Class: Aves (Birds)
Body length: 6 to 15 inches (15 to 38 centimeters), depending on species
Weight: 0.7 to 10 ounces (20 to 280 grams), depending on species
Life span: 7 to 10 years in the wild, 10 to 15 years in zoos
Incubation: around 25 days
Number of eggs laid: usually 2 eggs in a clutch
Age of maturity: 1 to 3 years, depending on species
Conservation status: Red-throated lorikeet Charmosyna amabils, New Caldonian lorikeet Charmosyna diadema, and blue-fronted lorikeet Charmosyna toxopei are at critical risk.
• Birds in the subfamily Loriinae can spread out their
brushlike tongues to get food, then fold them up when they
are not using them!
• It is almost impossible to tell lories and lorikeets from other types of parrots just by looking at them; the best way to tell is by getting a peek at that unique tongue.
• Lories and lorikeets can tolerate both hot and cold temperatures; that's a good thing, as many of the mountains where they live can get pretty chilly at night.
• Many birds in this family are commuters! They even fly from island to island to find food.
Birds: Lory and Lorikeet
Parrots are known for their bright colors, and some of the most colorful members of the parrot family are lories and lorikeets. Also known as honeyeaters, the many species of this parrot group (subfamily Loriinae) can be found throughout the islands of the South Pacific and Australia. In Australia they are all called lories, but there are differences between lories and lorikeets, especially if you compare tails. In general, lories are bigger with tails that are short, rounded, or square. Lorikeets tend to be smaller with longer, pointed tails. Most lories are red with patches of yellow, purple, and green; most lorikeets are green with patches of red and yellow. There are, of course, exceptions, and these birds can be found in all the colors of the rainbow.
Lories and lorikeets have a body part that is unique among parrots: a brushlike tongue! Instead of eating mostly nuts and seeds like other parrots, lories and lorikeets dine on flowers, pollen, and nectar. Because of their diet, lories and lorikeets have weak gizzards and crops compared to other parrots. Their beaks are perfect for crushing flowers, and their special tongue mops up the nectar. The tongue can also gather pollen particles and pack them into easy-to-eat bundles. These birds even use their strong beaks and four-toed feet to perform acrobatics! They climb around on the branches and hang upside down to get to all the flowers on a tree.
A flurry of feathers
Lories and lorikeets are strictly arboreal and can be found in forests, mangroves, and eucalyptus groves. They are social birds and usually travel about from tree to tree in large, squawking flocks in search of flowers and nectar, chattering excitedly as they feed. The flocks sometimes have thousands of birds and blanket the whole sky. Some species, such as the rainbow lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus, are nomadic and follow the flowering season of the eucalyptus trees up and down the coast of Australia.
Like many parrots, lories and lorikeets usually stay with one partner and may breed at any time of year, though in southern Australia the breeding season is between August and January. Nest sites are high above the ground in the hollows of trees, which the birds layer with a covering of decayed wood. The female and male will often roost together, but only the female will sit on her two small white eggs. However, the male will help feed the chicks, which hatch with eyes closed and no feathers. The chicks will slowly grow plumage and be able to fly after seven to eight weeks.
Look out, lories!
Though not all Loriinae species are endangered, all face threats from humans. Many people kill them for their bright feathers or capture them to sell as pets, even though this is illegal in many countries. Also, the trees that used to provide food and shelter for the birds are disappearing due to logging.
Lories and lorikeets are considered beautiful and charming birds, but they have developed a taste for farmed crops such as grapes and coconuts. They can quickly destroy a farmer's orchard and are now regarded as pests in many places. Because of this, the birds are in danger of being poisoned or shot by farmers. However, there is hope. Some farmers have begun planting other flowering trees on the borders of their fields and orchards to provide a different source of food for these unique birds.
More hope comes from the San Diego Zoo and the French Polynesian Department of the Environment. These two groups have collaborated to conserve the three lory species endemic to French Polynesia: the Tahitian lory Vini peruviana, the ultramarine lory Vini ultramarina, and most recently, the Kuhl's lory Vini kuhlii from Rimatara Island. In 2007, the Zoo helped translocate the Kuhl's lory from Rimatara to the island of Atiu in the Cook Islands to establish a second population as insurance against extinction.
To get the best up-close look at some lorikeets, visit the green-naped lorikeets Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus at Lorikeet Landing at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You can purchase a cup of special lorikeet nectar and have lorikeets land all around and even on you as you hold out your arm. This is a great way to catch a glimpse of their unique tongue as they lap up the nectar and also makes for some great photos!