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What is a Lorikeet?

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  • Written By: Christian Petersen
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
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  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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A lorikeet is a type of true parrot, a member of the Psittacidae family. These birds are often classified as belonging to the sub-family Loriinae, though some experts group them in a separate family, Loriidae. Lorikeets are found in Australia, New Zealand, and the surrounding region, including Polynesia, Southeast Asia, and the Indonesian archipelago. The largest lorikeet genera include Trichoglossus, Vini, and Charmosyna, although there are at least four others. One species, the ultramarine lorikeet, is considered endangered. It is one of the rarest birds in the world.

Over 50 species of lorikeet have been recognized, and this number continues to grow as varieties formerly regarded as subspecies are given their own species designations. The rainbow lorikeet, in particular, has several subspecies, many of which have recently been reclassified as distinct species. A group of closely related birds in the same family, with frequently overlapping habitats, is the lories. These birds are similar to lorikeets, and the two names are sometimes confused. The main difference between them is that lories have shorter tails than lorikeets.

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Lorikeets feed primarily on pollen, nectar and fruit — especially figs, but their diet includes any of dozens of tropical and subtropical fruits. A lorikeet has a specialized tongue tipped with many tufts of fine hairs called papillae, making them well adapted to feeding on nectar and pollen. In some areas of the world, these birds are important pollinators of plants. In other areas, such as Australia, species like the rainbow lorikeet, which were introduced from abroad, are classified as pests, as they feed on domesticated crops like apples, corn, and sorghum.

As a group, lorikeets are colorful, exhibiting vibrant greens, reds, blues, and yellows, with some species combining two or more of these colors. They all have the characteristic heavy, hooked beaks of true parrots and tend to form mated pairs. They will sometimes flock together temporarily in great numbers before dispersing into pairs again. Lorikeets may chase off other birds from favored feeding grounds, including birds larger than themselves.

Their brightly colored plumage and generally friendly and social disposition make lorikeets popular pets. They are widely kept as companion birds. They will readily accept domestication, and in some areas, like parks and bird sanctuaries, these birds become so used to humans that they can be hand fed. A lorikeet's diet makes it a challenging pet to keep as it requires a special nectar replacement diet with supplemental fruit and vegetables.

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