Rainbow Lorikeet 1: A future pest in Singapore?

posted in: Exotics | 7

A few months back Jeremy Lee wrote: “I was in Perth in 2001 when I though it might be a good idea to find out how I could legally bring back a pet Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) to Singapore. There were plenty of birds to adopt from those animal refuge centres. However, the paperwork was daunting, besides this bird is in the CITES species list.

“I think this bird should be more correctly taken out of the CITES list and put on the banned potential immigrant list 😛

“At that point in time, I was wondering how could this bird be endangered when there were so many in Australia? They were even nesting in downtown palms!

“The New Zealanders have been trying to get rid of them. As an alien species the bird is creating havoc to the local species.

“If it is as tough a species as I take it to be, once a breeding colony is established in Singapore from birds escaping from the pet trade (or owners giving them up because of their messy feeding habits), in ten years time I may be seeing Rainbow Lorikeets flying around instead of Red-breasted (Psittacula alexandri) or Long-tailed Parakeets (Psittacula longicauda).”

Robert Teo agrees that this bird can be a problem, just like the Red-breasted Parakeet (top left) that is displacing our native Long-tailed Parakeet (top right). Similarly, Lim Jun Ying feels that much as immigrant birds may be better suited to their new environment, they do not belong. He cites the example of the Brown Tree Snake that was accidentally introduced into Guam. Within a few years, it drove eight out of the 11 or 12 endemic bird species to extinction.

KC Tsang thinks otherwise: “Birds like the Rainbow Lorikeet should not be considered a pest as it is behaving in ways that nature has destined it to do, and to survive as best as it can… But I cannot say this for crows, as they are true pests by any human definition.”

Our bird specialist, R. Subaraj has the final word: “Rainbow Lorikeets has been flying free for some years now. Besides the regular birds at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, they have also been recorded from a few other places such as Loyang, Upper Thomson and Pasir Laba.

“However, despite being around for some time now, they seem to have difficulty establishing themselves in Singapore. And it was not until last year that we actually have a reportedly successful breeding record. The previous nesting failed, due to predation by a monitor lizard. We are still monitoring the situation. However, there is no cause for alarm just yet.

“Besides Rainbows, other lory species have also been recorded free flying here, including at least a couple of species from the Red Lory complex of Indonesia.

In a country such as Singapore, where bird trade is a staple business, escapees are prevalent and diverse. For decades we have been concerned about the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) and the House Crow (Corvus splendens) feral populations. A few new introductions are beginning to take over parts of Singapore but the authorities are not too concerned as they have yet to become pests to humans.”

Thanks to Jeremy Lee, Robert Teo, KC Tsang, Lim Jun Ying and R Subaraj for their input. Images of Rainbow Lorikeet perching on a branch of the Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) tree (top) in Singapore, Red-breasted (bottom left) and Long-tailed Parakeets (bottom right) by YC.

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7 Responses

  1. victor xray

    I am amazed they are on the CITES list, they are easily the most common parrot in Australia. They thrive in urban areas — especially now as gardeners are planting more Australian native tree like Banksias.

    However I’ve observed that Rainbow Loris tolerate the slightly smaller Scaley Breasted Lorikeet while feeding and flocking – they are frequently seen together. (Those two other famous Australian pet parrots, Budgerigars and Cockatiels, also flock together in the wild, and I have seen Sulphur Crested Cockatoos and Correllas also flock together to some extent).

    The Rainbow Loris do have the capability of being aggressive to other birds however. I used to wonder why the Loris were the only birds that the ubiquitous and very aggressive Noisy Miner did not harrass, until recently I observed the reaction of a pair of Loris to the Noisy Miners in our backyard who tried to muscle them out. The Loris mounted a very aggressive counter-harrassment campaign. No wonder the Noisy Miners avoid the Loris!

    But Feral Species are still feral. You would do your best not to let such species become established.

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  2. Thanks for your note Victor. In parts 2 and 3 we will deal with the problem of the bird in Australia and comment on the CITES listing.

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  3. Anonymous

    Why would anyone want to keep a pet bird, when birds are supposed to be wild, free and able to FLY, for goodness’ sake!

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  4. Lee Chiu San

    I’d say that the likelihood of lorikeets beoming pests in Singapore is rather remote.

    I have been keeping and breeding parrots (especially lorikeets) for 40 years, and know that lories are anything but prolific. Unlike some of the grass parakeets, that produce clutches of up to six, and start a new clutch within a month of the last one leaving the nest, quite a number of species of lories breed only once a year. Some even less frequently.

    The usual clutch size is two, sometimes one.

    The voracious Singapore human population is the biggest impediment to the establishment of valuable feral species outside of the nature reserves.

    An average common lorikeet now sells for $350. Since the AVA has banned the import of wild-caught birds from areas where bird flu is endemic, this price is likely to go up.

    Lories and lorikeets are easy targets for trappers. They are all extremely aggressive, and do not hesitate to attack any decoy, even if it is not of the same species.

    I might add that the greed of Singaporeans (in all senses of the word) is what has prevented some other pest species from becoming established here.

    While snakeneads (Channa species) American bullfrogs and soft-shelled turtles have established themselves as pests in other countries, all these animals are expensive, and edible.

    Any news of their free availability in an area open to the public will very quickly result in their total extermination.

    Lee Chiu San

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  5. Great article on Lorikeets. I did not know they were listed with CITES. I agree it does seem strange when there are so many of them. I suppose they are located in just one basic area.

    Thanks again for the post.

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  6. […] invasive pest species including marine toads, American bullfrogs and African clawed frogs. …Bird Ecology Study Group Rainbow Lorikeet 1: A future pest …While snakeneads (Channa species) American bullfrogs and soft-shelled turtles have established […]

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  7. Sun Chong Hong

    Recently I discovered a colony of more than 40 Rainbow Parakeet in the Ang Mo Kio Bishan Park. They were enjoying seeds of the ripening fruits of a few Casuarina spp (probably equisetifolia) while making the usual screeching calls which were what led me to the discovery. This shows that the species has firmly establish itself in Singapore.

    The sky backlighting made it a challenge to record their behaviour. Nonetheless, an edited video made from clips recorded on the evening of 15 Dec 2014 can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOuKbQ8Q5Is.

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