HOME > What We Publish

Scrambled eggs—tracking down Paradise Parrot eggs

By Penny Olsen

Searching through the museums and literature, I unearthed 40 alleged Paradise Parrot eggs from 16 clutches or part clutches. Of these, the Barnard eggs are almost certainly genuine. The Jerrard eggs are also clearly genuine. The Harvey eggs sit well within the size range of these and there is no reason to suspect that they are ring-ins. This leaves 25 individual eggs from perhaps 11 or 12 clutches, all collected before 1900, which are of similar size and relatively well documented.

I could not locate one of the two clutches reported in A.J. Campbell’s Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds (1901)—but all the other eggs mentioned in the literature are still in museums. Campbell’s measurements indicate that the missing clutch was too small to be genuine, which perhaps accounts for its disappearance. Only one of the genuine eggs is as small and this is from a clutch of five collected by Harry Barnard; a small egg is not unusual in a large clutch, indeed parrots tend to have a smaller first egg, but a whole clutch of small eggs is unlikely to be authentic.

A clutch of five Paradise Parrot eggs

Museum Victoria holds a clutch of five Paradise Parrot eggs (left) and an odd pair of eggs from the A.J. Campbell collection—all from the Barnards at Coomooboolaroo Station. The remaining four eggs were discovered among an old deteriorating collection from the Darling Downs. All clutches were collected in the 1880s. Eggs are much rarer in collections than are skins and several are suspected not to be genuine. Substitutions of eggs can be difficult to detect because most parrots lay round unmarked eggs.

Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimus eggs
Clutch of five eggs collected by the Barnards, 1896, Coomooboolaroo, 10 December 1896
individual eggs average 22.3 x 18.5 mm
Museum Victoria; BE1414

[enlarge image]

The measurements of two eggs kept together in the Campbell collection in Museum Victoria match those of two ‘odd examples’ reported in Campbell’s 1901 book. However, measurements taken by Don Vernon in the 1970s show that he found them to be of similar size to each other at that time. One of the current eggs (and as reported in Campbell) seems to be from a slightly larger parrot (most of the parrots have very similar white, rounded oval eggs) because it measures 23.9 mm x 19.5 mm while its box-mate is only 21.7 mm x 17.3 mm. Disregarding the Vernon measurements, though they are in the correct size range, and including only the smaller Campbell ‘odd’ egg , the 25 seemingly genuine eggs average 22.3 mm in length and 18.6 mm in width.

The size of the valid clutches was 5 eggs (Jerrard), 4 ( Harvey), 5 (Lumholtz) and 5, 3, 3 (Barnards). The earliest publication of clutch size was by Diggles in the 1860s, who gave it as five. Hence, it is quite likely that full clutches were of three or more eggs. The two eggs in the Campbell collection in Museum Victoria, one of which is now suspect, may be part of a split clutch or part of a larger set, the remainder of which has been lost in the field or museum.

One of the two clutches of three eggs taken by George Barnard and his sons at Coomooboolaroo Station in 1883 has the initials GB inscribed in pencil on it. Writing in 1917 about the disappearance of the parrot after the 1902 drought, Charles mentions finding nests at the station on two occasions only.

In the notes supplied to Alfred North for his book on nests and eggs, George’s son Harry Barnard recollected that ‘in 1882, my brother Charles and I visited Fairfield Station … and here for the first time discovered their breeding habits … from three to five forming a sitting’. Reminiscing in 1917, brother Charles Barnard wrote with less certainty of the date: ‘About the year 1882, when on a collecting trip to Fairfield, a station about 70 miles south of Coomooboolaroo, many of these birds were seen, and several sets of eggs taken’. This was possibly a flawed recollection of the year of their trip as boys with Lumholtz. However, according to Lumholtz’s description, in 1883 the boys already knew quite a lot about the bird’s nesting habits, suggesting that they had indeed first encountered the parrot’s nest in an earlier year. Regardless, several clutches were taken at Fairfield. Where are they now?

Nor is it apparent which eggs are the specimens on which Campbell based the first scientific description, published in The Southern Science Record (1885) as simply ‘White, with a little luster; not quite so round in form as the known eggs of the same genus. Length, 11 ¼ lines; breadth, 9 lines’. This equates to 24 mm x 19 mm—rather larger than any of the existing authentic eggs and more likely those of the Hooded Parrot.

What else can be gleaned from this time-worn assortment? The months that clutches were found are February (Manar Station, Jerrard), March, September and December (Coomooboolaroo Station, Barnard), September (Fairfield Station, Barnard; partly hatched according to Lumholtz), and two in September (Darling Downs, Harvey). Jerrard also saw newly fledged youngsters in mid-December, pointing to an October-laid clutch. Hence, it appears that the parrot may have been able to, at least sometimes, breed twice a year, mainly in spring and sometimes in early autumn.

How do the Guyatt eggs, collected in 1967, compare? The smallest of the Guyatt eggs is 24 mm by 20 mm, whereas the largest of the apparently authentic Paradise Parrot eggs is 23 mm by 20 mm. Hence, the Guyatt eggs (averaging 26 mm x 21 mm) are clearly too big. They are also not as round as those of the Paradise Parrot (see graph). They outsize the eggs of the other species in the genus Psephotus. They are larger than the eggs of the Mulga Parrot (22 mm x 19 mm), which occasionally nests in banks and is not unlike the Paradise Parrot. Of the other possible contenders for confusion with the Paradise Parrot—the Red-winged Parrot (31 mm x 26 mm), the Red-vented Blue Bonnet (24 mm x 20 millimetres), and the Turquoise Parrot (22 mm x 18 millimetres)— none nest in termite mounds, nor do they match in dimensions the Guyatt eggs. In fact, the Guyatt eggs are the size of those of the southern subspecies of the Pale-headed Rosella (26 mm x 21 mm), which nests in trees and is common in the area. The conclusion must be that the Guyatt clutches were part of an intentional hoax.

Graph showing measurements of eggs

The graph shows measurements of eggs alleged to be those of the Paradise Parrot. Tellingly, the 1967 Guyatt eggs (red) are well outside the typical size range. NB: Data from two eggs have been added to this graph, so that if differs slightly from that in the book.

[enlarge image]

View or download accompanying table (46kb PDF) that details alleged Paradise Parrot eggs in various collections.