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Lories and Lorikeets – why do they differ so from other parrots?

The brilliantly colored lories and lorikeets are quite definitely parrots, and yet they depart radically from typical parrot behavior and breeding biology, and in their internal anatomy. As you will see, a good deal of this may be explained by the nature of their diets.

Physical Description
The 56 species of lories and lorikeets are among the most flamboyantly colored of the parrots, which is quite an accomplishment given the group’s generally brilliant coloration. All are small to moderately sized, with sleek, glossy plumage. Wilhelmina’s Lorikeet, is, at 5 inches in length, the smallest, while the 12 inch long yellow-streaked lory is the largest (several species have tails that add a few inches to this figure, but these have quite small bodies). They are gregarious and noisy, and are a conspicuous part of the environments that they inhabit.

Range and Habitat
Indonesia, New Guinea (where the greatest number of species occur), Australia and a number of neighboring islands in the South Pacific. Various species inhabit lowland and mountainous rainforests, plantations, farms, open woodlands, suburbs and parks within large cities.

Status in the Wild
Some, such as the rainbow lorikeet, are quite widespread (so much so that 22 separate races have been identified) and are thriving due to supplementary feeding by people. Others, such as Stephen’s Lory and a number of species in the genus Vini, are among the world’s rarest birds. Threats include habitat loss, introduced predators such as black and Norway rats, and introduced strains of avian malaria.

In a region rich in parrots, the lories and lorikeets have evolved so as to exploit a food source – nectar and pollen from flowering trees and bushes – that is not used by competing species. This is a key to their success as a group and explains some of their unusual adaptations and behaviors. Most also take varying amounts of seeds, insects and fruit, but all rely primarily upon pollen and nectar.

Their bills are longer and more slender than those of other parrots, and are not nearly as powerful. The digestive system differs greatly also, in order to process their unique diet. The gizzard, a muscular organ used by other parrots to grind seeds and nuts, is thin- walled and weak.

The tongue is extraordinarily long and thin, and is tipped by feathery projections known as papillae. The papillae remain protected by a sheath when not in use, and expand outward to help the birds lap nectar and pollen. These structures are also utilized by nectar feeding bats, hummingbirds and other species that forage in flowers.

Most of the trees from which lories and lorikeets feed do not have specific flowering seasons, and individual trees of the same species usually grow far from others of their kind (unlike in temperate habitats, where dense stands of the same trees often occur in one place, and where all flower at the same time). Hence, lories are quite nomadic, often flying 50 miles or more between feeding sites.

Lories and lorikeets possess a far greater range of threat displays than do other parrots, with over 30 distinct movements (flying, walking, bobbing, etc.) having been observed in the rainbow lorikeet. Tropical flowering trees attract a great many birds, mammals and insects, and it is presumed that the resulting competition has led to the development of these gestures. In order to compete for such a limited food source, lories and lorikeets are also extremely pugnacious when feeding – in Queensland Australia and elsewhere huge numbers of these birds flock to public feeding sites for the benefit of tourists. They show no fear of people, clambering about anyone present in search of food.

All species studied thus far form life-long pair bonds. Their breeding strategies vary greatly from those of other parrots, which usually breed during distinct periods each year. As a consequence of the unreliability of their staple food, most lories and lorikeets come into breeding condition whenever a large number of trees flower within a fairly small area, regardless of the season.


Interesting information on the natural history of the rainbow lorikeet in Australia is posted at:

Parrots, Parakeets, Macaws, Cockatoos, Lories & Lorikeets – Interesting Facts and Figures – Part Two

Click here to view the first part of this article.

Most parrots lay their eggs within holes in trees, using little if any nesting material.

Lovebirds build true nests. Females wedge dried grasses and other nesting material into the feathers of their rumps for transport to the nest site.

Monk parrots build huge, communal stick nests. Escaped pets have established large colonies in NYC. At the Bronx Zoo I cared for a group that built a nest in their outdoor exhibit – their calls attracted free-living monk parrots, which added sticks to the exhibit roof, eventually forming an extension to the nest within the exhibit.

Golden-shouldered parrots (Australia) evacuate nests within terrestrial termite mounds, while New Guinea’s buff-faced pygmy parrot does the same in arboreal termite nests. It is assumed that the insects confer a degree of protection to nesting birds, although why they do not attack the parrots is unknown. The eggs may also benefit from the stable temperatures maintained within the mounds.

The Patagonian conure burrows into riverbanks and cliffs to a depth of 10 feet or more when nesting. Those I kept at the Bronx Zoo would not breed until provided with artificial burrows.

Ground parrots (Australia) nest in depressions below grass clumps.

Peach-faced loveLovebirdbirds (East Africa) nest colonially – often commandeering the intricately woven nests of weaver finches after driving out the rightful owners.

The rock parrot is surely the oddest of all when it comes to egg-laying. Its nests have only been found below rocks, just above the high tide mark along the South Australian coast.

Breeding and Courtship
Most parrots form monogamous pair bonds that may last a lifetime. New Zealand’s kakapo and kea, however, are polygamous.

The nocturnal kakapos are the only parrots to display in leks – females choose mates from groups of males which gather in one place to compete with loud, booming calls. In contrast to other parrots, male kakapos provide no care to the young.

Courting parrots utilize a behavior known as the “eye blaze”, in which the brightly colored iris expands in size.

Male and female parrots are often indistinguishable from one another. Male Australian king parrots, however, are scarlet in color while the females are bright green. Male and female eclectus parrots differ so much in appearance that they were long thought to be separate species – males are emerald green with scarlet flanks and under-wings, while females are crimson red with violet-blue bellies.

The IUCN Red Data Book lists 18 species of parrot as extinct, 32 as endangered, 17 as critically endangered and 82 as either vulnerable or threatened.

The spix macaw is likely extinct in the wild (although it survives in captivity) and the glaucous macaw has only been sighted twice in the 20th century. The flightless kakapo, threatened by introduced rats, cats and stoats, likely numbers less than 100 in its native New Zealand.

An article examining the relationship between natural and pet parrot behavior is posted at:http://www.realmacaw.com/pages/parrbehav.html

Parrots, Parakeets, Macaws, Cockatoos, Lories & Lorikeets – Interesting Facts and Figures – Part One

Parrots and their relatives have such a long history as pets (the first written record of a parrot in captivity is that of a plum-headed parakeet in Greece in 400 BC) that it is easy to forget how spectacularly adapted they are for life in the wild. Today I would like to pass along some information concerning the natural history of these fascinating birds, with the hope that it will help you to develop a better understanding and deeper appreciation of your pet’s unique qualities.

All 360 species of “parrot-like birds” (of the world’s nearly 10,000 bird species) are classified within the order Psittaciformes. They are divided into approximately 80 genera but belong to a single family, Psittacidae.

The hyacinth macaw, which reaches 3.4 feet in length and sports a wingspan of nearly 5 feet, is the world’s largest parrot. Papua New Guinea’s buff-faced pygmy parrot, fully grown at 3 inches, is the smallest. The flightless kakapo of New Zealand, at 9 pounds in weight, is the heaviest parrot.

Parrot bills are distinguished from those of other birds by the fact that the upper bill is hinged where it joins the skull, allowing for great flexibility and rendering it very useful as a tool. The thick tongue also helps give parrots their extraordinary ability to manipulate objects.

Parrot tails may be long, as in the macaws (2/3 birds total length) or nearly absent, as in the blue-crowned hanging parrots. The central tail feathers of the racket-tailed parrots of Indonesia and the Philippines are elongated and bare, and capped with flat, rounded tips. The function of their odd shape is not unknown. The New Guinea pygmy parrot’s stiff, bare tail feathers support the bird as it forages on tree trunks.

Parrots feet are termed “zygodactyl” – 2 toes point forward and 2 point backwards. This arrangement confers strength and dexterity. Parrots are distinctly “left-footed” or “right-footed” when it comes to handling objects with their feet.

Range and Habitat
The ring-necked parakeet, found from North Africa to China, is the widest ranging parrot. A group that escaped at Kennedy Airport in NYC still survives in the area surrounding the Bronx Zoo (an injured one that I came upon had lost some toes due to frostbite, but was otherwise in fine shape). Stephen’s lorry, the species most limited in distribution, survives only within a 13.5 square mile area on Henderson Island in the South Pacific.

The now extinct Carolina parakeet ranged to North America’s Great Lake region, making it the most northerly of parrots in distribution. Today that title is held by the slaty-headed parrot of Afghanistan. Tierra del Fuego’s austral conure ranges the furthest south.

Most parrots are associated with forested areas and even grassland species, such as the budgerigar (common parakeet) and Fischer’s lovebird, rarely stray far from thickets. There are however, a number of exceptions:
The kea lives at elevations of 2-6,000 feet in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, and is often seen rolling about in the snow. Other mountain dwelling parrots include the derbyan parakeet of the Himalayas and the Sierra parakeet of the Andes.
Australia’s ground parrot inhabits coastal sand dunes while the night parrot, also of Australia, is found only in desert grasslands.

While the vast majority of the world’s parrots feed upon nuts, seeds and fruit, several species take quite unique food items:
Black cockatoo – the larvae of wood-boring beetles
Kakapo – juice obtained by chewing leaves
Pygmy parrot – fungus
Lories and lorikeets – pollen and nectar

Perhaps the oddest parrot diet of all is that of New Zealand’s kea, which favors bot fly larvae. The kea hunts fly larvae by perching upon the backs of sheep and pecking at the skin – much to the dismay of both sheep and shepherds! This habit, and the bird’s inordinate fondness for carrion, has resulted in their being unjustly labeled as sheep-killers.

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