Saturday, 23 October 2010

Parrots 8 The Rainbow Lorikeet

The last of the parrots to cover in this series are the birds in our popular walk through exhibit, the Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus, of which we currently have over 40 in the walk-through in the centre of the zoo. The walk through opened last year and has proved very popular with visitors, although parents of small children should be warned that they are very noisy when coming down to feed from cups of nectar in the visitors hands, and small children can be scared if they are not expecting this.

Even wild lorikeets become very tame, and will feed from people’s hands or visit bird tables if suitable food is available. They make good film subjects – see a video of wild lorikeets visiting an Australian back garden here:

The Rainbow lorikeet (sometimes called the Green-Naped Lorikeet) is a widespread species with at least 20 subspecies, some of which are probably full species. The range is throughout Indonesia, New Guinea and northern Australia, and it has also been introduced to Western Australia and New Zealand, where it has been classed as a pest because the birds not only feed on orchard crops but also compete with native species of lorikeet. The wild population is estimated as at least 5,000,000 birds, although some subspecies are threatened, for example the Bali lorikeet T. haematodus mitchellii.

It is an adaptable species, freely using coconut plantations or settlements as well as rainforest. The diet is similar to other members of the lory group, which is actually more diverse in its ecology than you might think.

Lorikeets lack the muscular gizzard to grind up seeds, so although they will take them it is not good for them. They can however make use in many cases of unripe seeds which are still soft, and unripe corn on the cob is very popular with many species of Lories in captivity, as are sprouting seeds. This is often reflected in the structure of the tongue – lorikeets which eat more solid food typically have fewer and shorter papillae at the end of the tongue - these are used to mop up nectar and pollen, and vary with the kinds of flower most commonly visited by each species.

The story of Australian wildlife is that of forest animals adapting first to grassland and then to desert, as tectonic movements have gradually moved Australia north through the desert latitudes and away from the position close to Antarctica that it occupied in the Cretaceous. As a result, almost all Australian dry country wildlife has living or extinct rainforest dwelling relatives. For example, the Potoroos we have in twilight world are essentially small rainforest kangaroos. The reverse is also sometimes true – living rainforest animals in Australia may have extinct members which occupied more open habitats which have died out in the (probably) human-caused mass extinction at the end of the last glaciation. Recently fossil tree kangaroos were found from sites in the now treeless Nullarbor Plain, and it appears that the various Rock-wallabies may share a common ancestor with these now entirely rainforest animals.

The same process occurred in Australian birds, and as a result it may be from an unripe seed eating lory that one of the commonest pet birds in the world may have evolved – the domestic budgerigar or parakeet. Although adapted to feeding on grass seed in Australian deserts, the budgerigar has many lory-like traits in its plumage and behaviour, including its highly social and nomadic nature, playfulness and intelligence. Studies place the budgerigar as sister to lories, not as was previously thought close to the Australian Grass Parakeets Neophema as was previously thought.

(images from Wikipedia)


  1. Hi Alan -
    I'm a volunteer at Zoo Miami, Florida, USA. I see you are having a special lecture by Orangutan Foundation next week.
    Nov. 7-14 is International Orangutan Awareness Week and I have been trying to spread the word to encourage as many zoos around the world to participate. Do yo think Bristol Zoo might like to participate, as well? If you would like more infomation, please email me at or visit Hope to hear from you.
    Holly D

  2. Hii your article is amazing. this is wonderful post. you should see my post lories and lorikeets parrots