By Dr. Romuald Burkard
Although parrots have been kept in captivity for centuries in Europe, only a few species have a long breeding tradition. Thereto belongs all the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulates Shaw), different lovebirds (Agapornis spp) some Australian parakeets (Neophema, Psephotus,Platycercus etc.). Since 1950, the number of aviculturist has increased steadily and the successful hatch of many other species became more an everyday occurrence like the one of the King Parrots (Alisterus scapularis Lichtenstein), Redwinged Parrots (Aprosmictus erythropterus Gmelin), Superb Parrots (Polytelis), Ringneck Parrots (Barnardius), Roseringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri Scopoli), Parrotlets (Forpus) etc. Still others are being bred by specialists from time to time with the San Diego Zoo being among most successful ones. Here I mention the Lories and Lorikeets (Loriidae), the Cyanoramphus, Tanygnathus and Eclectus of the pacific distribution, the Grey Parrots (Psittacus) and Poicephalus of the Afro-Asian distribution as well as many species of the south american distribution like Macaws (Anodorhnchus, Ara) various Ara tinga, Conures (Pyrrhura), Brotogeris and Amazons. A third group is very seldom kept and even more rarely successfully bred. These include the Fig Parrots (Opopsitta and Psittaculirostris), the Cockatoos (Cacatuinae), Kea (Nestorinae), the Horned Parkeets (Eunymphicus), some species of Lories like the rare Collared Lories (Phigys solitaries Suckow), the Vini species like the Blue-crowned Lory (Vini australis Gmelin), and the Tahitian Lory(Viniperuviana Willer). Rarely bred are the Lorikeets like Charmosyna and the Neopsittacus which are very different from the other Lorikeets.
In this paper, I summarize some experiences I have gathered from breeding more than a hundred species of parrots during thirty years. Examples are taken from Lories and Lorikeets. The outstanding book by Rosemary Low about these species contains many interesting facts. Perhaps I can add to her information or go a bit more deeply into specifics.
My experience in breeding Lories of the following species is based on successes and failures (for failures are of great importance for understanding and analysis).
• Chalcopsitta duivenbodei (Duivenbode’s Lory)
• Chalcopsitta cardinalis (Cardinal Lory)
• Eos Bornea (Red Lory)
• Trichoglossus ornatus (Ornate Lory)
• Trichoglossus haematodus rubritoriquis (Red-collared Lorikeet)
• Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus (Rainbow Lory)
• Glossopsitta goldiei (Goldie’s Lorikeet)
• Lorius chlorocercus (Yellow-bibbed Lory)
• Lorius garrulus (Chattering Lory)
• Phigys solitarius(Collared Lory)
• Vini australis (Blue-crowned Lory)
• Charmosyna palmarum (Palm Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna multistriata (Striated Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna placentas (Red-flanked Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna pulchella (Fairy Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna papou (Papuan Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna johnstoniae (Mount Apo or Johnstone’s Lorikeet)
• Neopsittacus musschenbroeks (Musschenbroek’s Lorikeet)
• Neopsittacus P. pullicauda (Alpine Lorikeet)
As with all parrots, the following factors are of great importance for breeding lories:
1) Living space, the appropriate captive environment, the aviary or the cage.
2) Socialization, beginning with mate slection and including the rest of the population sharing the same living space.
3) Feeding including that at hatching time and beyond.
4) Physical health and also mental health.
5) Influence of man.
For this paper I will concentrate on living space, socialization and feeding. A veterinarian would be more competent to discuss health. Influence of man on the breeding successes is more a philosophic item or a human-psychological question. Man, that means the curator, should make as little influence as possible. The bird understands much more of its breeding business than the best ornithologist and the most zealous curator.
Living Space (Biotope)
Today, it is believed that an aviary should as near as possible mimic the natural living space of a bird. This often appeals better to us than to the bird in captivity.
Surely, the natural biotope provides indications of what is required. However, in captivity we may proceed on the assumption that the bird accommodates itself, and that it will not be affected by other inhabitants, for example by mammals.
Thus, the aviary is an “abstract biotope” to which the bird adapts. The bird does not consider the aviary a prison but is seeing it as its natural territory.
With lories (as with other birds) the following are of importance:
A. The size of the aviary: This differs from species to species. The familiarity with the curator has great influence. Some examples:
The Chattering Lory (Lorius garrulus), if tame will breed in a cage of one square meter. The same is valid for the Eos bornea (Red Lory). However, the much smaller Charmosyna pulchella (Fairy Lorikeet) hatched at my place in an aviary of only 4 meters of length and 4 m of outdoor flight, hence 8 m of total length. In smaller spaces, he regularly abandoned the eggs or the youngsters. However, its close relatives, the Charmosyna multistriata and Charmosyna placentis are breeding in cages measuring two meter long, half a meter high and half a meter deep. These cages can be divided; the nest-box can be separated by inserting a wall. This permits control as soon as both parents are out of the box. Above all, it permits cleaning the youngsters every week. This is necessary because the adults smear nectar on their head while feeding. However, it was not necessary to clean the Charmosyna pulchella although they receive the same diet.
The Charmosyna papou, although bigger than the pulchella, seems content with an aviary of two square meters. But they are easily susceptible to disturbance whereas with a length of three to four meters they would breed more quietly.
From these examples, and others from my experience, I can deduce that the dimensions of the aviary have to be adjusted to the species and the familiarity of the birds. There is no general norm. When choosing the dimensions, one should consider the criterion of security of the breeding pair. The pair has to feel safe and not threatened. The flight distance measured from the curator/spectator to the nest-box is indeed decisive.
B. The aviary’s outfit; There are many people who believe that the best outfit for an aviary is a biotope true to nature. This may be right – but mainly for the spectator and less for the bird itself. The following criteria seem to me as being much more important:
1. Hygiene demands that the aviary should be kept clean especially when keeping lories and lorikeets. The floor covering should be easily changeable. The walls and perches will need to be cleaned and changed. The feeding dishes will also need to be changed daily if possible. Remains off ru it, nectar, and also droppings which contain a lot of sugar form the substratum for fungus and bacteria that soon infect the bird. An irrigation system has many advantageous as it will wash off a great deal of dirt. Above all, this is advantages if the floor consists of gravel where the water can drain off, thus preventing birds from coming in contact with the dirt.
2. Most Lories, and especially the Lorikeets, need flight space: (Charmosyna, such as the Fairy Lorikeet, Neopsittacus, like the Musschenbroek’s, even more pronounced than Trichoglossus, like Swainson’s Lorikeet, or Chalcopsitta like the Cardinal Lory). Lories with a shorter tail need less flight space (Chattering Lory or the Yellow-bibbed Lory). Those prefer enough cimbing possibilities. Flight space and climbing possibilities can easily be obtained by choosing the right branches and arranging them properly. The person who has seen a Musschenbroek’s or an Alpine Lorikeet, a Palm Lorikeet (Charmosyna palmarum) ora Collared Lory(Phigys solitaries) climbing in the branches will be shocked to see perches only arranged horizontally in an aviary just as if only domesticated budgerigars were living in it.
3. Many, especially less tame Lories need a hiding-place, a sheltered corner. At the San Diego Zoo, where lory keeping is exemplary, we may watch the Tahiti Blue Lory (Vini peruvian) which is especially fond of the dense bushes. The feeling of safety and shelter can also be given by dividing the indoor and outdoor space. A nest-box is often used as a simple hiding-place when no other sufficient hiding-places are available.
Generally, lories are social birds. However, there are great differences from genus to genus. Unfortunately, the social behaviour has been very little studied so that I have to rely mostly on my own observations which again rely also on too few systematic comparisons. Permit me, the promoted sociologist (who is only practicing ornithology as a hobby like a “bird farmer”), to work here with some sociological criteria. These are partially identical to the concepts of modern ethology. I would like to outline four cases of social behaviour. This does not represent a final typology but simply four cases which are typical for the corresponding species.
1. The Yellow-bibbed Lory (Lorius chlorocercus) and the Cardinal Lory (Chalcopsitta cardinalis) demonstrate a behaviour of close pair bonding and of little inclination to form a larger group. Both are extremely aggressive toward third member of the same species. This occurs even before breeding maturity. Both species transfer this aggression to the curator during the hatching time by attacking vehemently when one enters the aviary. And these are birds which during non-breeding season are tame. Even during the hatch they will take a delicacy off the hand – though only if one stands outside the enclosure. To these paired individuals it must be added that voice contact between one pair releases a “contact-cry” of neighbouring pairs. It seems that these aggressive territory-defenders are stimulating other pairs to mark their own territories through cries.
2. Trichoglossus forma hierarchical group. The first observations showed that in a swarm of Swainsons’s Lorikeets or Red-collared Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) only one pair of young of the group could be reared successfully each time. In my aviary, this was also the case in a swarm of Green-naped Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus massena). My friend, Prof. Vinzenz Ziswiler of the University of Zurich was interested in this phenomenon. S. Ulrich in “Biology and Ethology of the Trichoglossus haematodus massena Bonaparte” studied it and examined it closer. Distinct rank orders could be observed (alfa-pair, beta-pair ect.). This means that these Trichoglossus know each bird individually and establish higher or lower ranks respectively through stronger or weaker fights (hacking, biting, pursuing). As soon as this rank order is established, they live peacefully except from the hacking (mostly ritual). Such an organized society with their hierarchy and behaviour seems to be natural for these species. However, when examining these birds in nature, only limited conclusions are allowed. In nature, only at certain times are the birds occupying close space together and have to respect the rank order. During hatching, for example, the beta-pair will get out of the way of the alfa-pair to be able to organize an undisturbed family life. (If only the modern sociologists with their fantastic recommendations for mankind would learn form the birds!)
3. The partial hierarchical group. It seems that the group of Goldie’s Lorikeets (Glossopsitta goldiei) is less strict and rigid. The determination of a hierarchy is less violent, and more than one pair is breeding on little space. In my aviary, six pairs are living in an indoorf light of three and a half square meters and an outdoorflight of four and a half square meters. Up to three pairs are hatching at the same time. However, from time to time we have to handfeed a youngster after fledging because of neglect by its parents. It is not possible to incorportate them afterwards into the swarm as they will be pushed away.
4. An anonymous group of any lory species where the individuals do not know each other and therefore no hierarchy can be established is not known to me. It seems that these anonymous masses are reserved for other parrot species, for example for certain cockatoos -(and above all for human beings on mass-demonstrations who imagine themselves as being so “intelligent”).
An interesting aspect of concern is that of pair-formation. Many breeders believe that lories and lorikeets are easy to pair. This may often be true. However, we often have the experience that it does not come about so easily. For some reason pairs may not harmonize. I do not know of any systematic investigation about this and therefore I only can referto two examples.
The Papuan Lorikeets belong to a species which are not easy to breed. This is usually the case with all Charmosyna. At my place, pairs which were in the swarm are breeding quite good. The cock displays by raising elegantly his head and uttering a long-extended almost melancholy call. The pupils also get narrower. When they crawl over each other and play together like cats on the floor, one can presume that they have become a pair. I have a pair I put together artificially to see what colour would be produced from the mating of a red cock with a black hen. This could not make out definitely to which female the characteristic mating call of the cock was sent because, in the neighbouring aviary, more Papuan hens were flying. In three clutches, the eggs were infertile. Here, the marriage seems not to be entirely to the desires of the breeder. Now, only one thing is left to try: To find out which female in the neighbouring group with which the cock is still in love. The cock himself was living in this group when he was young and it seems that he remained faithful to his early love.
The second example involves the Yellow-bibbed Lories from Heinrich Bregulla from which we could acclimatize two assumed cocks and a hen. After three years, the only pair (perhaps the only pair living nowadays in captivity) did not seem to breed. I therefore exchanged the cocks. The new male was interested in the selected female. She, however, remained passive or avoided him altogether. I also could not hear the synchronous duet-singing which is characteristic for this species. After some months I rechanged the cocks. There then occurred calling, a duet, a dancing, playing and a mutual hopping; then they perched themselves head first side by side. This pair became the strain-parents of my group including today three pairs and three young birds.
It would be too hasty to forma generalized theory from these two examples. Nevertheless, one can see that with lories a female and a male may not become a breeding-pair and that also a certain faithfulness is existing here. Certainly, it is more troublesome to identify strongly-bonded pairs in a swarm than just to combine two birds. But usually this is worth while. I had this experience with the Musschenbroek’s, of which only pairs identified from the swarm have been successful breeders.
It would be worth studying specifically the very manifold mating-behaviours of the different species. I charged Ruth Landolt, Zurich, with such a study in my aviary. I am quoting two examples of her work:
Mating-behaviour of Charmosyna multistriata
The Striated Lorikeets have a very tight pair bond. Particularly during the mating period, the partners move together at the same time for eating, for stretching themselves, for cleaning their feathers, for investigating a new thing in the aviary, etc. They often are perched so closely that they are touching one another and are preening each other. During the active period and while they are in mating-mood, I could hear from the birds a high, clear sounding cry. One bird utters this cry when the other one withdraws a little, and the partner replied most of the time uttering the same cry. I am designating this cry as “contact-cry.”
The Striated Lorikeets emit a second, also clear-sounding and loud cry during mating. The female and the male sit parallel or antiparallel side by side, puffing out the belly feathers, contracting the iris and making all movements synchronously. They stretch themselves over the back of the partner, slowly moving back and stretching in front of the partner, moving back again and stretching again over the back of the partner, and so on. With each stretching movement they utter a mating-cry. If the intensity becomes high, the birds shortly lift off the wings from their body and strike them back again while doing each stretching movement. During these rocking movements, the tongue moves rapidly forward and backwards in the half open beak and sometimes it moves laterally outside along the border of the under-beak. This is a ritual element of behaviour from feeding; during beak cleaning, one can regularly observe how the tongue moves laterally along the borders of the upper- and under-beak to remove remains of food. A similar behaviour has been rw,02 observed by S. Ulrich et al. (1972) as characteristic in the mating-behaviour of Trichoglossus. They designated this behaviour as “let its tongue dart.” I could observe the shy lories only from a distance of 3 meters and therefore I can not say if they also utter spitting sounds and the clear mating-cries during the rocking movements as known from the Trichoglossus species. More observations with the help of a miscrophone installed on the cage wall are necessary to clarify this question.
Mating-behaviour of Charmosyna placentas subplacens
The Sclaters’ Lorikeets are accommodated in a cage of 160 x 50 x 60 cm like the Striated Lorikeets.They are extremely susceptible to disturbance and are shy. Therefore, the following observations are only beginnings for recording the mating-behaviour.
For the Sclaters’ Lorikeet it is observed that the pair sticks closely together and that both partners often carry out the same activities. During mating female and male sit side by side and carry out alternately the same movements. While emitting a sharp-sounding dissyllabic cry (“gri-gri”), the female or the male is rapidly stretching itself forward and moving backwards slowly again, then jerks forward and moves backwards again. During these movements, the bow plumage is being vertically raised and the ventral plumage puffed out. The iris is contracted and gleams intensively orange or yellow. After such a rocking sequence, the pair often flies in front of the nest-box. Male and female alternately put first the head into the nest-box and then slip into it fora few minutes. After the rocking sequence, twice copulation attempts followed.
There are many recipes for feeding these nectar-eating birds. In the book by Rosemary Low you will find very good advice. Each breeder does it in a different way. I believe two things: First, there are different methods which are right, and secondly there are differences from species to species. Principally, I offer different type of food separately and leave it to the birds to choose among this hors d’ oeuvre what is wholesome to them. I believe that they generally know better what they need than we curators. I interfere only in special cases (fatty degeneration, illness etc.).
As we know, the lories and lorikeets take nectar of blossoms and with it pollen and small insects as their staple food. Most species also consume fruits. Heinrich Bregulla, German ornithologist, to whom I owe many seldom kept species, observed on Mindanao Island (The Philippines) how the Mount Apo Lorikeets eat wild (or weed-grown) sunflower seeds. These Mount Apo Lorikeets also eat them in captivity.
The Musschenbroak’s Lorikeets and the close related Alpine Lorikeets are special in regard to feeding: their staple food consists of seeds, dry and germinated (sunflowers, millet etc.), fruits, insects (mainly mealworms) and very little nectar.
In the following, I describe feeding in general and during the rearing in particular. Normally, a menu in my aviary consists of items given separately.
a) The nectar mixture is made very watery in liquidizer. It has the consistence of a soupy mixture. It contains a mixture of five-cornflakes (millet, wheat, corn, oat, rye), Babyfood, two to three fruits (apple, pear, orange, banana etc.), Dextrose, vitamins and spinach, chard or salad which is added twice or three times a week because chlorophyl stimulate the photochemical processes.
b) The protein nectar mixture has the same ingredients as mixture (a) but yoghurt, a protein powder (hydrolized bone-meal) or a raw egg are added. The birds are free to choose between the protein-poor or protein rich mixture. Sometimes they prefer this one, sometimes the other one. It is typical for many lories to prefer the variation. The sensitive lories like the Charmosyna species receive sometimes milk in a separate dish.
C) Fruits are offered daily, mostly two to three different kinds. Charmosyna take relatively little fruit. They prefer cut-up grapes. Cardinal Lories, Yellow-bibbed Lories, but particularly the Musschenbroeks’ and Alpine Lorikeets are fond of a lot of fruits. The fruits are offered separately. Some fruits (for instance, apples, papaya) are very suited for cleaning the beak and the surrounding feathers from food remains.
d) Grains are taken by most species especially if germinated. Charmosyna, the Goldie’s Lorikeet, the Collared Lory and the Palm Lorikeet are here the exception as far as I could observe. Some species as the Yellow-bibbed Lories very much like the seedlings of wheat and sunflowers.
e) Mealworms, particularly the white ones, are offered as livefood. Sometimes, they also take livefood that can be purchased for trushes, etc. I also offered fly-maggots but these were not popular. It seems as if the lories do not trust these moving insects. The consumption of mealworms differs. Charmosyna (Papou, Fairy, Striated, Pleasing) take none or only a few; the Yellow-bibbed Lories feed quite a lot when rearing young and the Musschenbroek’s, up to thirty pieces occasionally during rearing. They only squeeze the content and let the mantle fall to the floor. The young birds of the Gold ies’Lorikeets did not take any until I could get them accustomed to soft white mealworms. It is obvious that they need them for rearing young, whereas outside the hatching time they do not eat mealworms, or only a few of them.
When rearing young, the lories and lorikeets modify their menu plan, if the curator gives them the chance to it. Generally, it can be said that the selection of protein rich food increases and towards the end of rearing, it decreases again. This varies from species to species. Some prefer protein rich nectar or milk, other prefer insects. This is also the reason why I feed separately and leave the choice to the birds, However, more work is resulting from it, but the successful rearing of the seldom-raised Goldie’s Lorikeet, Yellow-bibbed Lory, Collared Lory, Blue-crowned Lory, Pleasing Lorikeet, Striated Lorikeet, Fairy Lorikeet, Papuan Lorikeet, Musschenbroek’s Lorikeet rewards my additional efforts, and those of my chief curator, Marcel Sem, as well as of the curators Vito Mare and Brigitte Wirth.
Anyone reluctant to make this effort should not keep lories or lorikeets no matter how much he likes the beauty of the forms and colours, the manifold behaviour and the playful nature of their movements.
Forshaw, Joseph M., 1973 “Parrots of the World”
de Grahl, Woflgang, 1973 “Papageien unserer Erde”
Immelmann, Klaus “Im unbekannten Australian”
Iredale, T., 1956 “Birds of New Guinea”
Landon, Alan H., 1973 “Australian Parrots in Field and Aviary” Low, Rosemary, 1977 “Lories & Lorikeets”
Rutgers, A. and Norris, K. A., 1972 “Encyclopaedia of Aviculture” Wolters, Hans E. 1975 “Die Vogelarten der Erde”
Ziswiler, Vinzenz, Guttinger, Hans Rudolf, Bregulla, Heinrich, 1972, “Bonner Zoologische Monographien, No. 2”
The AUK, Journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union Avicultural Magazine, Journal of the Avicultural Society
Cage and Aviary Birds, England
The CONDOR, Journal of the Cooper Ornithologists’ Society, USA The EMU, Journal of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union Gefiederter Freund, Switzerland
Gefiederte Welt, Germany
The Grassfinch, Magazine of the Australian Finch Society IBIS, Journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union
Journal fur Ornithologie (German Ornithologists’ Union) Der Ornithologische Beobachter (ALA, Switzerland)
Die Vogelwarte, Germany