Rainbow lorikeet

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The rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) is a declared pest in Western Australia (WA). It is a small, brightly coloured parrot that was introduced to WA during the 1960s.

Introduction

The rainbow lorikeet has been established in Perth, Western Australia since 1968. From fewer than 10 escaped or released birds it is now well established in the metropolitan area.

Description

The rainbow lorikeet is a small, brightly coloured parrot 26-31cm in length and weighing 105-130g. Male, female and immature birds all look similar, with young birds slightly duller in colour. They have a bright yellow-orange/red breast, a mostly violet-blue throat and a yellow-green collar. Lorikeets are noisy, continuously screeching while in flight, while feeding and at their roosts. They fly swiftly with rapid whirring wing beats and display flashes of dark green and bright red.

Distribution

Various subspecies of rainbow lorikeet occur naturally in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and northern and eastern Australia. The Red-collared Lorikeet (T. h. rubritorquis) and the Varied Lorikeet (Psitteuteles versicolor) are native to WA in the Kimberley and northern Australia generally. 

World map showing the natural distribution of the rainbow lorikeet in Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the north and east of Australia. Map also shows a red dot in Perth and Auckland marking introduced populations.
World map showing natural (black) and introduced (red) distribution of the rainbow lorikeet.

Habitat

In Perth, rainbow lorikeets occur in open woodlands with mature exotic vegetation. The trees in which the lorikeets thrive include the lemon-scented gum, date and cotton palms, Norfolk Island pine, coral and fig.

Reproduction

Lorikeets nest in tree hollows and on the platforms at the base of palm tree fronds, where they excavate a nest. Breeding can occur from April to December and the majority of nestlings fledge in August. Pairs may breed twice per year when conditions are favourable.

Diet and behaviour

In Perth, rainbow lorikeets eat pollen and nectar, foliage, fruit, seeds and flower parts. They feed from exotic lemon-scented gums, spotted gums, cotton palms, date palms, coral trees, fig trees, native jarrah, marri and she-oak. They also glean invertebrates such as lerp and psyllids from leaves and twigs.

Rainbow lorikeets roost in large, noisy groups which leave the roost at dawn. Large foraging flocks of 10-50 birds can travel more than 50km to feeding sites. Lorikeets fly high and rarely go to ground, spending most of their time in the outer foliage of tall trees.

Damage

The rainbow lorikeet is a major pest of agriculture in Australia. It is a serious pest of cherry, apple, pear, stone fruit, grape and vegetable crops, and field crops such as sorghum, flowers and ornamentals.

Rainbow lorikeets cause significant damage to commercial table grape crops in the Swan Valley and orchard fruit crops in the Perth hills.

The lorikeets damage suburban garden fruit and flowers, foul outdoor areas and vehicles with droppings and harass and compete with native birds. Lorikeets have been reported feeding on backyard grapes, figs, pears, apricots, nectarines, loquats, mulberries, mangoes, passionfruit, cherries, apples, peaches, plums and guavas.

Rainbow lorikeets aggressively protect feeding and nesting resources, potentially excluding native species. They are carriers of Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and are a potential disease risk to wild and captive parrots.

Risk assessment

A scientific risk assessment conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Food indicates that the rainbow lorikeet poses an extreme threat to Western Australia being highly likely to establish more widespread populations and become a significant pest.

Status

Under legislation administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food, rainbow lorikeets are declared pests in the southern parts of the State including the Perth metropolitan area.

Rainbow lorikeets are subject to an Acclimatised Fauna Notice in the south-west land division under legislation administered by the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW). Under this legislation they can be shot or live-trapped on private land in the south-west, in accordance with an open season notice, without the need to obtain a damage licence from DPaW.

Risk management

Given the size of the lorikeet population in Perth, eradication is unlikely but a reduction in the numbers at key locations may be possible. To prevent satellite populations becoming established in the wild, small groups of lorikeets originating from escaped or released birds have been retrieved or removed from many country locations.

It is essential that any lorikeets in the wild outside the existing Perth range be immediately reported so they can be safely retrieved or removed.

Many lorikeets are kept as pets and as they are so common most have little monetary value. To guard against escapes and releases, lorikeets must be maintained in secure aviaries under a DPaW avicultural licence and unwanted birds should be surrendered, not released.

Further information

For further information contact the Department of Parks and Wildlife or the Pest and Disease Information Service.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080