Saturday, 9 October 2010

Parrots Part 6: The Chattering Lory

Tucked away in the far corner of the zoo is our pair of Yellow-Backed Chattering Lories, Lorius garullus flavopalliatus. They are well named – they are a highly vocal species.

There are about 6 species in the genus Lorius, each with several subspecies. The various forms range through Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, where they live in the canopy of primary and secondary (re-grown) rainforest> As with all lories the Chattering Lory is a specialist in feeding on nectar and pollen, although fruits, plant material, and insect larvae are also taken. To help them with their diet, the ends of their tongues are covered with projections, giving them the name “brush-tongues parrots”.

Because of their brilliant colours and playful behaviour, they are unfortunately targeted by bird trappers for the local cage bird trade, and although this is illegal now enforcement mostly varies from lax to non existent. In addition, deforestation both removes feeding trees and selective logging removes the large trees they use for nesting. At present the population is decreasing, but the density of population in good habitat (nearly 150 birds per square kilometre) mean that the IUCN listing is Vulnerable rather than Endangered.

They have not been studied to any great degree in the wild, except for surveys to estimate population, but in captivity they are reasonably free breeders as long as their specialised dietary requirements are met. To replace their wild diet of nectar and pollen, specially formulated diets are now available, some of which may be fed dry or mixed with water (we also use this formula in our Rainbow Lorikeet walk through, which I will blog about another day). To maintain variety, they are also given a variety of fruits and vegetables.

They are a medium sized parrot, about 30cm long, and will use a nest box of the appropriate size, often modifying the entrance hole by chewing the wood. Many lorry breeders use specially drilled nest boxes with holes or wire mesh floors – because of their liquid diet lory droppings are very fluid, one reason they are better in an aviary as long as they have appropriate shelter and heating in colder climates, especially in the winter months. They usually lay two eggs, and the young are fed by both parents.

One significant health issue with lories and many other rainforest birds, especially fruit or nectar feeders, is that they are often prone to iron retention diseases. The causes are complex, and vary with the species involved, but the biological basis is that rainforests are often on mineral-poor soils and as a result rainforest products are low in many essential minerals. Birds (and probably mammals as well) which customarily feed on these have a biochemistry adapted to extract every atom of iron or other mineral possible. As a result, when fed on diets higher in iron content than the wild fruits they use, the result is they overdose on iron. This builds up in the liver and can result in anything from reduced breeding success to unexpected sudden death.

Aside from these physical health issues, as with all parrots their mental health requires a good deal of thought. The playfulness and curiosity of these birds is a function of their need to constantly locate new food sources – flowers will only provide a few sips of nectar and a mouthful of pollen at the most, because flowers need their pollinators to move on to another flower as soon as possible. A variety of toys, branches of trees they can chew on, flowers to demolish one petal at a time (they are very fond of roses) and similar objects are as important as food and shelter for these birds.

To see them in action, look here:

Next week, the Blue-Streaked Lory

(Images from wikipedia and World Parrot Trust websites)

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