Nature conservation

Native animals

The dangers of feeding lorikeets

Lorikeet feeding habits

Lorikeets are brightly coloured parrots of the family Psittacidae and sub-family Loriinae (lories and lorikeets). Six species are found in Australia, although further species occur in New Guinea, Indonesia and many South Pacific islands.

The tip of a lorikeet's tongue holds a brush-like appendage, enabling the bird to feed on pollen, nectar and fruits. Because lorikeets are mainly seen feeding on blossoms, it was long thought that nectar was their staple diet. However, studies have now shown that pollen is probably their major food. They also eat insects and insect larvae, together with other invertebrates found in foliage and blossom.

Lorikeets travel in small, swift flocks which attract attention with their piercing calls. The birds locate blossoms by sight and by the calls of other birds already feeding. When food is abundant, large numbers gather in the blossoms and foliage, clamouring noisily.

Lorikeets have a very simple digestive system. Proteins and fats are obtained from pollen and insects, and carbohydrates come from the sugars found in nectar. They spend a large amount of time foraging for food, which indicates that carbohydrates are extremely important to them. Their diet is high in energy, and low in protein.

The dangers of feeding lorikeets

Many people have taken to encouraging lorikeets into their gardens by giving them a variety of alluring foods. These foods are usually based on sugar, honey or jam, which will ensure regular visits to the garden by these wonderfully happy, colourful birds. However, it is this very act of 'kindness' that can cause the death of lorikeets at an unnaturally early age.

OEH officers became concerned at outbreaks of lorikeets dying in large numbers for no apparent reason, and decided to investigate. Autopsies were carried out by NSW Agriculture. With other investigations, these autopsies established that the lorikeets were dying from a disease called necrotizing enteritis. A bacteria called clostridia was isolated as the organism responsible.

Necrotizing enteritis is associated with poor hygiene and an inadequate diet, and it was found that the disease is not normally associated with lorikeets living a natural way of life. The scientists could directly relate the lorikeets' deaths to inadequate artificial diets, and to the unsanitary conditions of trays and other containers from which they were being fed.

Another disease is also having a serious impact on lorikeets. Called psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) or psittacine circovirus disease, it is considered the most important viral disease affecting cockatoos, parrots, lories, lorikeets and macaws around the world. Affecting the immune system of the birds, it often results in an AIDS-like condition. The keratin in the birds' bodies breaks down, causing deformed beaks and feathers, and feather loss. The disease is usually fatal, but infected birds may not display symptoms for many months or even years.

Infected birds can drop faeces, which contain the potentially infectious circovirus particles, into the environment to infect other birds. Unfortunately, there is a great potential for the virus to spread at places like feed stations. Clustering in large numbers, many birds may come into contact with contaminated perches and food dishes.

Preventing lorikeet deaths

Obviously the best solution to these problems is to stop feeding the birds altogether. The only feeding method recommended by OEH is to plant a variety of flowering native shrubs, such as grevilleas, callistemon (bottlebrushes) and banksias, around your garden. These plants not only look good; they also provide safe, healthy food for blossom-feeding birds such as lorikeets and honeyeaters.


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Page last updated: 26 March 2014