Monday, 18 October 2010

Parrots Part 7: The Blue-Streaked Lory

Living in an aviary next door to our Chattering Lories is a pair of another beautiful species of nectar feeding parrot, the Blue-Streaked Lory Eos reticulata. Originating from islands in the Banda Sea west of Papua New Guinea, it is fairly numerous but may be threatened by deforestation, and is therefore classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened.

Although only 180 square kilometres, the volcanic Banda islands which are the original home of our pair have had a huge place in world history. Before reverting to their native name, they were known to Europeans as the Spice Islands, and were the worlds’ only source of nutmeg and mace, both the products of the nutmeg tree. As early as Roman times, spices were traded from Banda all across the world, and the islanders (or at least their very active merchants) became extremely rich. This proved disastrous when the Portuguese, soon followed by the Dutch and British, finally developed shipping capable of sailing round Africa and India direct to the islands, thereby cutting out the Arab spice traders. One contest between the British and Dutch for control of one of the islands, Run, ended with the British agreeing to surrender control to the Dutch in exchange for their settlement of Manhattan – with consequences the whole world knows. What is less well known is that after surrendering Manhattan and gaining control over the islands the Dutch waged a campaign of massacre and enslavement against the indigenous islanders, followed by importing both free labourers and slaves from other parts of what is now Indonesia. The original language of Banda is now found only on a few small islands. The main language is a distinct dialect of Malay

The islands of the Banda Sea make up part of what is called Wallacea, a very interesting region where Asian and Australasian faunas mix. As might be expected, the terrestrial mammal fauna is pretty sparse, but it includes the most westerly member of the kangaroo family, the dusky pademelon Thylogale brunii, which is also found in New Guinea.
Dusky pademelon
As with other lories, Blue-Streaked Lories are noisy, active birds which often congregate in large flocks. The diet is similar to that of the other members of the group, coconut flowers featuring heavily in their diet, but fruits, other plant material, and some insects are also included is short.

Unfortunately, as with many species of tropical wildlife, beyond physical specimens in museums very little is known or even studied about how they live their lives – comparing how many species found in the UK have fairly lengthy books written about their natural history, a library treating the wildlife even of a small island in Indonesia would be fairly large! I have discovered reports of a closely related species of Eos being seen feeding by moonlight – whether this is normal behaviour in this genus or simply a response to food shortages is not clear. Lories are very dependent on flowers being available year round and may travel long distances where food is short, and I expect travel between islands may be fairly frequent.

Also not known is how they deal with competitors. Other lories found in the same region are the Red Lory Eos bornea and the Olive-headed Lorikeet Trichoglossus euteles, which may compete directly with them for food and nest sites, and also the Tanimbar Cockatoo Cacatua goffini, which may compete for nest sites. This last may be avoided by their choosing different kinds of holes – captive lories of many species seem to prefer horizontal or nearly horizontal nest boxes, where they can walk along to their eggs rather than drop down from an entrance hole above the eggs, which may reflect a preference for hollow branches rather than the main trunks of the trees.

Next week, the last of our parrots – the Rainbow Lorikeet

Images from Aquarium of the Pacific and Wikipedia

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