Swift Parrot breeding in Australia. PART II

February 29th, 2016 | by Bill Boyd
Swift Parrot breeding in Australia. PART II

Read also the first part of this article:

Swift Parrot breeding in Australia. PART I


Size and Colour

The swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) does not in my opinion attain full size until at least 3 years of age, probably longer. Comparisons between one year old birds and five year old birds show a marked difference and although this is true of most parrots it seems to be more noticeable in the swift. So in a mixed flock (males, females and juveniles) there would be considerable size differences. The point of the matter is that not all swift parrots are the same size and this is the reason why.

There is quite a variation in colour in swift parrots and I will try to describe each to the best of my ability.



Adult males over three years of age are usually fairly uniform in colour but there are some exceptions. Basically the forehead above the cere is bright red as is the face. These red areas are bordered by yellow. On the crown there is a dark blue spot usually about the size of a five cent piece, the sides of the face are green washed with blue and the nape, mantle and back are dark green. The underparts are a much lighter and more yellowish green.



Swift Parrots are kept also in several mutations


Some birds will show red flecking to varying degrees on the lower breast and belly from hardly any to; in extreme cases almost all the lower abdomen is red. The under tail coverts also vary considerably with birds who show red flecking usually having all red coverts. Birds with no red flecking also have red under tail coverts but usually the feathers are red tipped with yellow.The shoulder is a deep crimson and the underwing coverts are bright scarlet.

The primary wing feathers are a dark purplish blue with their outer and inner edges a pale whitish yellow. The secondary coverts are a lighter turquoise tending to dark blue on the primary coverts. This brings me to the confusing wing stripe!! Most adult males lose the wing stripe somewhere after the age of two but some take longer. Some retain a few spots for all their lives but this is in my opinion uncommon.

Most young males (still in the nest ) will show a stripe but usually not quite as prominent as young females. I have bred young birds which have shown no sign of a stripe whatever and these have always been males. Adult females retain the wing stripe and personally I use this as a guide to the sex of a particular bird as I have never seen an adult female without a wing stripe. Poorly coloured males can be confused with females but if the bird has no wing stripe or only a few spots making the stripe then it is most likely to be a male.



Hybrid between the Swift Parrot and Red-rumped Parrot


The inner webs of the innermost secondary wing feathers are tipped with red and this is found on only one other parrot in Australia and that is the fig parrot!!

The swift parrot is born with a yellow beak that may contain some black markings but these black marks disappear after a few months and the beak becomes a yellowish bone. This beak colour is common to both males and females but only in the non breeding season (January to August). In the breeding season the beaks of both sexes turn almost black!!

I have found that males tend to be slightly longer than females (or have longer tails) and also seem to sit slightly more upright. Females seem also to be a little more “dumpy ”so to speak. Although both sexes use the same calls including the song which when varied can contain twelve or more notes, the males are much more vocal.

The tail is long and unusually thin and pointed and is a reddish brown above tending to blue toward the ends of the feathers and greyish on the underside. The three outer tail feathers on each side are blue above and grey below.


Parrots and Kakarikis Incubation HandraisingNeophema Neopsephotus soft



Basically the adult female is a duller version of the male but there is quite a lot of differences when inspected closely.

The back of an adult female is a lighter green than in the male and the red facial areas are usually smaller and not as bright as in males. The tail as mentioned is usually a little shorter and the under tail coverts are very pale in younger birds or red tipped with green in older birds. It is my opinion that swift parrot hens do not attain the more reddish under tail coverts until they are at least four years old.

So overall the female is as mentioned a duller and in most cases slightly shorter bird than the male. Eye colour and pupil size vary considerably from bird to bird and is no indication of male or female. The feet are said to be a fleshy or lighter colour in females and greyish in males but this is not the case as I have birds of opposite sexes showing both colours.



Young birds are usually dull versions of their parents. By this I mean that a young male is a duller version of an adult male and a female of an adult female. In some cases good coloured birds will stand out and young males will have quite a considerable amount of red under the tail but young females rarely carry much red in this area and in most cases hardly any. As mentioned the wing stripe is prominent in young females but usually not quite so in males and in some cases none at all. The eyes are dark and the beaks are yellowish. Sometimes there are some black markings on the upper mandible. The red facial areas are much smaller and duller than adult birds but in most cases young males will have much brighter red than females.


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Female sitting on the clutch

4 baby swifties

Four chicks in the nestbox

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One of the chicks already fully feathered



In Europe a mutation known as “misty” is well established and these birds are a khaki or olive colour (see photos) and there is also a pale mutation known as the “faded” which has red eyes and is basically a cinnamon. A blue mutation was bred some time ago but seems to not have been established and apparently has died out as it was not popular!!

There is a red bellied form and these vary considerably with some having all the underparts from the breast down a deep red. This seems to be an acquired colour rather than a mutation similar to the red bellied scarlet chested parrot.

There is a photograph of an all red fronted swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) taken in the wild feeding at a dish with a flock of normal swifts in Tasmania. The birds head and all the underparts are a deep red but the back can not be seen and as far as I know this front on shot is the only photo. The bird has not been seen again.

Here in Australia there are no mutations that I know of as yet but several aviculturalists are working with birds with red in their plumage to at least try to establish the red bellied form.



“Red-bellied” mutation



Up until 2005 no hybrids were known but this is no longer the case!!

A breeder in Holland accidentally bred three hybrid swifts when a spare normal male paired up with an unmated blue red rumped parrot hen. The resulting chicks are unspectacular but tend to show more swift than red rump (see photo)



The swift parrot is certainly a pretty little parrot needing attention both in captivity and particularly in the wild. Although they are being bred on the mainland in increasing numbers they still are difficult mainly because of the summer heat which can lead to losses of both chicks and adults. For this reason some chicks are hand reared and aviaries are shaded and have a sprinkler system of some sort. But hand reared babies make good parents and tend to go to nest earlier in the year and if we can keep this trend going then there is a bright future for this species in captivity.


author: Bill Boyd

Photos: (c) Willam Swinkles, Bill Boyd


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