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Feature Articles

The Rainbow Lorikeet

The colours of these birds attract new owners
The colours of these birds attract new owners

The Rainbow Lorikeet is known by most, even if they are not a specialist birdkeeper. Who can mistake their magnificent array of colours ? In their native home of Australia, they are easily identified as they screech from tree top to tree top.

In some birdkeepers yards over there you will find more birds outside the aviaries than in it. At least I have found this to often be the case when visiting family on the eastern coast of Australia from Brisbane down to Sydney in recent years. This was not always the case however growing up as a boy in the Hunter region, N.S.W. I don't remember Rainbow Lorikeets ever being as numerous as they are now. Obviously they have improved in numbers and range over the years.

Their natural range as described by Forshaw in his book on Australian Parrots is from North Queensland around the Daintree River in the eastern Gulf of Carpentaria, south through eastern Queensland including offshore islands and eastern N.S.W. to southern Victoria and South Eastern South Australia and west to Southern Eye Peninsula. It is also found in Tasmania and on islands in the Bass Strait. It has been introduced to the Perth district in West Australia and is well established in the Perth metropolitan area.

Rainbows love to hang upside down
Rainbows love to hang upside down

They are very popular in N.Z. as Pet and aviary birds. There are good numbers of them bred here each year and they are reasonably priced. Breeders sell birds from $150 -200 and you pay a little more when buying birds from a retail outlet like petshops. Hand reared birds demand a slightly higher price. They are kept by birdkeepers all over N.Z.

These birds have a lot going for them as aviary birds. For a start they are very hardy but must be provided with a nest box all year round for roosting. They are kept in open aviaries in the far south of the South Island, in Invercargill and in Central Otago, where frosts and snow are the norm through winter. The colder temperatures don't seem to affect their breeding, as one breeder in Invercargill has them breeding most of the year.

They would certainly make a wonderful bird to keep and breed in a garden aviary setting. Their raucous calls and splash of colour could make you think you are living in a more tropical location. The size of the aviary you decide on will depend on whether or not a single pair is kept or several pair are kept together in a colony situation. Because of their liquid droppings many would say that suspended aviaries are the best housing, but in this article we are considering an attractive garden aviary. They are still easily housed then in a conventional type aviary and many already do this. A suggested minimum sized aviary for a single pair would be 3m x 1m x 2m although a larger aviary would enable you to see the birds better and enjoy their acrobatic antics. A larger aviary say 5m x 2m x2m would easily house 3 pair and make a wonderful display in your garden.

The aviary will require a sheltered section for the birds to retire in during bad weather and somewhere for food to be served, where rain won't spoil it. Their nestbox can be hung either in the sheltered part of the aviary or out in the flight. If in the flight, they would need to be covered sufficiently to stop water from soaking into their nestbox either from the top or through the sides. The natural log type nestboxes would certainly look good in the aviary.

Pair with young one in centre
Pair with young one in centre

Both hens and cocks look the same, so to be sure of a definite pair D.N.A. sexing is best. At least then if breeding is attempted you know that at least you have a hen and a cock. It can be frustrating waiting for years for your birds to breed only to find out you have two hens or cocks. Males tend to be a little more dominant, but behaviour alone cannot guarantee a pair.

Rainbows can be quite an aggressive bird, so if breeding is your main consideration, then housing each pair separately will usually give the best results. As this article is focusing on a larger garden aviary, then 1/2 dozen birds together, preferably 3 pair, can also result in breeding success, however birds would need to be watched, to make sure they are compatible. Usually no great injury will result to individual birds even if there is a bit of fighting to sort out each pairs own space. However sqabbling among pairs may disturb them sufficiently enough to hamper breeding success.

Young birds equally matched (equal number of hens and cocks) introduced to the aviary all together will produce the best results. Once properly bonded, pairs will usually stay together for life and are often seen together mutually preening. They will roost together each night in their nestbox. There is no reason why a colony of Rainbows will not have a measure of good success breeding, once pairs are established and many breeders are already accomplishing this.

Rainbow preening after a bath
Rainbow preening after a bath

Their courtship behaviour is very entertaining and if you keep these birds you will be well familiar with their hissing, eye blazing and swaying from side to side that is all part of their display. A good pair will breed nearly all year round and many interested in breeding good numbers of these birds will either take eggs away and incubate them or allow the parents to raise them until they are 10-12 days old and then intervene and finish rearing them by hand. Some breeders like Jodie Burgess from the Parrot Ranch (see issue 4) raise over 100 birds in a season. This does not mean that Rainbows don't make good parents and a pair will themselves raise nest after nest of young. Usually 2 eggs are laid although occasionally a pair will lay and incubate 3 eggs.

Rainbows have a great personality that make them great pets for the family
Rainbows have a great personality that make them great pets for the family

Incubation time is approximately 23 days and upon hatching chicks are

covered in white down. This changes to a thick grey down which covers their body by the time they are 18 days old. Then pin feathers emerge from the grey down and at 45 days the young birds are almost fully feathered.

Young birds will continue to be fed by their parents for another 3 weeks after fledgling but are still distinguished from their parents by their shorter tail smaller size and dark beaks. They are probably best removed from their parents once independent as parent birds may become aggressive toward them as they get on with having another brood. It will take at least 18 months to 2 yrs for young ones to be mature enough to breed themselves.

In the wild lorikeets feed on pollen, nectar, fruits, berries, seeds and at times even insects. In Australia they are seen feeding on the nectar of flowering Eucalyptus and Melaleuca's as well as Banksia's and Grevillia species. They will feed on fruits such as apples and pears and have caused substantial damage to orchards. Seeds of Casuarina trees and Swamp Oakes are taken and in some specimens remains of beetles have been found in their stomachs. In captivity most lorikeet keepers keep their birds, primarily on a two part feeding regime. The first part is made up of a so called 'Dry Mix', based mainly on a recipe formulated by a well known Australian birdkeeper, Stan Sindell. He suggest the following mixture :

2 cups of Rice Flour.
2 cups of Canary rearing food.
(e.g. Dutch formula)
2 cups Farex Baby Rice
1 cup Glucodin (glucose)
1 Teaspoon of Sustagen
(Multi - vitamin powder)

This is the recipe I have used for many years successfully with my Rainbows. All of the ingredients are easily obtained from places like 'Binn Inn' cheaply. Many I'm sure will have their own variation of this. If you only have a few birds or one pet bird you may decide to save the work and buy a commercially made dry mix. There are a number of them on the market and one we can recommend is 'Best Bird' made by Brooklands V.I.P. The beauty of this 'dry mix' is that if you are going away for a few days it can be left for the birds and you know it will last and not sour like the 'wet mix' sometimes does.

The other feed is the 'Wet Mix' which is fed out as a liquid. This is still given by most breeders daily as a important part of the birds diet. It's usually favoured by the birds in comparison to their basic dry mix and usually only a small portion is given, enough for the bird to consume over a few hours. In summer with warmer temperatures this wet mix will sour if not consumed by the birds, and particular care must be taken to avoid placing it directly in the sun. Again each breeder will have their own recipe, of which there are many.

I have also given my lorikeets a small amount of sunflower seed, which is readily taken. Joseph Forshaw in his book Australian parrots makes an interesting observation that I have never considered before. He observes that Rainbows do consume significant quantities of seeds in the wild and so he includes canary seed and white french millet in the diet of his captive birds, which is a practice rejected by some breeders. In his experience, if the diet is sufficiently varied, with the inclusion of both dry and wet mixes as well as fruits, the birds will consume dry seed as a supplement and will not favour it disproportionately. Les and Dawn Pike in the article we did on breeding pairs of Red Collared observed that both Red Collareds and Rainbows consume large quantities of soaked seed , particularly when feeding young in the nest.

One care that must be taken is the need to be fussy about thoroughly cleaning utensils that are used for feeding out your wet mix each day. If this is not done, you are really asking for trouble.

Rainbows are second to none as far as being great companion pets. They have a wonderful playful and inquisitive personality and a hand reared young bird will soon make itself part of the family. Make sure you allow for their mostly liquid droppings which they can squirt out the side of the cage and can make a mess if kept inside without suitable protection. A large protective skirt around the bottom of the cage will help protect the droppings from escaping. Newspaper is also a good medium for the floor of the cage to soak up droppings and this is easily changed regularly to keep the cage clean.
Of course this does not mean that a pet cannot be kept outdoors in a small aviary in the garden. If you did not want to breed them, two males or two females could be housed together if you wished. This would create less work in having to clean a smaller cage out each week. The choice is yours. Each year hundreds of rainbows are exported from N.Z. to places like Japan, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.

So if you do have success with breeding, don't worry about getting rid of your young birds. There is great demand for these birds here and overseas.

Visit our
Asiatic Parrot Breeders Handbook - New Book from Phil Robson - OUT NOW !

Asiatic Parrot Breeders Handbook - New Book from Phil Robson - OUT NOW !

Australian Lorikeets - New Release for 2007 !

Australian Lorikeets - New Release for 2007 !

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Questions & Answers

Red Factor Canaries

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Splendid Parrot

The Barraband or Superb Parrot

The Rainbow Lorikeet

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