Other names: Rainbow Lory.
Identification: Smaller than Feral Pigeon.
Range and lifestyle: Resident in eastern Australia, but make local movements.
Food: Mostly nectar and pollen, but also fruit, leaf buds, bark insects.
Breeding: Mainly autumn and winter. The nest is bare wood dust at the bottom of a hollow dead branch or hole in trunk, often in gum tree. Only mum incubates the 2 or 3 white eggs for 3.5 weeks, but male feeds her, and both feed the chicks for about 2 months.
Surely the most colourful familiar bird in Brisbane, the Rainbow Lorikeet has adapted well to urban environments and is common in many Australian cities. Unlike most members of the parrot family, which are seed-eaters, lorikeets are mainly nectar and pollen-feeders, and have a special brush-tipped tongue to help soak up the nectar from flowers. In the Brisbane region, the main natural sources of nectar are the flowers of eucalypts like Spotted Gums and Forest Red Gums, and paperbarks (Melaleucas). In parks and backyard gardens, however, they are more often seen among the flowers of bottlebrushes and Grevilleas. This puts them in competition with the aggressive and highly territorial Noisy Miner, but as lorikeets are larger and quite pugnacious themselves, the miners tend to leave them alone. Like miners, lorikeets have increased in abundance in cities, most likely due to the increased planting of nectar-rich native plants in the suburbs.
The Rainbow Lorikeet is one of the star attractions at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast, where the owners have been feeding them for more than 70 years. Hundreds of lorikeets take advantage of this food that is provided twice a day, giving tourists and local visitors an opportunity to watch these birds interact with each other and perform acrobatics in the trees. In fact, if you hold out a feeding tray, they are likely to land on your shoulder and head! Although there is some concern that the feeding of birds by people makes them dependent on humans, research has shown that this artificial source makes up only a small proportion of their food, and that natural sources are still preferred. The Rainbow Lorikeet often feeds on fruits and leaf buds, especially in summer and autumn, unlike the smaller, all-green Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, which is much more dependent on nectar. Indeed lorikeets are considered pests to orchardists due to their fondness for cultivated apples, lychees and stone fruits.
Another place where you are likely to see and hear large numbers of lorikeets is at their sleeping quarters, called communal roosts, some of which contain over 100,000 birds! These roosts are composed of many small groups that spend their day elsewhere, probably within only a few kilometres of the site, but which come together at night for protection and possibly to share information about good foraging sites. It is a fascinating spectacle to watch groups arriving at the roost from all directions. However, these roosts cause problems for humans, as the birds are extremely noisy when settling down for the night, and their droppings often fall on cars and outdoor amenities. As roost sites are often in large trees around busy road intersections with bright lights, it is thought that the birds like the lighting because it enables them to quickly discover predators, such as owls.
Text © Richard Noske 2019 CC BY-NC-SA