Breeding and biology of the Swift Parrot. PART I

November 11th, 2015 | by Daniel Nuijten
Breeding and biology of the Swift Parrot. PART I

The Swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) is a small parrot species with size 25 cm, the plumage is mainly green with red undertail and red underwings coverts. This bird has also distinct face markings with red color around the beak surrounded by a yellow ring and blue on top of the head. This coloration may be very variable and differ from bird to bird. Swift parrot is a slender bird with long wings and a long tail helping the bird to fly fast.

The species breeds in Tasmania and in winter migrates to the mainland where it is be found up to South Eastern Queensland and as west as Adelaide, but the main wintering range is Victoria and Eastern New South Wales. The species is newly classified as “critically endangered” on the IUCN red list. Swift parrot is dependent a lot on the Blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and Swamp or Black gum (E. ovata). These trees are used for foraging and nesting as well. Deforestation has had a major impact on distribution of this species both in Tasmania and South Australia.



Swift parrot in Adelaide ZOO (c) Heather. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.


However, a few years ago a new threat was discovered – sugar gliders (Petaurus brevice). These animals are native in mainland but most likely they were introduced in the last 200 years to Tasmania. Robert Heinsohn from Australian National University and others published their research data showing that more than 50% of breeding females in Tasmania are killed by Sugar gliders, this will most probably lead to a population decrease of 80 to 95% in three generations, which for Swiftparrots is a period of 12 to 18 years. This puts the species at imminent risk of extinction in the wild especially as habitat destruction for this species still continues.

This makes us aviculturists responsible for survive of this species. Luckily, I am not familiar with any hybrids of this species. Maybe it’s because this bird looks like a lorikeet, behaves like a lorikeet, eats like a lorikeet but is not a lorikeet. For many years it has been suggested that the Swift parrot should be placed somewhere between lorikeets and the grass and broad-tailed parrots, but research of Schweizer in 2010 showed that the Swift Parrot is deeply nested within a group called Platycercini which contains many Australian parrots belonging to the families of Psephotus, Northiella, Platycercus and their relatives.



Schweizer showed that the closest relatives of the Swift Parrot are Kakarikis (Cyanoramphus), Horned parakeets (Eunymphicus), and the shining parrots (Prosopeia). He even speculates that the potential migratory habits of the ancestor of this group helped in the split of this group from the other Australian parrots and this might have facilitated their spread over the Pacific. The reason that the Swift parrots looks so different from its relatives and is more similar to lorikeets is called convergent evolution, where similar habitats and ecological niches select for similar traits in unrelated species.

In Europe, the species is currently very common in captivity. It is hardy, breeds easily and is generally considered as an “easy bird”. This has not always been the case. Herman Zomer mentions in his book “Australian parrots and their colour mutations” that Swift parrot was very rare in Europe in the beginning of 70s, but that the species got more widespread during that decade. Currently the species is very popular and easy to obtain for every aviculturist.

I kept my birds in an aviary of 11 meters x 2,6 meters x 2 meters, unheated for 3 pairs, where they were housed together with a pair of Regent parrots (Polytelis anthopeplus). This worked very well and I have never noticed any interspecies aggression. There was also a small indoor enclosure, as we have had harsh winters in the past.



The wild Swift Parrot. (c) Jade Craven. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.


My birds got Orlux Lori every single day. This is powder that you mix with water to make nectar. My Swift parrots also got a seed-mixture which they can choose from. This is a standard Australian parrot mixture without sunflower seeds. I only had to refill this twice a week as my birds choose the lori nectar always first.

They also got fresh fruit daily, which varies from day to day and may contain apples, pears, grapes, mangos, papayas, carrots, red berries, raspberries, kiwis, sprouted mungo-beans and broccoli to name the most common fruit and vegetables I use. I avoided giving banana and sunflowers as Swift parrots get obese quite easily and this can affect their health and your breeding results.




author: Daniel Nuijten

Title photo: (c) Lubomir Tomiska


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