IAATE Resource Center: Companion Parrot

Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus

CLASS: AVESSwainsons Lorikeet
FAMILY: Psittacidae
GENUS: Trichoglossus
SPECIES: haematodus moluccanus

Common Name(s): Swainson’s Lory, Swainson’s Blue Mountain Lorikeet, Blue Mountain Lory, Rainbow Lory

Lory or lorikeet? The difference between the two is approximately the same as the difference between a parrot and a parakeet. Lory generally refers to a bird with a short tail, while lorikeets have a long tail. The words are synonymous, in their native Australasia all species are referred to commonly as “lorikeets”.


It should be noted that there is a lot of confusion around the generic term of 'rainbow', In the United States, the term 'rainbow' most commonly refers to a green nape lory since that was the first lory to become established in the pet trade. In other areas, such as Australia the term 'rainbow' may be used in relation to the Blue Mountain lorikeet. More than any of group of parrots, this genus is really disserved by using 'common names' and terms. There is still a wide range of temperaments, body language, sizes and tolerances between all of the different lories called, the "rainbow lory".


Male Swainson’s Lories are bigger than females and have a longer beak. Otherwise, males and females are indistinguishable based on plumage. Both males and females are brightly colored. Their head is bright blue with light blue streaking. Breast is orange with yellow. Belly is a violet-blue. Wings and tail are both green on the upper with yellow under the tail, and orange-red and yellow under the wings. Their beak is orange-red, as is the iris of their eye. Legs are gray. It is easy to see where they got the nickname of “rainbow”. Immature birds are duller than adults with a shorter tail, brown eyes and a brown bill with yellow markings near the tip.


Swainson’s Lories are medium-large strikingly colored lorikeet, typically about twelve inches in length, including their four to five inch tail and approximately four to five ounces in weight. Their wingspan is approximately six inches.


This lory mainly inhabits eastern Australia, although it can also be found on the many islands in the southwest pacific. In the northern areas of its range it remains in the same area year round, but farther south where the vegetation changes with the seasons, these birds are nomadic, constantly on the move in search of flowering and fruiting trees.
It is found in a multitude of habitats, in fact in any locality where there is sufficient food - in mallee scrub, open eucalyptus forest, rain forest, gardens and parks. It frequents coconut palms on offshore islands along the Queensland coast. Found in mountainous areas in Queensland and northern New South Wales, it is otherwise primarily a lowland species


There are over fifty different species of lory and lorikeet. Also referred to as the "brush tongued" parrots, these dazzling birds frequent the flowering trees and shrubs of the tropical South Pacific.
Lorikeets have tapered wings and pointed tails that allow them to fly easily and display great agility. Very fast birds, they are capable of traveling long distances. They also have strong feet and legs. Like all parrots the feet of the lory are specially adapted for its life in trees, they have zygodactyl feet - two toes face forward and two toes face backwards on each foot. It is an excellent adaptation for climbing, gripping, and holding food. Using these feet, lorikeets have even been known to hang upside down in order to get at a flower’s nectar. They tend to be hyperactive and clownish in personality both in captivity and the wild. They spend almost all of their life in the trees, usually only coming down to the ground to drink. Forming small noisy groups, they feed acrobatically in the canopy, and can often be seen feeding alongside other parrots in mixed flocks. Lories may also feed in orchards of cultivated fruit – apples and pears are a particular favorite – and a large flock can quickly do considerable damage. Because of this, these birds are very unpopular with farmers and are sometimes hunted and killed as pests.

At night they form communal roosts number hundreds of birds. During the day, lorikeets travel in flocks of 15 to 20 birds. Sometimes flocks fly together, and there may be hundreds of birds combing the countryside for fruit. When the sun becomes too hot they rest in dense foliage before returning to feed until sunset when they return to the roost.

Lories feed predominantly on pollen and nectar and are specially adapted to do so. Weak ventricular (gizzard) muscles are typical of this group of birds and are perfectly suited to their soft diet of nectar, pollen, flowers, fruits, and unripe grains. These foods are easily digested without much preliminary grinding from the gizzard. The elongated papillae, or brushes on the tongue of lories are an adaptation for the collecting of pollen from flowers. Some species have amazingly long tongues (they can lick above their eyes!) which they use to probe deep into a flower. The pollen sticks to the "brush" and is drawn back into mouth. Field studies of Swainson’s Lories showed that they could harvest all of the pollen and/or nectar that they required to meet their daily nutritional needs in two or three hours. Thus they would have ample time to locate suitable flowering trees. The interdependence between lories and their food source is well documented. Lories fill the ecological niche of flower pollinator that bats and bees fill in other habitats. In fact, some lory species are primary pollinators on the small islands they inhabit.

Swainson’s Lories are easily attracted in large numbers to artificial food sites. The most famous of these sites is Currumbin Sanctuary, Palm Beach, Queensland, where twice daily feeding of honey-soaked- bread for which the wild lories will perch on visitors hands and heads, has been an attraction for many years.

Lories are known to be loud and vocal birds. Their vocalizations include: sharp rolling screech at regular intervals in flight, shrill chattering while feeding, soft twittering at rest, loud clear musical call. They are frequently at their loudest in the morning just after sunrise, and in the evening shortly before sunset. Lories are master mimickers, imitating various everyday sounds such as ringing telephones, beepers, sirens, car alarms, dripping faucets, squeaky drawers, and video game noises. While they imitate sounds with clarity, imitating human language is not as distinctive as language produced by African gray and Amazon parrots.


Lories usually mate for life. They nest in isolated pairs in high, unlined tree hollow. Courtship display includes wing fluttering to reveal under wing pattern, swing upside-down, head-bobbing, tail-fanning and bill-fencing. Breeding has been recorded year round but is most frequent from May to December. Females lay two eggs per brood but a pair may produce three broods in a season. Incubation takes twenty-four days and is usually done only by the female although the male roosts in the hollow at night. Both parents feed and take care of the young once they are hatched. At seven to eight weeks, the young fly away from the nest during the day but return each evening to roost. By nine to ten weeks, they leave the nest and are completely independent.


In the wild: The diet of pollen and nectar is varied with seeds, fruits, berries and insects. The staple diet is pollen and nectar from the flowers of Eucalyptus, Angophora, Melaleuca, Banksia and other native and introduced trees and shrubs. They also feed on fruits of Ficus, mangoes which have been broken open by fruit bats, Casuarina flower heads, beetles and small grubs. Orchard fruits such as apples and pears are eaten. Maize and sorghum crops may also be attacked before they are ripe, as lorikeets like to feed on the milky grains.


Approximately ten years in the wild. They have been known to live eighteen to twenty years in captivity.


The lory is a common bird in the northeast of Australia. Although not under particular threat as compared with many other species of parrot, still it is listed CITES appendix II.


Forshaw, Joseph M. Parrots of the World




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