. 19). A comparative reconstruction (Figs. 14 & 15) of the Mascarene parrots and Psittacula
eupatria and P. krameri shows the size and morphological evolution that has taken place in the endemic gen-
era Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus, Mascarinus and the species Psittacula bensoni. The affinities of the
endemic parrot genera are now difficult to determine, but as Psittacula has managed to colonise a number of
isolated Indian Ocean islands (Groombridge et al. 2004), it is not unreasonable to postulate that members of
the tribe Psittaculini gave rise to all Mascarene parrots. A number of authorities have already postulated a
close relationship between Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus, and Psittacula (Milne-Edwards 1873, Berlioz
1946, Holyoak 1973a), but did not provide supporting evidence. Morphological evidence presented in this
paper suggests that the endemic Mascarene genera Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus and Mascarinus are clearly
nested within the Psittaculini, and that the Mascarene and Seychelles forms of Psittacula have a probable
ancestor closely related to Psittacula eupatria.
FIGURE 19. Comparison of selected skeletal elements of Mascarene parrots with species of Psittacula eupatria. Note
the trend of relatively large mandibles and leg elements with reduced pectoral elements in Mascarene parrots compared
with Psittacula, with Necropsittacus having the largest jaws in comparative terms of any of the Mascarene parrots (see
Newton and Gadow (1893).
Acknowledgements
I am indebted to Carl Jones, Anthony Cheke, Carlos Yamashita, Robert Prys-Jones, David Martill, Pamela
Rasmussen, Owen Griffiths, Herbert Schifter, and in particular Storrs Olson, Cécile Mourer-Chauviré and
David Steadman for invaluable comments during the preparation of this paper. I thank Effie Warr, former
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librarian at the Natural History Museum, Tring, for access to the early literature; Ray Symonds and Mike
Brooke for access and loan of all of the Mascarene parrot material held at the University Museum of Zoology,
Cambridge; and Sandra Chapman for access to parrot material held at Palaeontology, The Natural History
Museum, London. I thank Bob Loveridge of the University of Portsmouth and Harry Taylor, Mark Adams,
and Jo Cooper of the The Natural History Museum, London and Tring for assistance with the photographic
illustrations. In France, I would like to thank Cecile Mourer-Chauviré, Université Claude Bernard-Lyon 1;
UCB, Christian Jouanin and Jean-Francois Voisin, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, for access to
material in their collections and especially Cécile Mourer-Chauviré for use of the Mascarinus x-radiograph
images. This paper was supported by The Percy Sladen Centenary Fund and The Gen Foundation.
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Appendices
Appendix 1.
Psittacus obscurus Linnaeus, 1758: 97, ex Hasselquist M.S
Although Linnaeus identified Psittacus obscurus with the Mascarine parrot (Linnaeus, 1766: 140), it cannot be the
same as Psittacus mascarinus as the description disagrees entirely. The bird was described from a specimen probably
seen alive by Hasselquist, with uncertain locality. The identification of Linnaeus’ P. obscurus is difficult to determine. It
agrees with the Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus to some degree but it is described as crown variegated black and grey,
blackish neck and wings, grey barred with whitish grey below and has a longer ash grey tail. Psittacus obscurus is stated
as being the size of a Jackdaw Corvus monedula (34 cm in total length). Mascarinus, at 35 cm in total length, has a long
tail but differs in colouration, while the Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus (33 cm total length) has a short scarlet tail. The
following is a direct translation from the original latin:
18. PSITTACUS (obscurus) niger...
The obscure PARROT - black with crown variegated ash-grey & blackish, ash-grey tail.
HEAD oblong, with flattened sides, depressed at the back, in relation to the body pretty large.
Beak wide all along, thick, very blunt, three times shorter than the head. Upper mandible slightly convex,
lower down a bit broader, a bit sharper towards the back, able to move. At the base of the upper mandible
between the nostrils a furrow [=groove] is noticeable, as though the bone was ridged. From this the groove
proceeds lengthwise to the tip. Tip of the upper mandible hooked, extending beyond the lower mandible by a
quarter of its own length. At the very tip it has a very shallow little groove. A small lobe on each side at the
base where the upper closes on the lower mandible into which it sits [?=fits]. Lower mandible thicker than the
upper, more convex, shorter by the tip of the upper; at its base lower than the throat, further back on the same
level. Tip blunt, with hardly any edge, with a little half moon hollow at the tip's base. Nostrils close above the
beak, completely round, the size of a fowl's quill [? in cross-section].
Eyes closer to the crown than to the throat, likewise to the nostrils than the back of the head. Iris yellow, pupil
black. The area around the eyes right from the end of the upper mandible to the beginning of the crown, side-
ways, and from the nostrils almost to the base of the crown, lengthwise, bare, wrinkled, surrounded by scarcely
visible hairs.
Ears have an oblong opening, transverse, the same distance from the eyes as the eyes are from the nostrils,
much closer to the base than the crown of the head, covered with a retractile membrane [?] & tiny feathers.
REMIGES [flight feathers] about 20: 1,2 longer than the others, 3,4,5, a little shorter, of equal length, 6,7,8
decreasing in size by degree; the rest shorter and of equal length.
TAIL wedge-shaped. Retrices [tail feathers] about 10, the laterals shorter, with longer intermediaries.
FEET: legs very downy as far as the tarsal joint; toes 4, 2 in front & 2 behind. Of the front ones the inside one
is shorter than the outer by three knuckles; of the hinder ones, the inner is half as long as the outer. All the toes
are scaly, with wrinkled scales, the two lowest joints being rough. The rest of the foot is tuberculate, with
slightly raised minor rounded humps.
Tongue thick, extremely blunt & almost semicircular, emarginate at its sides, the margin being turned upwards,
from which emerges a tiny groove.
Claws hooked, slightly blunt.
COLOUR: beak black. Area around the eyes white. Crown variegated ash-grey & blackish. Neck & wings
black above. Abdomen & legs grey, barred with whitish grey. Tubercles on the feet black. Claws black. Tail all
ash-grey.
SIZE of jackdaw [translation by D. Ashcroft and amended by A. Cheke].
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Appendix 2. Osteological descriptions and comparisons
2a. Lophopsittacus mauritianus
Cranium (Fig. 2B; Appendix 3, Table 1): Unlike other Mascarene parrot genera, in lateral aspect, cranium dorso-
ventrally flattened, parietals gently slope towards the sharply angled occipital region, with deeply excavated fossa tem-
poralis. In ventral aspect, posterior to tuba auditivia communis, two triangular processes project ventro-anteriorly and
fonticuli orbitocraniales form deep pits and are not connected to the cranial cavity by large openings. These structures are
particularly diagnostic in Lophopsittacus. They are pronounced and long in Lophopsittacus, short in Necropsittacus,
Nestor, Strigops, Calyptorhynchus, Tanygnathus, Psittacula, Psittacus, and absent in all other genera studied. In dorsal
aspect, craniolfrontal hinge medially concave in Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus, Psittacula, Tanygnathus, craniomedi-
ally depressed in Calyptorhynchus, Nestor, Strigops, Anodorhynchus, Probosciger, Coracopsis, Psittrichas, Pezoporus
and Cyanoramphus or rounded in Eclectus and Psittacus. Unlike Lophopsittacus, in Probosciger and Calyptorhynchus,
lateral corners of frontal hook-shaped. In Lophopsittacus, distinct ridges occur on rostral surface of the frontal, present
but indistinct in Necropsittacus, Psittacula eupatria, and Tanygnathus, absent in all other genera studied.
FIGURE 20. Cranial elements of Mauritian parrots compared with species of Psittacula: (above) palatines, left side in
lateral aspect ;(below) mandibles, dorsal aspect. A, UMZCA24AA and F, UMZCA24AA, Lophopsittacus mauritianus
(type A, ); B, BMNHA3300 and G, BMNH3296, Lophopsittacus mauritianus (type B, ); C, UMZC577 and H,
UMZC577, Psittacula bensoni, new comb.; D, and I, BMNHS/1999.11.5, Psittacula eupatria ; E, and J, BMNHS/
1975.103.62, Psittacula krameri borealis . Scale bar = 10mm.
Mandible (Fig. 20F (type A) & Fig. 3G (type B); Appendix 3, Table 3): In dorsal aspect, the most distinctive char-
acter is the large articulation (crista intercotylaris) with the quadrate. It is oval-shaped with a pronounced rim and distal
lip in Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus, Probosciger, Eclectus, and Coracopsis, without a pronounced distal lip, but open
proximally in Anodorhynchus, Psittrichas, Calyptorhynchus, and Cyanoramphus; weak in Psittacus and obsolete in Stri-
gops. A shallow pneumatic fossa present in all genera studied except Anodorhynchus, Calyptorhynchus, Probosciger and
Strigops, in which the pneumatic fossa is deep, or distinctly incised in Lophopsittacus, Tanygnathus, and Psittacula;
absent in Necropsittacus. Crista transversus fossae deep and strongly pneumatised in Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus,
Anodorhynchus, Psittrichas, Cyanoramphus, shallow and not markedly pneumatised in Nestor, Calyptorhynchus, and
Psittacus. When viewed in dorsal aspect, posterior edge of symphysis square-shaped in Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus,
Anodorhynchus, and Psittacula bensoni, broadly oval in Mascarinus, Psittacula exsul, P. krameri, Eclectus, Strigops,
Pezoporus, Psittacus, and Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae, or narrow in Nestor and Psittrichas. Width of proximal edge
of the symphysis is over half the total width taken between the angulus mandibulae in Lophopsittacus, Eclectus, Necrop-
sittacus, Mascarinus, Tanygnathus, Psittacula, and Cyanoramphus, indicating that these species have comparatively
HUME
52 · Zootaxa 1513 © 2007 Magnolia Press
broad jaws. In lateral aspect, angulus mandibulae pronounced forming an angular projection above the Os dentale and
symphysis sharply angled in Lophopsittacus, Anodorhynchus, Calyptorhynchus, and Necropsittacus with a flattened ven-
tral surface. Symphysis projects ventrally in other parrots. Single fenestra mandibulae present in some specimens of
Lophopsittacus, but variable, sometimes absent. One in Calyptorhynchus, Eclectus, Coracopsis, Probosciger, Psittacula,
and Strigops, two in Necropsittacus, Nestor, Psittrichas, Tanygnathus, and Psittacus. Obsolete in all other taxa. Female
Lophopsittacus mandible is morphologically similar, but averages 21% less in total length and is less robust than in the
male.
Palatine (Figures 20A (type A), 20B (type B), 6B and 6C; Appendix 3, Table 2): Palatine extremely robust, particu-
larly at articulation with the rostrum maxillare. In lateral aspect, a distinct furrow runs antero-posteriorly along upper lat-
eral surface, terminating on the pars lateralis in Lophopsittacus, Coracopsis, Eclectus, Psittacula, Tanygnathus, and
Cyanoramphus, occurs in the mid-section only in Probosciger, Calyptorhynchus, Psittacus, and Eclectus, visible but
reduced in Strigops, or absent in Anodorhynchus and Psittrichas. Pars lateralis forms a long expanded blade-like caudal
end in all genera studied except Strigops, Nestor, and Psittrichas, where it is short, slender and distally less expanded.
Size is the main difference between the sexes of L. mauritianus, the male being approximately 19% larger in total length;
female palatine also less robust and the caudal end terminates more sharply.
Sternum (Fig. 29A; Appendix 3, Table 4): Sternum lacking the entire posterior end including part of the processus
costales, however, at least four costals are present. Carina sterni is missing the apex carinae and much of the medial edge.
Unlike other Mascarene parrot genera (Necropsittacus unknown), sternum of Lophopsittacus has a reduced carina sterni
and pronounced flattening of the facies muscularis sterni surface. In Nestor, Anodorhynchus, Probosciger, Calyptorhyn-
chus, Psittacus, Cyanoramphus, and Geopsittacus, spina externa distinctly indented and the anterior end distinctly bifur-
cated. The division forms wing-like processes in Strigops and Calyptorhynchus. In Lophopsittacus, Psittacula, and
Tanygnathus the anterior end of the spina externa forms a single projection with indistinct bifurcation but deeply bifur-
cated in Coracopsis. Only the Mascarene genera and species Lophopsittacus, Psittacula bensoni, P. exsul and P. echo
exhibit anterior not dorsal projection of the spina externa. Apex carinae projects ventrally and the pila carinae projects
ventrally in all genera studied except Lophopsittacus, Cyanoramphus, and Geopsittacus, where they project anteriorly.
The carinae sterni greater in depth than distance between the processus costalis and sulcus medianus sterni in all species
examined except Lophopsittacus, where subequal, equal or slightly greater in Cyanoramphus, obsolete in Strigops. In
dorsal aspect, foramen pneumaticum posterior to spina interna extends over the entire length of sulcus medianus sterni in
Lophopsittacus, Probosciger, Geopsittacus, Coracopsis, Psittacula, and Tanygnathus. In Lophopsittacus, Psittrichas,
and Cyanoramphus, tuberculum labri externi projects posteriorly. In Cyanoramphus, some flattening of the facies mus-
cularis sterni occurs, apex carina insignificant and similarly to Lophopsittacus, entire carina sterni projects anteriorly. In
ventral aspect, sulcus articularis coracoideus distinctly unequal in Lophopsittacus and Psittacula exsul, without meeting
at the midline.
Furcula (Fig. 28D): Furcula gently rounded, narrow distally with no visible clavicle synosis in Lophopsittacus, syno-
sis not visible and furcula pointed more angular in Psittacula, Tanygnathus, Psittacus, Nestor meridionalis, and Anodor-
hynchus (processus acromialis extending anteriorly in Coracopsis). Synosis present and distally expanded in
Calyptorhynchus (rounded in Nestor notabilis and Probosciger), almost obsolete in Geopsittacus, Psephotus, and Cyan-
oramphus and claviculae are not fused to form a furcula in Strigops.
Coracoid (Fig. 27F; Appendix 3, Table 5): One specimen missing facies articularis clavicularis and the lateral edge
of the processus lateralis. On the humeral end, cotyla scapularis shallow in P. bensoni, Necropsittacus, Psittacula, Cora-
copsis, Psittrichas, Psittacus, Probosciger, Tanygnathus, Mascarinus, deeply excavated in Calyptorhynchus, Strigops,
Nestor and Anodorhynchus. Processus procoracoideus short and not extending past processus acrocoracoideus in all gen-
era studied, but shorter in Necropsittacus or elongate extending past processus acrocoracoideus in Strigops.
Humerus (Fig. 23A; Appendix 3, Table 6): The extremely limited number of unassociated fossil humeri available
from Mauritius, excluding Psittacula echo, are of a similar size and of comparatively similar morphology, which makes
assigning specimens to Lophopsittacus difficult. All specimens designated Lophopsittacus are damaged and lack the
crista deltopectoralis. Humerus slightly longer than Psittacula bensoni, equal in size to Necropsittacus, but differing
from either by a proportionally smaller caput humeri and less pronounced tuberculum ventrale, which is deflected more
dorsoanteriorly. Shaft more curved than Necropsittacus and distal end more laterally compressed. Differs from Psittacula
bensoni by a less expanded distal end, fossa pneumotricipitalis circular, less elongate, lateral edge of crista bicipitalis
more angular distally as it merges with the shaft, tuberculum supracondylare ventrale less pronounced, and shaft more
robust and medially curved. Easily distinguishable from that in P. echo by much larger size. Compared to Coracopsis, the
distal end less laterally compressed, the fossa olecrani narrower and the sulcus scapulotricipitalis more excavated.
Ulna (Fig. 24A; Appendix 3, Table 7): The ulna is remarkably uniform in psittaciforms. Ulnae assigned to Lophop-
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PARROTS OF THE MASCARENES
sittacus are approximately the size of that in Tanygnathus and here are referred to a female, but more expanded at proxi-
mal and distal ends than this species. Crista intercondylaris weakly developed in Lophopsittacus, Necropsittacus,
Psittacula, Coracopsis, Eclectus, and Tanygnathus, well developed in Calyptorhynchus, Anodorhynchus, and Pro-
bosciger, with a small depression proximal to the cotyla dorsalis in Nestor; olecranon short and blunt in Strigops. Ulna
approximately 25% longer than the humerus in all genera studied including Lophopsittacus except Cyanoramphus, Stri-
gops and Nestor, where it is approximately 10% longer in the former or equal/slightly longer in size in the latter two spe-
cies.Carpometacarpus (Appendix 3, Table 8). Although longer in total length than Psittacula bensoni and P. echo, overall
comparatively gracile, particularly at the proximal end, distal end and Os metacarpale minus.
Femur (Fig. 21A; Appendix 3, Table 9): In caudal aspect, impressiones obturator forms a distinct ridge distal to the
trochanter in Lophopsittacus, Coracopsis, Psittacus, Tanygnathus, Eclectus, Psittacula eupatria, P. krameri, Cyanoram-
phus novaezelandiae, and C. unicolor, indistinct in Necropsittacus, Anodorhynchus, Nestor, Strigops, Calyptorhynchus
or obsolete in Calyptorhynchus and Psittrichas. Sulcus proximal to the medial and lateral condyles deeply excavated, not
shallow in Lophopsittacus, Strigops, Nestor, and Coracopsis. In cranial aspect, sulcus patellaris narrow and u-shaped in
all genera except in Lophopsittacus