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Rainbow Lorikeet Brightens Perth Coins
By Dennis G. Rainey, World Coin News
August 21, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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The fourth species in Perth Mint’s Birds of Australia is the spectacular rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus), a member of the parrot family (Psittaculidae). Older references had lorikeets in the Family Lariidae.

Not to be confused with lorikeets is a closely related group of 18 species called lories (sing. lory) that do not occur in Australia. The two groups both have a brush-tipped tongue, which will be discussed below. There are some 34 species of lorikeets and seven species in the genus Trichoglossus.

The rainbow lorikeet’s geographic distribution is very large. It ranges from Bali in the west, through the Moluccas and New Guinea including many outlying islands, through the Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and eastern Australia. (From: Parrots, A Guide to Parrots of the World, T. Juniper and M. Parr, Yale Univ. Press, 1998, 584 pp.).

Its wide distribution resulted in about 20 geographic varieties (subspecies) being named, but this arrangement is unsettled due to some now considered to be full species. The basis for the subspecies that have been named is chiefly color variations and DNA analysis. The above book has color plates of the subspecies. Further DNA studies will probably result in more becoming full species.

Two subspecies occur in Australia, one in east and southeast Australia (Cape York to Eyre Peninsula, South Australia). The second lives in north Australia (Kimberly region to the Gulf of Carpenteria). Rainbow lorikeets have been introduced and became established in the Perth, Western Australia, region, and they are now spreading out from the Perth metropolitan area.

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The habitat of this species is wet sclerophyll forest (tall eucalyptus trees and soft-leaved understory receiving up to 8 feet of rain/year), true rainforest, mangroves, suburbs and urban areas with trees.

Lorikeets are mostly small, green-back parrots about 12 inches long and noted for their truly rainbow coloration and swift flying. Note in the coin photo the blue head, scarlet beak, yellow-green neck, orange-red chest and blue belly. There is no sexual difference.

Their tongue is equipped with tiny “hairs” on its end for feeding mainly on nectar but also pollen from flowers. The digestive tract is much shortened, an adaptation for their high moisture diet. This results in lots of food consumed, which passes through the tract very rapidly (15-20 minutes) producing very loose droppings. Soft foods such as fruits, berries and blossoms, as well as some insects, also are eaten. Man-made feeding stations that attract sometimes hundreds of lorikeets are popular tourist attractions in Australia. They readily come and perch on a person’s arm and eat from their hand.

Lorikeets are seen most often in small noisy groups. With a diet of mostly nectar and pollen they depend heavily on species of flowering trees resulting in moving around searching for the right trees. At night hundreds may roost together in trees, and in parts of its range on predator-free islands they roost and nest on the ground.

In northern Australia they nest throughout the year, but in southern Australia breeding is between August and January. Nests are in holes in tall trees. Two to three eggs are laid and hatch in 25 days, and the young fledge in seven to eight weeks. Both parents feed the young birds, and they regularly produce three clutches in one season. They can live up to 20 years in the wild and thus produce many babies.

The species is listed by IUCN as Least Concern throughout its worldwide range. In Australia they are more abundant in northern Australia than southern Australia.

The rainbow lorikeet has been listed by the Australian government as an “Unwanted Organism” in the Perth area of Western Australia. The species was first recorded there in 1968. It is thought a group of about 10 birds was either deliberately released or were escaped cage birds, and the numbers grew exponentially over the metropolitan area and now number some 15,000. (Western Australian Rainbow Lorikeet Management Strategy, Rainbow Working Group, February 2008). The working group consists of representatives from various Western Australia government departments.

This publication about the process of having to manage this introduced population of lorikeets is because of the damage they cause in the Perth region and is based on how a similar problem is being addressed in South Australia. The problems are: damage to backyard fruit crops such as apples, pears and cherries and also commercial table and wine grape crops in Swan Valley, fouling of outdoor areas and vehicles with droppings, competition with other species for food and nest sites, and noise.

Also mentioned is disease risk to wild and captive parrots of other species because they carry beak and feather disease. In fact, there now is a penalty for freeing caged lorikeets, and they can be shot on private land without a license, but only in certain areas. I am not sure if the outlined procedures for control presented in this 2008 publication have started, but modeling has indicated that if the starting size is 15,000, 4,000 to 5,000 will be removed each year for five to seven years. With follow-up maintenance of 500 to 1,000 per year after this period, the population can be kept at a level of less than 1,000.

On another website it was stated the species was introduced in New Zealand from Australia as cage birds, but unknown numbers were deliberately released in the Auckland area in the 1990s and have become established and are breeding. So, in 1993 the species was similarly declared as an “Unwanted Organism” with heavy penalties for releasing them. They may still keep them as pets but only in secure cages.

Lorikeets are popular cage birds and easily tamed, but proper diets are mandatory to keep the birds healthy. They should not be fed a diet of sunflower seeds that many other kinds of parrots thrive on even though they will eat them. There are good commercial substitutes for nectar and pollen that should be fed in small quantities and changed twice a day, but just about any soft fruit should be the bulk of the diet. Vegetables (peas, boiled potato, spinach, squash, tomato, etc.) should be a small portion of the diet. Fresh water is to be supplied daily.

As a side note, the famous Aquarium of the Pacific located here in my home town of Long Beach, Calif., has an exhibit of rainbow lorikeets where visitors can enter and mingle with the birds. Southern California is home to several species of exotic parrots. In response to a query, an official at the aquarium said they were aware that Australia and New Zealand listed them as pests, so entry to the inside of the exhibit is through two security doors to prevent accidental escape of birds. Also, the bottoms of the enclosures were constructed to prevent the birds from digging underneath and escaping.

The Birds of Australia coins are available directly from the Perth Mint for apporximately $49.18 USD. Visit their website at www.perthmint.com

Questions and comments are welcomed. Contact me at denrain@charter.net.



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