As you may have read in an earlier post, the rainbow lorikeet has become one of my favourite birds to see while I’m out and about. They’re bright, colourful, chattery and confident. So I was quite surprised to read an article “Palms Host Pesky Parrot” on one-perth.com.au, asking for help in controlling their numbers. And a little bit of Googling reveals quite a lot of negative press for them.
The lorikeets are native to Eastern Australia, and only established themselves in Western Australia through releases (accidental or otherwise) from collections and aviaries. They have since bred very successfully and become quite a problem. Firstly, they displace native birds by taking their food supply and their usual nest sites. They cause a huge noise disturbance when they are in large numbers – very unwelcome if they happen to be just outside your house. They cause crop damage especially, it seems, to the grapes in Western Australia’s vineyards. They may be beautiful birds to watch when there are 5 of them in a park, but if you can see your annual grape crop (and therefore your livelihood) being wiped out by hundreds of them, they may start to lose their attraction. They are also said to spread disease (although I couldn’t find the facts and figures to verify that) and pose a strike risk to planes at Perth Airport.
The government are asking landowners to try to control their numbers by removing one of their favourite nest sites – by removing the old, bottom leaves of palm trees. Over 34,000 lorikeets have been culled in the past 6 years, so reducing their breeding potential may control their numbers without so many having to be culled.
A similar thing happened in the South of England, where over 40,000 ring-necked parakeets are now thought to live. They also bred from escaped birds and their numbers increased rapidly (one roost is home to over 7,000 birds). They also love to eat the grape harvest, and have to be culled by farmers. It caused a huge amount of friction between those who love the birds and like to see them and those who regard them as a pest and who worry about the harm done to native species.
I like seeing squirrels in parks in England, but it’s terrible to realise just how quickly the introduced grey squirrel has completely wiped out the red squirrel from almost all of the UK. It is taking huge effort and resources to protect the remaining populations of red squirrels. The lorikeet might oust native Western Australian birds if left to breed unchecked.
So now I look at the rainbow lorikeet in a new light. I still love to see it, but I appreciate that it’s breeding needs to be checked, and I fully understand why it’s loathed by people whose livelihoods are put at risk. It’s still allowed to stay on my Top 10 list though, as it’s definitely native to Eastern parts of Australia.