Parrot Celebration - Australia
This is a post in our new blog series “Parrot Celebration” where we’ll do some virtual globetrotting in celebration of the many parrot species around the world.
No visitor to Australia can fail to notice and be charmed by the colorful, noisy and endearing parrots found in this country. Australia boasts 56 species of parrots, with 40 belonging to the Psittacidae ("true" parrots) superfamily; 14 in Cacatuidae (cockatoos); and 5 in Strigopidae (New Zealand parrots). So let’s take a look at some of the magnificent parrots that call Australia home.
Some of the most brightly colored are the beautiful rosellas. They all have a similar plumage pattern, with an obvious cheek patch. The Crimson Rosella can be found in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia in open forest areas. It has a distinctive melodic piping call.
The Eastern Rosella is found in the Eastern states, including South Australia and Tasmania. Found in the south west of Wales, the male Western Rosella has more distinct colors than the female which is mottled with green. The last of the rosellas is the Yellow Rosella, which is found along the waterways of inland New South Wales.
THE RAINBOW LORIKEET
Another brightly colored and very noisy species is the Rainbow Lorikeet. Mainly found in the northern and eastern coast regions of the continent, they feed on the nectar and pollen of native plants but have adapted to garden plants and will raid fruit when it is ripe.
The Rainbow Lorikeet is unmistakable with its bright red beak and colorful plumage. Both sexes look alike, with a blue (mauve) head and belly, green wings, tail and back, and an orange/yellow breast. They are often seen in loud and fast-moving flocks, or in communal roosts at dusk.
There are several different forms of the Australian Ringneck and each appears slightly different, but they all have one feature in common — a yellow collar which stretches across the bird’s hindneck. Aside from appearing different from one another, birds of the different populations also sound different, with pronounced regional variation. For example, the subspecies in Western Australia is often referred to as the “Twenty-Eight Parrot” because its contact call is usually rendered as twenty-eight, with the call (and the name) is unknown in other parts of Australia.
The Australian Ringneck is a large parrot, differing in size and plumage in different regions. There are four subspecies, in two main groups. All are mostly green, with an obvious yellow band on the hind-neck. Members of the Mallee group have a mainly green head and neck. They are quiet when feeding, but when disturbed fly off with loud alarm calls. Their flight is swift and undulating. This species is also known as the Mallee, Port Lincoln, Banded or Cloncurry Ringneck or Buln Buln.
The red-and green Australian King-Parrot is seldom seen flying above the tree tops of the dense forests which it inhabits — it prefers to fly below tree level, weaving in and out through the tree trunks instead. When they are disturbed by a person, they usually fly off with a harsh screech, and often do not land until they are lost to view. Their flight is swift and strong, characterized by deep, rhythmic wing-beats and regularly punctuated with rapid twists and turns.
Male Australian King-Parrots are the only Australian parrots with a completely red head. Females are like males except that they have a completely green head and breast. Both sexes have a red belly and a green back, with green wings and a long green tail. King parrots are normally encountered in pairs or family groups.
Galahs were once confined to the open plains that occur beyond the inland slopes of the Great Divide in eastern Australia, north of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, and north of the Mulga–Eucalypt line in Western Australia. However, following the clearing of subcoastal woodlands for farming, Galahs began to flood in, taking advantage of the new habitat and its abundant supply of food. They even spread to the coasts, where they are now a familiar sight in the cities.
The Galah can be easily identified by its rose-pink head, neck and underparts, with paler pink crown, and grey back, wings and undertail. Birds from the west of Australia have comparatively paler plumage. Galahs have a bouncing acrobatic flight but spend much of the day sheltering from heat in the foliage of trees and shrubs. Huge noisy flocks of birds congregate and roost together at night.
The Gang-Gang Cockatoo can be seen throughout many parts of south-eastern Australia. In the summer months, they are mostly found at higher elevations, where they breed in tree-hollows in the moist eucalyptus forests of the mountainous Great Divide. After breeding has finished, and the days grow cooler and shorter, they undertake altitudinal movements, leaving the mountains and flying to lower elevations to spend the autumn and winter, when they are especially common in suburban gardens of lowland towns and cities.
The Gang-Gang is a small, stocky cockatoo with a wispy crest, large, broad wings and a short tail. The adult male has a distinctive scarlet red head and crest, with the rest of the body slate-grey. The adult female has a dark grey head and crest, with the feathers of the underparts edged pink and yellow. In both sexes, the feathers of the upperparts and wings are faintly edged pale-grey, giving a barred appearance, with females having additional yellow edging to their feathers that increases this barred effect. Young birds are like the adult female, with young males differing by having a red crown and forehead and a shorter, less twisted red crest. Gang-gangs are gregarious but relatively quiet cockatoos and may usually be in food trees by the sounds of feeding and falling debris.
THE LITTLE CORELLA
Little Corellas often indulge in an activity that is uncommon in the bird world — they like to play. Sometimes they slide down the steep roofs of wheat silos, falling off the edge and then flying back to the top to slide down again. They have also been seen perched on the blades of windmills, spinning round and around, falling off and then regaining a precarious grip on the blades.
Even when perched, Little Corellas often hang upside down, or dangle below the perch, holding on with its bill. Little Corellas are mostly white, with a fleshy blue eye-ring and a pale rose-pink patch between the eye and bill. In flight, a bright Sulphur-yellow wash can be seen on the underwing and under tail. The sexes are similar in plumage, and young birds look like the adults, but are slightly smaller.
THE LONG-BILLED CORELLA
There were once two subspecies of the Long-billed Corella — one lived in western Victoria and the other in south-western Australia. Then, in 1994, suddenly there were no Long-billed Corellas in Western Australia. This was not a conservation issue, but a taxonomic one. With the stroke of a pen (and after years of scientific research) it was decided that the two-subspecies differed sufficiently and were, in fact, two separate species resulting in the Long-billed Corella in Western Australia being renamed the Western Corella.
The Long-billed Corella is a medium-sized white cockatoo with a short crest (not always visible) and short tail, stocky body and a distinctive long upper mandible to its bill. There is a faint yellowish wash on the undersides of its wings and tail, and orange-red splashes on its forehead, throat and an orange-red crescent across its upper breast. The eye ring is pale grey-blue. It is a conspicuous and gregarious species, often seen foraging in large flocks on the ground.
There are many other species of Australian parrots, including the Red-Capped Parrot, Scaly-Breasted Lorikeet, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Regent Parrot, Red-Winged Parrot and Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo.
The male Red-Capped Parrot is a gaudy medium-sized parrot, dark green above with a red cap, lime green cheeks and rump, blue-purple breast and red underparts. The female is duller, with a greenish crown and cheeks and pale mauve underparts. Both have a distinctive long pale bill, with a long upper mandible, giving them the common name of Hookbill. They are known as King Parrots in WA. Their flight is undulating and fluttering. When disturbed, they will fly to the top of nearby trees and perch in a typical upright stance, calling loudly.
The Scaly-Breasted Lorikeet is Australia’s second-largest species of lorikeet, behind the Rainbow Lorikeet. Instead of the Rainbows’ gaudy coloration, Scaly-breasted Lorikeets are mostly emerald-green, with yellow scalloping on the front (the ‘scales’) and a coral-pink bill. Like other lorikeets, they almost exclusively eat nectar which is usually gathered from the flowers eucalypts, banksias, paperbarks and other native trees and shrubs. These lorikeets often associate with other species of nectar-eating birds, especially Rainbow Lorikeets, and they are often seen squabbling noisily with them in the canopy of flowering trees.
The raucous screech of the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo can be heard in many parts of eastern and northern Australia. A flock of hundreds of snow-white birds with pale-yellow crests can be a spectacular sight when seen in the distance, but up close their calls can be deafening. Being a gregarious species, these cockatoos usually spend much time in flocks, foraging together on the ground (often with a few perched in nearby trees keeping a lookout for any sign of danger) or roosting together in trees.
The Regent Parrot has two separate populations separated by the Nullarbor Plain, one in the Mallee regions of eastern Australia, and the other in the Wheatbelt region of southern Western Australia. Though the populations are widely separated, the birds of each region do not appear especially different, one being a little duller than the other. There are, however, other differences between the two populations, especially in how they have fared, eastern populations are endangered, while the western population is thought to be increasing.
The Red-Winged Parrot inhabits a wide range of wooded habitats, where they spend much of their time clambering about the outer branches while foraging in the canopy of trees, where they feed on seeds, berries and flowers, or loafing in the shade among the foliage. Their presence in the canopy is often betrayed by their metallic, whistled calls which serve as contact calls between birds, though they sometimes also emit a screech which sounds rather like the call of a Rainbow Lorikeet.
Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos were once content to feed on the seeds of native shrubs and trees, especially banksias, hakeas and casuarinas, as well as extracting the insect larvae that bore into the branches of wattles. Now, after the establishment of extensive plantations of exotic Monterey Pines, the cockatoos may feed more often by tearing open pine cones to extract the seeds. The population on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is now reliant on the seeds of the Aleppo Pine, a noxious weed, as its preferred habitat, Sugar Gum woodlands, has become extensively fragmented.