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The Ornate Lorikeet – the World’s Most Colorful Parrot? – Part 1

Heat lamp“Most colorful” is a tough title to clench in the parrot world.  The Ornate Lorikeet, Trichoglossus ornatus, however, must surely be a top contender.  In fact, the name “ornate” does it little justice, as would any description of its plumage.  No longer commonly kept in the USA, this is a bird worth searching for in zoos or among large private collections.


The Ornate Lorikeet’s feathers span the rainbow – most are bright green edged in yellow, deep blue or brilliant red edged in dark blue, but there are other colors as well.  The eyes are orange and the beak is a “screaming” orange-red.  It’s hard to imagine all the color that is packed into its 10-inch-long body (please see photo)!

Range and Habitat

Indonesian island of Sulawesi, just east of Borneo, is home to an incredible array of animal “standouts” – black, ape-like monkeys, giant gliding possums and babirusas (odd pigs sporting tusks that grow right their skin, please see photo), to name just a few.  So it seems fitting that a bird so uniquely-colored as the Ornate Lorikeet is found here, and on a few offshore islands, and nowhere else on earth.

Ornate Lorikeets favor mountain forest edges and overgrown scrub, and also frequent villages bordered by dense cover (imagine having these fellows as feeder visitors!).  They are most commonly seen in pairs or small flocks and feed upon flower blossoms, nectar, pollen, fruit and some greens; insects may be taken as well, but field studies are lacking.

Captive History

babirusaI recall caring for Ornate Lorikeets when working for a bird importer as a teenager, but they are not at all common in the USA today.  They have a reputation for being quite delicate as regards temperature, and even long term captive seem prone to respiratory and digestive system distress.  When in the peak of good health, their voices are as loud, and far harsher, than are their colors!

On to diet and general care in Part 2. 

Further Reading

Rare and Popular Lorikeets as Pets

Sulawesi Natural History  

Bird News – Parrots as Criminals, Crime Fighters and Stool Pigeons

ConureThe quite unexpected antics of a number of parrots have made news this past week…from assisting drug cartel members in Columbia (unwittingly, of course!) to exposing the unfaithfulness of an owner’s partner (perhaps on purpose?), pet parrots continue to show that they are well equipped to trick, help and frustrate us…

Love Triangle Exposed

Parents learn very quickly to watch what they say around toddlers – parrot owners, it seems, should as well.  Upon sitting down on a couch near her bird cage, a woman who owned an African Gray Parrot was surprised to hear her pet say “Oh Claire ,oh Claire, I love you!” – surprised because her name was not Claire!

Suspecting that her boyfriend was using the couch for purposes other than watching TV, the woman called him at work…only to find that he was at lunch with, as fate would have it, Claire.  Within a day or so the woman caught the pair leaving her home at a time when they thought she was at work.  Unfortunately, Harvey the parrot seemed to enjoy screaming out Claire’s name (perhaps he had heard it very often!) – so much so that his owner found him a new home! Read More »

Breaking News – Prehistoric Bird’s Wingspan is Largest Ever Recorded

Pelagornis miocaenus SkeletonIn terms of public interest, prehistoric birds generally stand in the shadows of the more dramatic reptilian dinosaurs.  However, a discovery announced this week concerning a bird christened “Huge Pseudoteeth” (Pelagornis chilensis) was so startling that I thought I’d take a break from modern species and mention it here.

Writing in the current (September, 2010) issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, researchers at Chile’s National Museum of Natural History reveal that “Huge Pseudoteeth’s” wingspan measured an incredible 17 feet – longer than that of any known bird, present or past.  At an estimated 65 pounds, it also outweighed today’s heaviest flying bird, the 40 pound Kori Bustard. Read More »

Bird Extinction Announced – the Alaotra Grebe is Gone Forever

Only known photo of now extinct Alaotra GrebeChristening 2010 the “International Year of Biodiversity” has unfortunately been of no use to the Alaotra Grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus).  The small waterbird, once endemic to Madagascar, has become the first avian species to be declared extinct since the Liverpool Pigeon disappeared in 2008.  Birdlife International which recently (May, 2010) added the Alaotra Grebe to the IUCN Red List of Extinct Species, noted that it has not been sighted since 1985, despite surveys of the single brackish lake in which it dwelled.

The image posted with this article is the only known photograph of the Alaotra Grebe.  Other recently extinct birds, such as the penguin-like Great Auk, are known only from museum specimens (please see photo).

Recent Bird Extinctions

The Alaotra Grebe joins over 130 other birds that have disappeared since the year 1500.  Nearly all bird families have been affected, with parrots and flightless island dwellers being particularly hard-hit.  In the last 25 years, 2 other grebes (the Columbian and Atlitan Grebes) have become extinct; Peru’s Junin Grebe is thought to be represented by a mere 250 individuals.

In the USA, Hawaii’s Po’ouli Honeycreeper is believed extinct.  Worldwide, 190 species of birds are considered to be Critically Endangered and facing imminent extinction.

Why the Alaotra Grebe was Lost

Although detailed studies have not been conducted, it appears that a number of sinister factors combined to seal the Alaotra Grebe’s fate.  Two large species of predatory fishes that were introduced to Lake Alaotra, the grebe’s sole habitat, consumed chicks and out-competed the birds for food (small fish).  Also, a drastic increase in the use of gill nets by local fisherman resulted in many grebes being drowned, and introduced plants have destroyed critical nesting areas.

Why Should We Care?

Great Auk
I have often faced this question when speaking of the disappearance of seemingly “inconsequential” creatures, especially when addressing children in NYC and others far removed from “nature”.  The answers are numerous and complex, and I must admit that I was not always successful in generating concern.

Birdlife International has come up with a wonderful idea…readers can post their opinions as to why the extinction of this bird, or any plant or animal, should concern us.  There are already a great many insightful comments…please add your own here.


Further Reading

Please check out this BBC article for more bad and good bird conservation news.

Alaotra Grebe image referenced from wikipedia and originally Paul Thompson


Conservation News – No Recovery Plan for the Endangered Thick Billed Parrot

Thick Billed ParrotsI’ve been involved in a number of field research efforts, and so am somewhat familiar with the difficulties inherent in funding and implementing conservation work.  However, I must admit that this situation is baffling – a recovery plan has not yet been formulated for the Thick Billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha), despite the fact that the bird has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since the law’s inception in 1973!

Help for the US’s Last Native Parrot?

The Thick Billed Parrot is the only remaining Psittacine native to the US Mainland.  The other, the Carolina Parakeet, was hunted to extinction in the early 1900’s.  With less than 3,000 individuals surviving in the wild, this green and red parrot may be headed for a similar fate if remedial action is not undertaken soon.

To that end, the conservation organization WildEarth Guardians has filed suit against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, seeking to compel the implementation of a recovery plan.  Let’s hope for a “parrot-friendly” outcome!

Wild and Captive Status

Audubon's Carolina ParakeetsThick Billed Parrots regularly ranged into central Arizona and New Mexico until the early 1900’s, and sporadically until the mid 1960’s.  Today they are virtually unknown within US borders.  A reintroduction plan instituted by the state of Arizona was not successful.

Although far from common in captivity, the birds do breed well when properly provided for… a group I’ve watched for years is a star attraction at the Queens Zoo in New York City.  Private keepers have had some success with this species as well, and even provided several of the individuals released in Arizona.

Further Reading

Please see The USA’s “Other” Parrot for more information on this fascinating bird (it forages in the snow!).

Please visit the WildEarth Guardians Website for more on the group’s work with Parrots, Jaguarundis, Tortoises and other animals.


Thick-billed Parrots image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Paul Reynolds and Snowmanradio

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