The Australian King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis) is a gorgeous bird species that is native to Eastern Australia. They occur in forest, woodland, and scrub habitats from the vicinity of Cairns in the north to Melbourne in the south.
Watching these large green and red parrots quietly foraging in the canopy is a real treat, but what exactly do they feed on?
King Parrots are herbivorous birds that feed largely on seeds. The seeds of native Australian trees like Eucalyptus, Acacia, and Angophora are most important but these birds also feed on a variety of fruits, nuts, buds, and other plant material. They will happily feed on non-native plants like the berries of ornamental shrubs, fruit trees, and even grain crops.
Australian King Parrots are fairly popular as captive birds. Much of their dietary needs can be provided with prepared pellet and commercial seed mixes although fresh plant material and fruits like banana and mango should be provided to create a more balanced diet.
Wild Australian King Parrots are common and very welcome visitors to backyard bird feeders in some areas. Feeding wild birds is a great way to get up close and appreciate native Australian wildlife, but the birds’ best interests should always be kept at heart.
Provide healthy, natural foods, irregularly, in moderation, and under very sanitary conditions to avoid altering their natural behaviors or spreading disease.
Read along to learn more about the diet of Australian King Parrots in the wild and in captivity.
Australian King Parrot foraging for food
Wild Australian King Parrots forage for nutritious plant parts like seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, buds, and blossoms. They have also been recorded feeding on the Silver Elkhorn Fern (Platycerium veitchii).
King Parrots feed on the seeds of a variety of native plant species, including the following:
King Parrots feed on a variety of fruits from both native and introduced plants. They will feed on the berries of exotic ornamental plants like hawthorns, firethorns, and cotoneasters. King Parrots have also been known to be pests of commercial fruit crops like apples.
The following wild fruits are an important food source for Australian King Parrots:
Captive King Parrots will feed on a wide variety of fruits, including:
Male (left) and female (right) King Parrots searching for food
Australian King Parrots are largely herbivorous. They are not known to feed on any animals, although they may occasionally eat invertebrates and their larvae.
King Parrots feed every day. A study done on wild Australian King Parrots at artificial feeding stations in Queensland and Victoria demonstrated that the birds visited 1 to 8 times each day, even though they could probably gather all the food they needed in a single visit.
The number of times that these birds feed per day varies depending on factors like the quality of the food source, the weather conditions, the condition of the bird, and whether they are raising chicks.
King Parrots forage for food throughout the day
King Parrots rely on their keen eyesight to detect food. Psittacine birds like Australian King Parrots also have a relatively well-developed sense of smell and taste. This is probably useful for detecting some food sources and for determining whether fruits are ripe and safe to eat.
King Parrots often visit feeders. In fact, these normally shy birds can become remarkably tame and will even allow a very close approach after some time.
King Parrot feeding from a bird feeder
King Parrots are diurnal birds that forage during the daylight hours. Observations by researchers studying wild King Parrots at public feeding sites showed that they did the bulk of their feeding between 8:00 am and 16:00 pm.
King Parrots feed on different seeds, nuts, and fruits as they become available through the year. Some food sources, like the berries of the Orange Firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia), are most readily available during winter.
King Parrots can become pretty tame after feeding them for a while
King Parrots have a varied diet that includes many native and exotic plant species. They will feed opportunistically on whatever suitable food sources are available in the summer months.
Both Australian King Parrots feed their chicks for the 5 weeks or so that they spend in the nest. These birds feed their chicks a diet of regurgitated food directly from their bills. This mashed and softened food is easier for babies to manage and digest.
Close up of an Australian King Parrot eating bananas
It is always better to provide birds with a natural source of food by growing native plants. Feeding wild Australian King Parrots directly is not necessarily bad, provided you feed them healthy food sources in small amounts. Irregular feeding is also recommended to avoid wild birds becoming dependent on your offerings.
It is very important to maintain sanitary conditions when feeding wild birds. Australian King Parrots can be affected by a protozoan parasite known as Spironucleus, which could potentially be spread by birds visiting feeders.
Wild Australian King Parrots are usually provided with bird food mixes containing sunflower seeds and corn. Captive King Parrots can be fed a diet of commercial parrot food, seeds, beans, greens, fruits, and nuts.
Wild King Parrot eating seeds from the hand
Avoid feeding King Parrots bread, avocado, apple seeds, or any meat products. It is very important to clear uneaten food on a daily basis when feeding wild King Parrots. Disinfecting the feeder with a 10% bleach solution as a further precaution is highly recommended.
King Parrots will get a fair proportion of their water needs from eating fruit and soft plant material at certain times of the year, although they do drink fresh water from puddles, pools, and streams. King Parrots also drink nectar when available.
Female King Parrot feeding on Hop Bush seeds
The best way to attract King Parrots is to create a suitable habitat for them to forage naturally. Planting fruit and nut-bearing trees and providing a clean source of fresh water can also be very effective.
The following native Australian plants are likely to attract Australian King Parrots:
King Parrots are lovely birds to have around. These beautiful Australian parrots are relatively quiet and unobtrusive. They may not be quite as welcome for fruit and grain farmers, however, since they are known to raid crops from time to time.
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