Notes from a Lory Lover

By Eileen McCarthy

Lories and Lorikeets are nectar-eating parrots from Indonesia, Australia, The Philippines and surrounding areas. There are 54 Lory and Lorikeet species, and many subspecies, within the family Psittacidae that includes all species of parrots or Psittacines. Lories are generally distinguished from Lorikeets by the shape of the tail, with Lorikeets generally having a long, pointed tail. Here, all 54 species are referred to as Lories, for the sake of simplicity.

Lories are uniquely designed for feeding on nectar, pollen and ripe fruits. They possess a pointed, relatively small beak, a long, slender brush-tongue, strong, multi-dexterous feet and toes and smooth, shiny feathers. They are acrobatic and built to gather nourishment from the very ends of thin, pliable branches and seem to prefer hanging — even upside down – while they eat. The brush-tongue is designed to extract pollen and nectar from fruit and blossoms as it darts in and out of the beak very quickly and efficiently. Although somewhat streamlined in appearance, lories are deceptively strong, muscular and heavy-bodied. Most species are feathered in vibrant hues; nearly every color in the spectrum appears in at least one of the 54 species. The largest Lory species are comparable in size to the average Amazon and the smallest lories are dwarfed by the average Budgerigar (commonly referred to as Budgie or Parakeet).

The vocalizations of lories are quite varied but generally higher-pitched than other parrots and can be loud and shrill at times. They will chatter, whistle, hiss and deftly move air through the syrinx to create many unusual sounds. While feeding, they will chatter continuously with seeming delight. Being natural acrobats, lories take full advantage of their flexible bodies when at play. They will hop on the ground or from perch to perch, swing from the toes (or toe!), twist, roll, tumble and careen gracefully both in flight and on the ground. They are even comfortable lying on their backs with their feet in the air while playing or even sleeping! On some islands where there are few or no predators, some species will even nest on the ground. Courtship and sexual behaviors unique to Lories include comical undulating of the body, rubbing against objects and each other (much like a housecat), hissing-type sounds, dragging/rubbing the beak on various surfaces, “tonguing” and “beaking”, chasing and wrestling. Pairs often squabble, bicker and even yell at each other.

In captivity, the natural clownish behavior and temperament of Lories make for delightful companions. The most common species in captivity is, by far, the Rainbow Lorikeet; there are 21 recognized subspecies of Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus), the most colorful of which are most prevalent in aviculture. The Red Lory (Eos bornea), Black Lory (Chalcopsitta atra), Chattering Lory (Lorius garrulous), Ornate Lorikeet (Trichoglossus ornatus), Blue-streaked Lory (Eos reticulata), Dusky Lory (Psuedos fuscata) and Violet-nape Lory (Eos squamata) are also fairly common in captivity and as companions in the US and Europe.

Lories love to play, play, play! Playtime activities for lories are different than other parrots and, in fact, they are not generally compatible with other parrots — they will often harass sedentary seedeaters who do not appreciate Lory games. Even the largest Macaw usually will not intimidate any self-respecting Lory! Overall, Lories are not big wood chewers; they prefer paper, leather, cotton or sisal rope and soft or semi-soft fabrics or woods. Favorite Lory toys are often actually cat toys – balls, bells, rattles, etc.

The specialized diet of the Lory deserves particular attention. Lories do NOT eat seeds or nuts; the semi-liquid diet consists of fruits, juices, grains, vegetables and blossoms. In captivity, these foods are usually served as a commercially prepared powder or nectar that is high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in protein. Commercial diets should be supplemented with fresh fruits, vegetables and greens. All birds require significant amounts of vitamin A and beta carotene to produce healthy skin and feathers and a healthy avian diet regularly includes foods rich in these nutrients. Lories have evolved a speedy metabolism that utilizes the high carbohydrate food sources available to them in the wild; they will feed intermittently throughout the day and must be provided with food at all times since they are vulnerable to problems (shock, coma and even death) due to low blood sugar. Lory physiology has also evolved to function optimally with significant amounts (far more than other parrots) of liquid in the diet and adequate fresh water must also be provided at all times. A regular diet consisting of foods high in protein or iron can adversely affect the health of Lories; too much protein can cause kidney damage and too much iron can lead to liver damage from Iron Storage Disease. Foods high in iron and/or protein should be avoided, as should any substance, which is potentially toxic — including food additives.

The semi-liquid Lory diet poses another challenge in the human environment – semi-liquid droppings! In order to minimize damage to household rugs and carpets, floors and furniture, avoid feeding brightly colored foods like raspberries, carrot juice, blueberries, etc. right before playtime or out-of-cage-time. Since Lories like to hang on the sides of the cage, Lory poop is not easily contained! It is a good idea to protect the area around the cage and other play areas with plastic, which can be easily washed and disinfected, or washable rugs or throws. Numerous and varied perches should be available in the cage to encourage perching versus hanging. The cage should have a durable, smooth finish for easy cleanup and it is often more efficient to forgo the use of a bottom grate and simply line the bottom of the cage with plenty of newspaper which can be changed every day. Lories are very active both on the ground as well as climbing and need a large, spacious cage with plenty of climbing structures (rope, plastic chain, “boings”, etc.), floor space for hopping and rolling around and varied toys to entertain them.

An old sheet laid on the floor with a basket of different foot toys, soft toys (make sure they are washable!) and balls will keep a Lory amused for hours — if you are willing to participate in the fun! They also enjoy swinging from fingers, clothing and hair and are thrilled by good-natured wrestling and tickling. Chasing games are also Lory favorites, however, you play at your own risk! They are incredibly fast, able to squeeze into the smallest of hiding places and nearly impossible to catch if they are determined to elude capture – you will quickly lose this game! Another favorite pastime involves pouncing on shoes, feet and toes; this is not a whole lot of fun for humans since it usually involves nipping and biting! It is also potentially dangerous to the bird if they surprise you and you react instinctively or are unaware of their presence – injuries could easily occur.

Although Lory beaks and bites do not have the strength of the seedeaters, they can deliver a painful bite and even draw blood with their sharp, pointed beaks. This can be prevented if the beak is kept smoothly rounded at the tip with the aid of appropriate grooming devices in the cage such as concrete perches, chew toys and lava rocks, etc. If necessary, the beak can be filed by your veterinarian. Lory nails grow quickly and curve in toward the toes. This adaptation is efficient in a natural habitat but can be hazardous in captivity; nails should be kept short enough so as not to be a danger by catching on cage bars, toys, etc.

Bathing is also an important factor in the health and well being of any parrot, and Lories love water! Most Lories approach bathing with the same playfulness and enthusiasm as everything else. A spray/misting bottle or the shower provides an adequate bath. But a shallow glass baking dish or kitty litter pan filled with fresh, room temperature water can entertain a Lory for up to an hour! They will run through the water, splash, flap their wings and get thoroughly soaked. Some Lories even enjoy taking toys into their bath and will play with them like a human child does. Again it is a good idea to protect any surrounding household items that could be damaged by water. The bathroom — or even the bathtub — is an ideal place to allow a Lory to take full advantage of bath time.

As with all other species of captive parrots, Lories require the care of an experienced avian veterinarian. Veterinary literature regarding Lory health is limited at best. Therefore, it is especially important to develop a good relationship with an avian veterinarian and to commit fully to providing the appropriate care required for all Lory species. Annual visits to an avian veterinarian, quality diet and nutrition, and plenty of exercise will help to insure many healthy years of delightful Lory companionship.

Foods/Additives To Avoid

  • grapes – high in iron*
  • raisins – high in iron*
  • spinach – high in iron*
  • red meat – high in iron & protein*
  • shellfish – high in protein, iron & fats*
  • beans – high in protein*
  • eggs – high in protein*
  • cheese – high in protein*
  • yogurt – high in protein*
  • pesticides – toxic
  • caffeine – toxic
  • chocolate – toxic
  • avocado – toxic
  • sulfites and other preservatives – can be toxic or cause adverse reactions
  • artificial coloring – can cause adverse reactions
  • vitamin supplements – may be high in iron*

* These foods are not toxic but can contribute to poor health if used regularly or in large quantities.

Quality Commercial Diets

  • Nekton Lory Diet – excellent, expensive and not widely available
  • Lory Life (Powder and Nectar) – very high quality, expensive
  • GoldenFeast NectarGold – high quality improved formula, very economical
  • Harrison”s Low Iron or Harrison”s Lifetime Mash – high quality, organic, economical (best if ground to fine powder)

Note: A commercially formulated diet should be used as the foundation of a bird”s diet and supplemented with fresh foods. All of the products above can be served dry (with large amounts of fresh water available) or mixed with water or fruit juice or thoroughly blended with pureed organic fruits and veggies or organic baby food. Do not leave nectar in cage for more than 8 hours, as it will spoil easily.

Recommended Supplemental Foods

  • sweet potatoes (cooked) – excellent source of beta carotene*
  • carrots (fresh – pureed or shredded) – excellent source of beta carotene*
  • orange or yellow squash (cooked) – good source of beta carotene*
  • apricots (fresh) – good source of beta carotene*
  • other vegetables (fresh – pureed or shredded) – corn, peas, broccoli*
  • assorted fruits (fresh) – apples, bananas, oranges, pineapple, peaches, pears, strawberries, etc.*
  • leafy greens (fresh) – kale, collard, watercress, dandelion*
  • baby food – sweet potatoes, fruits, oatmeal, rice and veggies*
  • GoldenFeast Tropic Pudding I & II – (dry, reconstituted or pureed)

*Organic foods should be used whenever possible. Make sure that all produce is thoroughly washed.

Note: At The Landing (the MAARS Facility), a mixture of 2 parts NectarGold to 1 part Harrison”s Low Iron (ground very fine) is served dry at all times with two dishes of fresh water. Fresh fruits and vegetables and a nectar of Harrison”s Low Iron blended with pureed fruits and vegetables are served five days a week.

Recommended Caging and Accessories

  • minimum cage size (for one small Lory): 30″X30″X30″
  • bar spacing: ½” to 1″ (depending on species)
  • cage materials: stainless steel, powder coat, acrylic
  • perches: ½” – 1 ½” in diameter of wood, manzanita, cholla, concrete, cotton rope, sisal rope, platforms which hook onto cage interior often sold as small animal accessory)
  • toys: cat toys (w/o catnip), ferret toys, infant toys, hanging toys, foot toys, preening, shredding toys, ball, balls w/bells, rattles, beaded toys
  • other accessories: swings, ladders, Boings, play gym, Happy Hut, sleeping cage, travel cage/carrier, shower perch, bath

Further Reading

Lories and Lorikeets by Rosemary Low. Paul Elek Ltd. London England 1977

Australian Lorikeets by Stan Sindel. Surrey Beatty & Sons, NSW Australia 1987

Lories & Lorikeets in Aviculture, by John Vanderhoof. Loriidae Production Network USA 1991

© By Eileen McCarthy
Co-Founder, Director – Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services, Inc.
Co-Founder – Avian Welfare Coalition