Rainbow lorikeet Trichoglossus moluccanus

About this pest

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features: Slim, long-tailed, brightly and multi-coloured parrot with a blue head and red beak.

Size: Adult length of 250 to 300 mm, including the tail. Weight varies from 75 to 157 g.

Droppings: Like that of other birds but can be very runny.

Footprints: Two forward facing toes and two backwards.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Bite marks on fruit.

Eye shine: Not known as day-flying.

Distribution: No viable wild populations in New Zealand but previously recorded in the wild in Rotorua and Auckland area.

Why are Rainbow lorikeetS pests?

Unwanted Organism

Rainbow lorikeet is classified as an Unwanted Organism in New Zealand due to the potential adverse horticultural and ecological impacts they could have if they established. They may be kept in secure aviaries and cages but it is illegal to release rainbow lorikeets to the wild.  If you think you have seen a rainbow lorikeet, phone the Ministry for Primary Industries Pests and Diseases Hotline 0800 80 99 66.

Ecological impacts

If they established in the wild, rainbow lorikeets may spread parrot-specific diseases to native parrots, including kakapo. Rainbow lorikeets also aggressively compete with other species by excluding nectar feeders, such as tūī, from nectar sources and out-competing other bird species for nest holes.  They have been observed chasing birds as large as Australian magpies away from nesting sites and, in Australia, have been observed dragging nestlings of other parrot species out of tree hollows when competing for nest sites.

Other impacts

Rainbow lorikeet can occur in large flocks and, in Australia, damage apples, grapes and other soft fruit.  If feral rainbow lorikeets were to establish in New Zealand, there is concern they would have negative impacts on such crops.

Read more about rainbow lorikeet


Droppings

Separate

Rainbow lorikeet droppings vary with diet but because the diet usually includes lots of juicy vegetation, fruit, and nectar, they are often runny and sticky. As with most bird droppings, there may be a white cap or white streaks from the excreted uric acid.

Can be confused with:

Rainbow lorikeet droppings can be confused with the droppings of other birds.

Not the droppings you were looking for?

Have a look at all our droppings clues.

Footprints and Tracks

Paws and feet

Rainbow lorikeets have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward.  The middle two toes point forwards.  However, tracks are unlikely to be seen because rainbow lorikeets do not often venture onto the ground.

Can be confused with:

Rainbow lorikeet footprints might be confused with the footprints of other small native and introduced parrots, which also have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward. Parrot tracks seen on the ground are more likely to have been made by introduced eastern rosellas than rainbow lorikeets as rosellas can spend a lot of time feeding on the ground.

Dens and nests

Rainbow lorikeets nest in a hollow limb or hole in a tree up to 25 m above the ground, with a layer of wood dust at the bottom. The two (rarely three) white eggs are laid on the wood dust 0.5-1.5 m in from the entrance to the hole.

Can be confused with:

Other birds such as native parakeets, kaka, kingfisher and introduced starlings also use holes for nesting.

Not the footprints or tracks you were looking for?

Have a look at all of our tracks.

Vegetation Damage

Fruits and Flowers

Rainbow lorikeets feed mainly on fruit, pollen and nectar. Bite marks may be visible in fruit but no feeding sign is likely to be visible after the birds feed on pollen or nectar unless they snip the flower open to reach the nectar.Rainbow lorikeets feed in pairs or small groups in tree tops. Rainbow lorikeets rarely come to the ground unless attracted to supplementary food put out for them. 

Can be confused with:

If rainbow lorikeets were to escape into the wild in New Zealand, their feeding sign could be confused with that of eastern rosella and native parakeets.  However, damage from kaka, kea, and kakapo is likely to show larger bite marks and will be confined to areas where these species occur.

Not the vegetation damage you were looking for?

Browse all types of vegetation damage.

Kill Sign

Insects or snails (invertebrate)

Rainbow lorikeet will occasionally eat insects (beetles, wasps, thrips, ants, and weevils) and insect larvae (fly maggots, weevil larvae, and moth larvae).

Can be confused with:

The signs of rainbow lorikeet feeding on invertebrates will be difficult to distinguish from that of other bird species.

Not the kill signs you were looking for?

Have a look at all our kill signs.

Other Clues

Sound

Rainbow lorikeet calls are characterised by a continuous loud screeching and chattering. The birds screech especially in flight and noisily chatter while feeding. Flocks flying overhead respond quickly to the calls of birds feeding in trees below.

Can be confused with:

Rainbow lorikeet calls could be confused with the calls of parakeet species.

Body covering

Rainbow lorikeets have brightly coloured feathers.  The bright blue head is unlike that of any other bird species present in the wild in New Zealand.

Can be confused with:

Eastern rosella feathers have similar colours but rainbow lorikeet have more colourful feathers and a bright blue head.

The bright plumage of the rainbow lorikeet is unlikely to be confused with indigenous members of the parrot family, such as the indigenous kākāriki (red-crowned parakeet), yellow-crowned parakeet, orange-fronted parakeet, Forbes' parakeet, Antipodes Island parakeet and Reischek's parakeet, and introduced species such as the rose-ringed parakeet, crimson rosella and eastern rosella. To see photographs of the other species, see the New Zealand Birds Online website.

Distribution

No viable wild populations are known in New Zealand, although small populations have previously established in the Auckland, Rotorua and Mount Manganui, areas and been eradicated.

Can be confused with:

Rainbow lorikeets are very distinctive and multi-coloured and unlikely to be confused with other free-flying birds. However, they could be confused with other brightly coloured parrot species kept as pets, if they were to escape from their cages.

Not the clues you were looking for?

Have a look at all our other clues.


More about rainbow lorikeet

Origin

The rainbow lorikeet is native to north-eastern Australia.  They have been and still are brought to New Zealand as cage birds. Although it is illegal to release them, a small wild population (now eradicated) established in Auckland during the 1990s and in Rotorua in 2001-2002 from birds that were accidentally and deliberately released. Birds recaptured in Auckland were found from genetic testing to belong to the subspecies Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus, T. h. rubritorquis and T. h. nigrogularis. Recently experts have given a number of these subspecies full specific status and the rainbow lorikeet has changed from Trichoglossus haematodus to Trichoglossus moluccanus.

Description

Rainbow lorikeets are slim, long-tailed, brightly and multi-coloured small parrots.  Their bright red bill and blue head is unlike that of any other bird species present in New Zealand. The back, wings and tail are bright green, the breast is orange and yellow, and the belly is violet-blue, with yellow and green between the legs and tail.  The underwing feathers are orange, and a bold yellow stripe runs through the middle of the otherwise brown primaries (main flight feathers). The eye is red, and the legs grey.  Like all parrot species, rainbow lorikeets have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward.

There is little to visually distinguish between the sexes; however, a keen observer may be able to tell them apart by their colouring and behaviour and because the female is smaller and has a shorter bill.  Juveniles have duller plumage than adults, a shorter brown bill that gradually brightens to red as the young bird matures, and a smaller body and shorter wings than adults.  A bird can live to over 20 years in the wild.

Size and weight

Adults are 250 - 300 mm long, including the tail. Adult weight varies from 75 to 157 g.

Behaviour

Rainbow lorikeets are active, noisy and may occur in large sociable flocks. In Australia, feeding flocks are usually fewer than 50 birds but can number more than 1000. They are strong fliers, with rapid wing beats. They can travel up to 30 km between feeding and roosting sites and are usually seen in fast-flying pairs or flocks, feeding and roosting in tree tops. They tend to be nomadic and move to where the food is but can remain within an area if there are enough food sources to sustain them throughout the year.

Rainbow lorikeets rarely land on the ground, but they can become tame if fed supplementary food. Communal night-time roosts in large, isolated trees may be used by thousands of birds outside the breeding season but they usually move around in smaller groups during the day, and in pairs or parents with offspring during the breeding season.  

Little is known about breeding habits of wild birds in New Zealand but in Australia the main breeding season is in spring. Incubation takes about 25 days and is mainly carried out by the female even though the male spends time in the nesting hollow.

Rainbow lorikeets are aggressive to other birds, including other parrots and honeyeaters competing for the same food source.  In Australia, they have been observed dragging nestlings of other parrot species out of tree hollows when competing for nest sites.

They are also strong climbers, using their feet together with their strong bills. They can use their feet like hands to manipulate food.

Diet

Rainbow lorikeets feed mainly on fruit, pollen and nectar. The tongue is adapted for their particular diet, with a papillate (brush-like) appendage at the end for gathering pollen and nectar from flowers.  Pollen is a major component of the diet and as such they are important pollinators for some plant species. In Australia, they prefer nectar from plant species in the families Myrtaceae, Proteacea, and Asphodelaceae, which includes Eucalyptus and Protea.  They will also eat fruits, berries, seeds, occasionally insects (beetles, wasps, thrips, ants, and weevils) and insect larvae (fly maggots, weevil larvae, and moth larvae).  Their liking for apples, pears, and mangos causes damage to orchard fruits and they can also feed on the unripe 'milky' grain of maize and sorghum crops.

Habitat

In Australia, rainbow lorikeets are found in rainforest, open forest, woodland, heath, mangroves, along watercourses, mallee, gardens, parks and orchards. They are considered a lowland species but in Australia it is not uncommon to find them in mountainous regions - they may be altitudinal migrants. In New Zealand, rainbow lorikeets are mostly likely to occur in suburban parks and gardens, horticultural blocks, and forest edges.  The only feral populations yet to establish (now eradicated) were in Auckland and Rotorua but many parts of the country could provide suitable habitat.

Distribution

No viable populations of rainbow lorikeet are currently known in New Zealand.

Other

Rainbow lorikeets can legally be kept as pets in New Zealand and, like many parrot species, can be taught to repeat words.  Lorikeets and parakeets are all a type of small parrot.  The difference is that a lorikeet has a specialised tongue and mainly eats nectar and pollen, whereas a parakeet has a more usual parrot-like tongue and also eats seeds, insects, leaves, and flowers as well as nectar and pollen.

How to get rid of it

If seen in the wild then please phone the Ministry for Primary Industries Pests and Diseases Hotline 0800 80 99 66.


FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Australian wildlife. (Undated). Rainbow Lorikeet. Retrieved in 2017 from http://www.australianwildlife.com.au/Rainbow_Lorikeet.html in 2017.

New Zealand birds online. (2013). Rainbow Lorikeet. Retrieved in 2017 from http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/rainbow-lorikeet in 2017.