Lories In US Aviculture

Lories and lorikeets are small to medium-sized brightly colored parrots that include twelve genera and more than sixty species and subspecies.  They are native to Australia and numerous islands in Indonesia and the South Pacific. All but two species are listed on CITES Appendix II. The red and blue lory, Eos histrio, and the ultramarine lory, Vini ultramarina, are classified as Appendix I.  The terms lory and lorikeet are more or less interchangeable. Some consider lories to be the larger species with shorter more rounded tails and lorikeets to be the smaller species with longer, more tapered tails; however, the word “lory” can be used to describe any species.  For a long time these birds were not terribly popular in the United States but that is now changing. Although their plumage is exceptionally beautiful these birds typically eat nectar, fruit and pollen. They are physiologically different from other popular parrots and their tongues are uniquely designed with tiny papillae that effectively gather the pollen and nectar.  This highly specialized diet produces droppings that are runny and, if hanging on the side of a cage, can be propelled many feet. The lory diet in captivity is different than the diet of other psittacines as well and can be a bit more expensive and labor intensive. Additionally, lories are incredibly active and energetic, more so than other parrots. As a result, they can be difficult to maintain in the home and sometimes challenging in an aviary. Back in the “day”, aviculturist often avoided lories like they were the plague and were often critical of those of us who were drawn to these fascinating birds. More recently, the trend of avoiding lories has changed significantly. While there are many reasons for this change, several factors seem obvious.

 One reason is the development of interactive walk-through aviaries at numerous zoos and attractions. These exhibits showcase these brightly colored birds and their clownish behavior and their bold personalities. Suddenly, everyone is seeing lories and they want to know more.

Another reason for their popularity is the availability of commercial diets created specifically for the nutritional needs of lories. These diets simplify the feeding process and provide a balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that, along with a variety of fresh foods, take some of the challenge out of feeding lories. Previously, those who kept lories had to rely on a variety of homemade powders and nectar formulas while not knowing if the birds were receiving any nutrition let alone a balanced diet. Keep in mind, however, that lories are vulnerable to iron storage disease and not all diets labeled “lory” are created equally.

The other significant factor that has helped lories gain popularity and recognition is the Internet. Widespread access to the Internet has caused the once impossible-to-find information on keeping lories to now be right at one’s fingertips. There are numerous websites detailing the different species, appropriate diets, health concerns and just about everything else one needs to know about these birds. Web sites, chat groups, e-mail lists and groups on social media facilitate the exchange of information. If one is able to separate the reliable information from the proffered advice of wannabe experts, the information is abundant and usually free.  No longer is the art of keeping lories such a hit or miss ordeal.

Most lories, particularly the smaller species, are not difficult birds to breed in captivity; however, many breeders have noted that former pet birds that were hand fed and tame sometimes make the worst parents. They can often be aggressive towards the mate and will sometimes destroy the eggs. They can also become quite combative towards the humans who feed them. When setting up pairs of lories for breeding, “L” shaped nest boxes are commonly used and lined with wood shavings. Adult birds will regularly sleep in the nest boxes even when they do not have eggs. Nest boxes also offer some degree of protection from the cold for birds that are housed outdoors. Young chicks that are hand fed rather than parent raised are the most desirable as pets. The babies should generally be pulled from the nest when they are about two  weeks of age. This allows them to open their eyes and imprint on humans. Some breeders have been successful letting the parents rear the chicks but handling and playing with them daily so they become accustomed to human contact. When I remove babies from the nest, they are placed in a heated brooder. As they are not feathered, the temperature is maintained at 95-98 F initially. As they begin to feather out, the temperature is gradually decreased. When I hand feed lory chicks, they are started out on a commercial handfeeding formula that is diluted with commercial lory nectar. The handfeeding formula is gradually eliminated and replaced with just the liquid lory nectar. The formula or nectar is heated to about 105 F. While handfeeding formula is usually administered to other parrots through a syringe, I have found sometimes it’s much easier to feed the older chicks using small paper cups such as you would use in a bathroom or at a water cooler. The young birds take to this method, there is nothing to sterilize and the cups can then be thrown away with little mess to clean up. When the birds are first removed from the nest, I feed them approximately every four hours from 8:00 a.m. until midnight or about 5 times each day. The crop is allowed to empty completely during the night. The interval between feedings is increased as the birds get older until they are being fed by hand only once or twice per day. It is usually at this point that the young birds begin to completely eat on their own.

Lories are extremely easy to wean. Their natural curiosity makes them quite interested in any items, including food, that have been placed in their enclosure. When the babies are feathering and able to move around and explore their world, I introduce dishes of nectar, powder and small amounts of fresh fruit for them to try.  They quickly explore these bowls of food. Most of my lory babies have weaned themselves shortly after being introduced to the foods they can eat on their own. Once they are weaned, I offer both a commercial powder and liquid nectar. In addition, they are offered a daily variety of fruits and vegetables. I also offer my adult lories sprouted seeds and beans in that mixture. An ample supply of fresh water should be provided. I feed weaned chicks and adult birds the nectar and the fresh foods in the morning and the powder is left in the cage all the time. Once the young birds are feathered and moving around, they are placed in a cage where they can climb and perch.

Feeding your lory should not be terribly difficult but they cannot be fed the same diet you might be feeding to other parrots. They are naturally nectivores and frugivores. The gizzard, or ventriculous, is not strong enough to manage of diet of dry seed and pellets and attempting to feed them that way can result in significantly lowering their life expectancy. Start with a low iron (under 60 ppm) nectar and/or powder. I use Blessing’s Lory Powder and Lory Nectar which is consistently low in iron. I always recommend that whatever commercial product you chose, it should never be more than 50% of the total diet. In addition, I offer a daily variety of fruit and vegetables including sweet potato, carrot, kale, broccoli, zucchini, jalapeno and bell peppers, thawed peas and corn, papaya, apple, blueberries, mango, grapes and seasonal items such as strawberries, cherries, peaches, winter squash, radishes and melons. I dice or chop the items into small pieces so the birds cannot pick and chose and waste. Sometimes I also purée chunks of fruit in the blender along with a bit of nectar mix. I feed a similar mix to my other parrots, I simply add more fruit to what I give my lories. And because for a lory everything is a toy, I also include some larger pieces of food like wheels of slightly cooked corn on the cob, large bits of banana or wedges of papaya or melon. And, as with any animal, fresh water should always be available. Lory droppings are runny and these birds have a tendency to hang from the sides of their cages. This allows them to “squirt” poop quite a distance. Many owners have tried to alter their lory’s diet in an effort to make the droppings more solid. There is no pellet available that is appropriate for lories, regardless of whether the word ‘lory’ appears on the package. Feeding pellets will not solidify the droppings at all but it can significantly reduce the bird’s life expectancy.

 Since lories are extremely active birds, the proper cage must be selected. The bar spacing should be narrow enough so that the bird cannot get its head caught and cause an injury. The larger the cage, the happier the bird will be. At a minimum the lory should be able to extend its wing and turn around completely without touching the sides. Lories use every bit of the cage, including the bottom so it is important to have a good substrate or bedding and to ensure it stays clean. Newspaper is one of the cheapest and easiest to manage. In addition to a spacious cage, lories also enjoy play stands during their time out of the cage. Because lories love to play, toys are particularly important. They love things that make noise. They also love swings and loose objects that they can toss around.  Toys need not be expensive. Blocks of wood, cardboard tubes from paper towels and even small plastic containers make wonderful playthings for a lory. Lories tend to be a bit excitable, especially during play, and as a result can deliver the occasional painful bite. For years, the runny, projectile poop kept them from becoming popular as pets. Overcoming the poop problem is easy. All one needs is imagination. A plastic shower curtain can be hung to cover the wall behind the cage and is easily cleaned. A plastic chair mat can be placed under the cage and is easy to maintain. Many lory owners have purchased or made acrylic cages or fashioned acrylic panels around the cage sides.

Lories can make great pets and they are truly the clowns of the parrot world. They are gregarious, energetic, and even cuddly. They are not always the most accomplished talkers but they do manage a number of words, phrases, and sounds. They are active, aggressive, and quite fearless. These traits are what make them such engaging pets. These traits are also why keeping lories can be something of an adventure. Because they are very aggressive, they do not play well with other birds, even other lories.  Unless they are set up for breeding, lories should not be allowed to interact with other members of the flock without close supervision. They are fearless enough to approach even the largest family dog, often with disastrous results for both dog and bird. Their constant activity, aggressiveness, and energetic nature prevent them from always being the best choice for families with young children.

Lories are susceptible to all the diseases common to psittacines such as Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD), gout, fatty liver, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) and Polyoma. In addition, many lories have shown to be vulnerable to hemochromatosis or iron storage disease and should only be fed a diet that is low in iron.

 Sadly, while lories are enjoying a renewed interest in American aviculture, their numbers have declined significantly in the last ten or fifteen years. Species such as red lories, Eos bornea, that were once popular and common are now rare and really difficult to find. In fact, most species are harder and harder to locate and some such as the Musschenbroek’s lory, Neopsittacus musschenbroekii, and cardinal lories, Chalcopsitta cardinalis, have all but disappeared. If you discover you have an interest in lories and want to work with the wonderful group of parrots, start soon before they disappear for good. You will find that keeping any species of this family of feathered clowns can be both entertaining and very rewarding.