Rainbow Lorikeets

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Rainbow Lorikeet’s is a unique species of parrot found in Australia. The rainbow lorikeet is well known for it’s unique rainbow plumage which gives it its name, covered in feathers of blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

The habitat of the rainbow lorikeet stretches from South Australia up to the furthest points of Far North Queensland and across a variety of environments from river systems, woodlands, bushland and tropical rainforests in the North.

Rainbow Lorikeet’s diets subsist primarily of seeds, fruit, pollen and nectar – the latter of which their beak and tongue has been specially adapted to retrieve from flowers. Rainbow lorikeet’s are also known to frequent populated areas where they can be fed by humans, especially camp sites and household gardens.

Aliases
ClassAvesbirds
OrderPsittaciformescockatoos and parrots >strong, downward-curving bill; feet have two toes pointing forward and two back; can use feet like hands to manipulate food; by using feet together with strong bill, they climb well
Family      Psittacidaeparrots
brightly coloured, noisy
Sub FamilyLorinaebrush tongues
Genus        Trichoglossustricho hair glossa tongue >tip of tongue has hairy projections that soak up nectar
Specieshaematodushaematodes bloody
Common Names blue-bellied lorikeet, blue mountain lorikeet, blue mountain parrot, Swainson’s lorikeet, coconut lory, rainbow lory
Nearest RelativesTrichoglossus rubritorquisTrichoglossus chlorolepidotusRed-collared Lorikeet (sometimes considered a sub species; it occurs in the north) >Scaly-breasted lorikeet

Appearance

Size

  • head and body length 30cm (1ft); wing 15 cm (6in)
  • weight around 133g (5oz)
  • males and females are similar but female is smaller and has shorter bill
  • immature birds have duller plumage than adults; also shorter bill, body, wing

Age

  • live to over 20 years in the wild

Features

  • active, noisy, belligerent, conspicuous
  • strongly gregarious; usually travel in parties of a few dozen; much larger flocks congregate where there are is plenty of food
  • brush tipped tongue – adaptation for feeding on pollen and nectar
    use powder downs – special down feathers with the tip constantly breaking down to form a waxy powder that the bird spreads through the plumage during preening
  • bathe by fluttering among foliage soaked by due or rain

Voice

  • screech in flight; noisy chatter while feeding
  • flocks flying overhead respond quickly to the calls of birds feeding in trees below

Diet

  • pollen is a rich source of protein; major component of the diet
  • nectar, blossoms mainly from Myrtaceae, Proteacea, Xanthoroaceae
  • fruits, berries, seeds, occasionally insects (beetles, wasps, thrips, ants, weevils) and larvae (fly maggots, weevil larvae, moth larvae)
  • also apples, pears, mangos – can cause damage to orchards
  • also maize and sorghum crops where they feed on the unripe ‘milky’ grain

Feeding – general

  • feed throughout the day
  • 70% of their time is spent feeding
  • morning feeding session can continue for 4 hours
  • need to feed for 2-5 hours to satisfy their daily requirements
  • feeding rate : 30-40 Eucalyptus flowers per minute
  • feeding bouts are interrupted by short breaks of less than 10 seconds to look around
  • prefer to feed on flowers in the outer foliage of a tree
  • when it’s hot, they have a break in the middle of the day and return to a feeding area later
  • daily journeys to feeding site of more 50kms (30miles)
  • drink water that has been trapped by leaves or interlocking fronds; also drink surface water
  • Arrangement of the toes and use of the bill make them acrobatic feeders

Feeding methods

  • extract nectar with their brush-tipped tongue after first crushing the flowers with their bill; tiny hair-like projections (papillae) on the end of the tongue are extended while feeding to soak up nectar and gather pollen from blossoms
  • use open bill in sideways brushes up and down the sides of spiked flowers like Xanthorrhoea, Banksia, Melaleuca, Callistemon; this collects pollen and nectar droplets on the edge of their bills
  • place open bill over a blossom and project their tongue into the receptacles to get at the nectar then comb their bill across the stamens to collect pollen
  • for hard fruits of rainforest trees, they grate the fruit on the inside of their open bill
  • extract seeds from sheoak cones and pieces by using the tip of the upper mandible to ease the winged seed from the dehiscing cone
    sweet, fleshy fruits are removed from seed by rolling it with their tongue against the plates inside the upper mandible
  • chew green Eucalyptus flower and leaf buds

Flight

  • very fast with rapid wingbeats
  • fly high when travelling long distances; on short flights manoeuvre between trees
  • establish flight paths from the roosting sites that are followed daily; these paths tend to follow geographic features like the coastline or a line of hills, valleys, rivers
  • daily journeys to feeding site of more 50kms (30 miles)
  • have established flight paths to and from the roost that are 2-4km wide (1.2-2.4 miles)
  • the wing loadings and aspect ratios of their wings mean that they have difficulty landing and taking off from the ground but that they have an advantage for long-range flight at high speed

Flocking

  • although tens of thousands of birds may gather overnight in a roost, during the day they tend to move in smaller groups
  • usually groups of less than 10 birds leave the roost together in the morning
  • throughout the day, travelling flocks have about 16 members
  • feeding flocks may number up to 20 birds
  • sometimes see very large flocks of up to 1000 birds when several travelling flocks land before returning to the roost

Habitat & distribution

Habitat

  • rainforest, open forest, woodland, heath, mangroves, along watercourses, mallee, gardens, parks, orchards considered a lowland species, but in Australia it is not uncommon to find them in mountainous regions – they may be altitudinal migrants

Distribution

  • northern Australia from Kimberley region to Cape York
  • eastern Australia along the east coast and around to Eyre Peninsula in South Australia also occur in the regions of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia
  • reproductive cycle, community organisation, and movements are determined by the flowering patterns of their food resources
  • local patterns of distribution have altered with the introduction of food sources in suburban gardens
  • nomadic – go where the food is; food resources tend to be abundant but short-lived; however, they can remain within an area if there are enough food patches to sustain them throughout the year

Predators

  • raptors – peregrine falcon, brown falcon, whistling kite
  • diamond python

Relationship with other birds

  • frequently seen with Scaly-breasted Lorikeets
  • may also flock with Musk or Little Lorikeets
  • unlike many native birds, the Rainbow Lorikeet competes successfully against Indian Mynas and Starlings for nesting hollows
  • will chase much larger birds from what it considers to be its food; also chase Scaly-breasted Lorikeets and Noisy Friarbirds from flowers that they fancy

Reproduction

Pair bond

  • birds are thought to mate for life (like most parrots) pairs preen and nibble each other during rest periods
  • resting pairs display minor aggression towards nonpair birds by biting and protesting

Nest

  • hollow limb or hole in a tree up to 25m (80 ft) above the ground, with a layer of wood dust at the bottom; eggs are laid on the wood dust 0.5-1.5m (1.5-5 ft) in from the entrance to the hole which may be a knot-hole or from a broken-off branch a number of hollows are investigated before one is chosen
  • nesting can continue for 8 months annually beginning around March
  • doesn’t nest in rainforest, prefers more open country

Eggs

  • 2 (rarely 3) white, oval-shaped eggs
  • a pair can produce up to 3 broods in a season

Incubation

  • female incubated even though the male spends time in the nesting hollow; lasts about 25 days

Post-hatchling

  • both parents feed the young young leave the nesting hollow for the first time after 7-8 weeks but return to the nest to roost for a short time;
  • fledglings may remain with the parents over summer before moving into the communal roost
  • birds reach sexual maturity after two years

Roosting – general

  • roost size varies seasonally – can be up to 50,000 birds
  • in autumn and winter, non-breeding birds use a communal roost while breeding birds roost in nest hollows
  • commute to feeding grounds usually found within a 35km (20 miles) radius of the roost; major roosts tend to be found at roughly 70km (43 miles) intervals; minor roosts are found between the major ones; these are used on a temporary basis often with Scaly-breasted Lorikeets
  • leave in semi-darkness; often the first birds that are active for the day; on misty mornings, flocks leaving the roost circle and gain height perhaps in order to recognise landforms
  • at the end of the day, return to communal roost before sunset but there is lots of activity and noise in the roosting trees as the birds jostle for position and this continues well after dark
  • day roost (10-100 birds) – during the heat of the day they mutually preen or strip leaves and twigs from branches; single birds or pairs return after feeding briefly
  • searching for new food sources may occur during flights to and from the roost and during the middle of the day

Function of roosting

There are a range of theories to explain roosting and flocking behaviour in birds such as these:

  • place for newly independent fledglings; this allows their parents to renest and helps inexperienced birds learn where food is, what food to eat, and feeding techniques (all of which could also be learned from parents)
  • reduce the variance in food intake by
    • (a) sharing information about the location of food resources which tend to be ephemeral and hence birds need to be continually on the lookout for new sources; this is unlikely in areas where flowering is widespread;
    • (b) individuals can tell whether returning birds are well-fed and so can follow these well-fed birds on the following day to their food resources
  • as a singles venue where nonbreeding birds can find mates; this would tend to synchronise breeding
  • security in numbers in respect of danger

Vocal repertoire

Fledgling

  • high pitched wheeze

Protest

  • made when disturbed at nesting sites or feeding on low shrubs
    accompanied by wing flapping and sideways movements of the head

Locating

  • saying ‘Here I am’

Warble

  • made by pairs talking to each other when feeding, resting, preening

Scouting

  • made in flight when searching for other birds or for food

References – books

  • Books Australia’s Amazing Wildlife. 1985. Bay Books, Kensington.
  • What Bird is That? NW Cayley. 1946. Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  • Simpson & Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. K Simpson, N Day & P Trusler. 1996. Viking Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood.
  • Green Guide: Parrots of Australia. T Lindsey. 1998. New Holland, Sydney.
  • Australian Parrots. JM Forshaw. 1969. Lansdowne Press, Melbourne.
  • Parrots and Pigeons of Australia. F Crome & J Shields. 1992. Angus & Robertson. Pymble.
  • A Field Guide to Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds. G Beruldsen. 1980. Rigby Publishers, Adelaide.
  • A Field Guide to Australian Birds. P Slater. 1970. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife. Reader’s Digest Australia Pty Ltd. 1997. Reader’s Digest (Australia), Surrey Hills.
  • Ecological and Population Studies of a Flower Feeding Specialist, The Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus (Gmelin)) during the extensive clearing of a coastal ecosystem in south east Queensland. JW Porter. 1993. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

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