By Joseph M. Forshaw
Purple-crowned lorikeets are unlikely to become available to aviculturists in North America, but I suggest that husbandry practices adopted by Australian aviculturists for these formerly “difficult” birds may be applicable to some of the smaller lorikeets currently represented in North American aviaries, especially the closely-allied Charmosyna species. What follows are some observances from my own experience with purple-crowned lorikeets and how I created an aviary environment in which they thrived.
An Aviary To Help Them Thrive
With adequate housing and appropriate care, purple-crowned lorikeets thrive in captivity, and the average lifespan is about eight years. Good results have been achieved from flock breeding in large, planted aviaries, but significantly better results come from single pairs held in wire-bottomed, suspended cages.
An advantage of housing two or three pairs in a spacious, planted aviary is that higher levels of activity reduce the risk of obesity, which can impair breeding capability. Each of my pairs was held in an elevated, wire-bottomed cage that was 1.8 meters in length, 60 centimeters in width and 90 centimeters in height. One end was fully enclosed in a shelter, with the nest box positioned within. At the other end, a roof and rear wall covered the perch to offer protection from the rain and winds. The cage was aligned east to west so that the northerly-facing open side was exposed to maximum sunlight, while the shelter provided protection against prevailing westerly winds.
My birds were very fond of sunbathing, especially in the early morning when they eagerly sought a perching position that caught the first rays of sunlight. They also liked bathing in light rain showers, immediately coming to the wire where they would hang upside down while fluffing out their plumage and flapping their outspread wings, but any sudden downpour promptly forced them into the shelter. After rain, they often clambered across the exposed wire roof - deftly licking off remnant droplets of water. A strong dislike of draughts was evident, especially during late winter to early spring when gusty westerly winds prevailed, at which time the birds always retreated to sheltered perching positions. Nighttime roosting habitually was in nest boxes, which were provided throughout the year.
Commercial Foods Bring Success
Availability of commercial dry and wet lory mixes has been the most important factor contributing to successful keeping and breeding of purple-crowned lorikeets in captivity. My birds thrived on commercial mixes, which I selected because the listed ingredients constituted a balanced diet. As with all my lorikeets, the dry mix was available to the birds at all times, while the wet mix was supplied in the late afternoon and removed the following morning before any residue was exposed to warm daytime temperatures. Apples, pears and grapes were the preferred fruits, and these also were provided daily. In the early morning, each bird was given a freshly picked Grevillea or Callistemon inflorescence, which was placed in a bracket beside a perch, and the birds fed from this before taking other foods.
Seed was not included in the diet, and only rarely did my birds take green foods. They were, however, especially fond of watered sprays of Eucalyptus foliage, which I placed in a container fitted to the inside wire of the cage. They spent much time bathing amidst the wet foliage before stripping the leaves and chewing away the bark. Sprays of flowering Eucalyptus also were supplied when available, and the birds seemed to relish them. I found that if not supplied with these supplementary foods, especially the Grevillea and Callistemon inflorescences, they were inclined to consume excessive quantities of dry mix, and I suspect that a lack of variation in the diet is responsible for overweight birds being reported fairly regularly in aviaries today.
I can confirm comments made about purple-crowned lorikeets being messy feeders, and my birds routinely spoiled drinking water in a container positioned near to the dry mix. A second container of water was set up at the other end of the cage, and both were replenished in the late morning and late afternoon, at conclusion of the main bouts of feeding.
Males of my breeding pairs were distinguished by their brighter, deeper orange ear-coverts, but such visual differences cannot be relied upon when setting up breeding pairs, and surgical or DNA techniques are recommended for reliable sex determination. Breeding tends to be less seasonal than with other Glossopsitta lorikeets, and nesting has been recorded in most months. On two occasions, my pairs nested successfully in late autumn, when laying occurred in April to May. Almost invariably two broods were reared and, at times, pairs wanting to re-nest would pluck feathers from the heads and backs of the youngest chick in the first brood, presumably in an attempt to force the chick from the nest box.
This species is a messy nester, which warrants frequent replacement of sodden nesting material while chicks are being reared, so nest boxes should be designed to facilitate this cleaning procedure. My pairs nested successfully in vertical nest boxes that were 25 centimeters deep, with sides 16 centimeters in width. At the front, near the top, a short perch was fitted directly underneath the 45-centimeters in diameter entrance hole; a number of 3-milimeter holes were drilled through the base of the box to facilitate seepage of waste through the 50mm layer of coarse wood shavings.
How Parents Raise Clutches
As in the wild, a normal clutch comprises three or four eggs, and incubation of approximately 20 days in duration is undertaken only by the female, though the male spends much time in the nest box with his sitting mate. Newly-hatched chicks possess silvery-grey down, which after 12 days is replaced gradually by shorter gray secondary down. Also at 12 days the eyes are opened, while at 22 days pinfeather development is noticeable. The chicks are fully feathered at 45 days. There is surprising variation in the length of time chicks remain in the nest, with fledging being recorded at between 39 and 60 days, though usually it occurs at about 50 days. Young birds attain adult plumage at approximately three months after fledging, and are capable of breeding at six months.
There is a report of hybridization with the little lorikeet (Glossopsitta pusilla), but attempts to produce an olive purple-crowned lorikeet by pairing normal birds with an olive musk lorikeet (G. concinna) have failed because the hybrid offspring appear to be infertile. In the Murray Mallee Region of southern South Australia, a nest containing two chicks was found in October 1927, and both were described as being clear, bright yellow with cream flight and tail feathers, the red, orange and purple head markings being unchanged, but the eyes were pink. Yellow and cinnamon mutations are present in Australian collections, though neither is well established. A wild bird observed near Nhill, in western Victoria, appeared to be the dilute or cinnamon mutation in which green is replaced largely by pale yellow.
Their Range Down Under
Within its range across southern mainland Australia, the purple-crowned lorikeet apparently occurs in discrete southwestern and southeastern populations. I know of no confirmed records from south-central Australia, between Madura, at about long. 127º E in southeastern Western Australia, and Yalata Aboriginal Reserve, at about long. 131º40’E in southern South Australia, but it is possible that at times these lorikeets cross the intervening region, both north and south of the treeless Nullarbor Plain. In southwestern Australia, they range north to about lat. 30ºS or extralimitally to southern fringes of the Great Victoria Desert, while in southeastern Australia northernmost records are from about lat. 30º30’ in central South Australia.
South Australia is a major stronghold for the purple-crowned lorikeet, and here it is perhaps the most common and widespread lorikeet, often being quite plentiful in the suburbs of Adelaide. I have encountered purple-crowned lorikeets far more frequently in South Australia than elsewhere in its range. In 1984 to 1985, during the compilation of atlas records for the Adelaide district, all three resident species of lorikeets were recorded more widely compared to records compiled between 1974 and 1975.
Although this general increase may have reflected a more widespread flowering of eucalyptus in 1984 to 1985, a stronger, more widespread increase for the purple-crowned lorikeet in urban areas probably reflected a more frequent utilization by this species of mallee eucalyptus planted in gardens compared to musk lorikeets (Glossopsitta concinna) and rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus.)
Purple-crowned lorikeets are moderately common in Victoria but, in contrast to the situation in South Australia, the reporting rate recorded during the compilation of atlas records between January 1973 and June 1986 was significantly lower than that for either the musk lorikeet or the rainbow lorikeet. They are quite scarce in southern New South Wales, at the eastern extremity of the range, and none of the four unconfirmed records from southeastern Queensland are convincing.
In the southwest, the purple-crowned lorikeet frequents mainly Eucalyptus forests, woodlands and scrublands, including tall forests of the humid southwestern corner, where gigantic karri Eucalyptus diversicolor and jarrah E. marginata are prevalent, as well as E. wandoo-E. salmonophloia associations of the drier wheatbelt region, and open woodlands or low mallee scrublands in arid to semi-desert areas. Similarly, in South Australia, this species has been recorded in a variety of forests and woodlands in both humid, high-rainfall districts and arid, or even semi-desert regions, while in and around Adelaide city it is attracted to gardens, parklands, plantations and cultivated farmlands.
To the north of Adelaide, in the Mount Lofty Ranges, I have met with good numbers of purple-crowned lorikeets in eucalyptus bordering watercourses or surrounding grazing paddocks, in remnant patches of woodland in cultivated farmlands, in orchards or urban gardens, and often in street trees in towns. In neighboring Victoria, the main habitat is grey box Eucalyptus microcarpa woodland, where the annual rainfall is less than 700 millimeters, but the lorikeets are recorded also in other Eucalyptus forests or woodlands, and they will come to feed in flowering ornamental trees in towns or farm gardens.
In and around Melbourne city, I have seen them often in parks or gardens, and they feed regularly in flowering street trees, including those in car- parks at busy Tullamarine International Airport. Indeed, I well recall being with a touring group of European aviculturists in September 1995, when we passed the time waiting for departure of our aircraft by watching flocks of these lorikeets feeding in flowering eucalyptus in front of the terminal building.