This month in Birds of Australia with Hayley and Michael, we bring you Michael being wrong.
Look, I want it straight from the beginning that I love parrots. Parrots are my favourite species of bird alongside owls and ordinarily I adore all varieties of these extremely clever, colourful and cute birds.
But rainbow lorikeets are destructive, brightly coloured emissaries from BIRD HELL.
“Oh but they’re so beautiful Hayley, with all their flashy bright colours, like a casino or carnival sideshow alley, two other things that distract me with visuals while committing untold evil right under my nose.” NO, WRONG, WHY DID YOU EVER LISTEN TO KEATS WHEN HE SAID BEAUTY EQUALED TRUTH, KEATS DIDN’T KNOW SHIT ABOUT BIRDS AND WAS FULL OF LIIIIIIIIIES.
I am here to prove to you that rainbow lorikeets are nasty, bullying, loud, messy, feral birds that you should never let near your person, your garden, your city, your life. Order of the day is: rainbow lorikeets are bastards.
Rainbow lorikeets are highly territorial about their breeding areas, and will aggressively attack other birds to drive them away, and not just smaller birds like noisy miners, but large birds like magpies. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the dangerous nature of the Australian magpie, but they are not to be trifled with, and the fact that flocks of lorikeets regularly succeed in driving off nesting magpies proves that lorikeets are FUCKING TERRIFYING.
What is most terrifying about lorikeets is when they become established in a non-native environment. A release of lorikeets in Perth in the 1960s (rumoured to have originated from the University of WA, ACADEMICS YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER) has resulted in a feral population that has officially been declared pests. Settling in the metro area, giant flocks of lorikeets now travel daily, using the highways to navigate, and descend upon the orchards and vineyards of the Swan Valley stripping them of their fruit, which has resulted in the Western Australian government instigating culls of the bird. They also compete with many native WA species for nesting hollows, muscling out species such as the purple-crowned lorikeet and Carnaby’s black cockatoo, the latter of which is endangered. There are also introduced populations of lorikeets in Auckland, New Zealand, which also precipitated a government enforced cull, and in Hong Kong. Rainbow lorikeets could descend upon your city AT ANY MOMENT.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, rainbow lorikeets are noise polluters. You will know when a flock of lorries are in the neighbourhood because the noise is WINDOW SHATTERINGLY LOUD AND OBNOXIOUS. How anyone can enjoy these shrill, piercing shrieks I have no idea. Walking under flocks of them rustling about in trees I have to clasp my hands over my ears so as not to go immediately deaf. Also if flocks take up residence in your neighbourhood, along with noise-cancelling headphones make sure you get shoes you don’t mind been ruined by MOUNTAINS OF LORRY SHIT.
I should at least give rainbow lorikeets some grudging credit for adapting so well to urban environments, but there’s one way this adaptation is actually killing them – idiot humans feeding them food that is bad for their little guts and giving them bacterial bowel infections. So if you wind up somewhere where rainbow lorikeet feeding is an attraction, don’t participate, don’t leave bread or honey or artificial nectar out for them in your own garden, it is all a very bad idea. Especially because they’ll just swarm in making a horrid noise, poop everywhere, muscle out all the other birds and ruin your fruit trees.
As I’m sure you’ve realised by now, I like to cultivate an identity as a bit of a bird nerd – constantly carting my binoculars around with me, correcting people who talk about birds (“They’re silver gulls. There’s actually no such bird as a seagull.” etc) and spoiling holidays by insisting on taking a detour past a swamp or a sewerage pond. It’s all part of my shtick. And key to any self-respecting bird-nerds shtick is a disdain for the showy and obvious birds, the common and colourful birds. “Sure, sure, that rainbow bee-eater is lovely,” I’m meant to say, “but look at the subtle stippling on that brown thornbill. Now that’s beautiful!”
Well pish posh to that. I guess I better hand in my twitchin’ licence and my binoculars, because I am an absolute sucker for gaudy, colourful birds – the more extravagant the better. There’s a certain embarrassing pride that comes from knowing your thornbills from your weebills (full disclosure: I misidentify these birds about 70% of the time), but nothing beats a ludicrously colourful parrot screeching aggressively in your face. Nothing.
I know, I know – mean ol’ rainbow lorikeets are the bullies of the parrot world, driving other species out of nesting hollows and officially achieving ‘pest’ status in WA, but like Rory Gilmore confronted with Jess’ broodingly attractive awfulness, I just don’t care. I’ll take beauty every time. And look, rainbow lorikeets are ridiculously, astoundingly beautiful. LOOK!
They’re so common around Australian cities that we forget how remarkable they are – we barely even glance up as they cut across the sky like little groups of flying jewels. Ask an overseas visitor what they think of them and I guarantee you they love the goddamn hell out of them. The only reason SOME PEOPLE don’t is because they’ve stopped really looking at them, or have generally lost the ability to feel joy. As Miss Piggy famously said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”
It’s worth remembering that the current oversized population of rainbow lorikeets is a slightly odd aberration – up until the 1960s, rainbow lorikeets were almost never seen in Victoria and were scarce around Sydney. For some reason, the population blew up in the 1970s and 80s and they spread throughout the Eastern states – it’s all a bit mysterious, although increasing urban growth of native flowering plants, feeding stations and even Currumbin Sanctuary have been blamed.
They’re now firmly a bird of the urban environment, feeding on an array of flowers but also on fruit, seeds, insects and, in a horrifying recent development, raw meat. They nest in hollows, which they aggressively stake out, putting pressure on meeker parrot species who are bullied out of nesting sites (although it’s hard to feel sorry for the much bigger Australian Ringnecks, who really just need to toughen up a bit). And yes, they’re considered pests by some people. Particularly by farmers in WA, who complain that the birds destroy their precious orchards. It’s worth remembering though, that farmers will complain about anything – if we listened to farmers, Western Australia wouldn’t have any Australian ringnecks left to worry about because the farmers would have shot them all). If we listened to farmers, we’d be shooting flying foxes left, right and centre (oh wait, we already are).
Look, the point is: farmers love nothing more than complaining (except maybe shooting native animals), so I’m not going to listen to their whining about one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Get over it farmers! Who eats fruit anyway? Rainbow lorikeets bring colour and joy to the drabness of the city, bring beauty to our otherwise grey urban existences and scare the shit out of our cat when they fly, screeching, just a few metres above our balcony. I bloody love them, and so should you.
Bird: Rainbow Lorikeet
Hayley: One feather
Michael: Five feathers