The Damaraland Meyer's Parrot


The Damaraland Meyer's Parrot P. m. damarensis was named by Neuman, ( J.f 0 p.501) in 1898. It was described from specimens collected in the area of Ochimbora Damaraland, South West Africa, now Namibia. The scientific name of damarensis is descriptive of the type locality.

The description of this subspecies distinguishes it from all but one (reichenowi) of the other subspecies in having no yellow on the forehead. This particular diagnostic feature is universally ascribed to this subspecies in all modem literature. Juniper and Paar in PARROTS - A Guide to Parrots of the World say of this subspecies that it "Always lacks yellow crown."

Both the type locality and the diagnostic description of no yellow on the head have led to considerable debate recently. At present it is widely accepted that there are no Meyer's Parrots in present day Damaraland and some individuals do develop yellow feathering on their foreheads.

My research has revealed that the town (or place) of Ochimbora either no longer exists, or was incorrectly spelled in the original records. Also, from all the available distribution records, it appears that Meyer's Parrots do not today occur in Damaraland. Most locality descriptions and maps record a distribution from southern Angola to central Namibia and to north-western Botswana. The distribution map in The Atlas of Southern African Birds, which is probably the most recently revised, has the western limit of Meyer's Parrot not extending anywhere near Damaraland. The distribution descrip-

tion also mentions that "The distribution limits of this parrot do not appear different from those given almost a century ago (Stark & Sclater 1903)." One wonders if the original specimens could have been collected somewhere else and not in Damaraland? If so the name damarensis is incorrect.

The issue of the yellow on the head is even more confusing. I first noticed the appearance of one or two yellow feathers on the heads of two individuals in my collection after about five years. These birds were wild-caught specimens obtained in the south west of their range in Namibia. As all records indicate that damarensis extends into western Botswana one can presume that all the Meyer's in Namibia are damarensis. It is, however, well documented that where transvaalensis and damarensis overlap, in the Okavango delta, hybridisation occurs.

This begs the question: do some individuals of damarensis get yellow feathers on their heads? If so, is it possible that the original specimens from which the race was described happened not to include any individuals with yellow on the head? If so, to describe damarensis as never having yellow on the crown is incorrect.

There is considerable variation in the colours of Meyer's Parrots throughout their range. Clancy( 1977b) considered the whole area between the Motale River in northeastern Transvaal and the Save River in Southern Zimbabwe to be extensively populated with hybrids between the Meyer's and Brown-headed (P. cryptoxanthus) Parrots. However, Rowan (1983) pointed out that such atypical specimens are found throughout the range of Meyer's Parrot 

and fall within the natural colour variation present in the species, and that natural hybrids may, in fact, be rare. This would support the theory that it is natural for some damarensis to have yellow on their heads. Incidentally, I have seen specimens of both the Brown-headed and Ruppell's Parrots with the odd yellow feathering on the head!

The extent, however, that varying amounts of yellow on the head appear in the present wild populations of Meyer's Parrots in Namibia is surprising. Observers such as Patrick Lane venture the opinion that up to 25% of the birds in most flocks have yellow on their heads. He has numerous photos of wild birds in the Kavango Province and the Ethosha Pan area, which show Meyer's with varying amounts of yellow on their heads.

Another observer told me that he believes that by the time they reach eight years of age all damarensis will have some yellow on the head. Some breeders have told me of wild-caught, apparently pure, damarensis producing offspring that, although hatched without yellow on the head, develop some yellow feathering after a few years. I have noted, with my captive birds, that yellow feathers may appear on areas of the head where the skin has been damaged by banging against the wire of the cage or fighting, but others develop yellow feathers without being damaged.