Rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) are from the Trichoglossus genus within the true parrot family Psittacidae. These are some of the most strikingly colourful creatures on the planet and are aptly named due to their rainbow plumage, which contains all three primary colours (blue, green and red) and mauve, yellow and many other shades. We know all about what Rainbow lorikeets look like, but what do they eat?
Rainbow lorikeets primarily eat the pollen and nectar of flowering plants. Around 87% of their diet consists of flowers, including Eucalyptus, Banksia, Hibiscus, coconut plants, Grevilleas and Callistemon (bottlebrushes). Rainbow lorikeets also consume soft fruits and berries and some insects and invertebrates.
Nectar is a sweet substance designed to attract pollinators, such as birds and insects - it’s incredibly high in sugars and provides an excellent source of energy. Pollen is secreted by male seeding plants, and is not the same as nectar - it has a much higher protein content. Rainbow lorikeets love pollen and nectar, but they also need fruits to thrive and be healthy.
There’s undoubtedly more to it than that - read on to learn more about the diet and feeding habits of this fantastic bird!
Rainbow lorikeet eating nectar from Red-flowering Gums
In the wild, Rainbow lorikeets eat predominantly nectar, pollen and fruit, as well as small quantities of invertebrates.
Pollen is thought to be the mainstay of their diet as it’s rich in protein and minerals. Nectar is rich in sugars - great for energy - but cannot provide Rainbow lorikeets with all the nutrients they need to survive.
In Australia, eucalyptus flowers provide a large percentage of the pollen Rainbow lorikeets require. In Melanesia, coconut plants are their primary dietary staple for nectar and pollen. Both coconut and Eucalyptus flowers are large, easily accessible, and provide nectar and pollen in abundance. In fact, you can even make honey out of eucalyptus!
Banksia, Hibiscus, coconut plants, Grevilleas and Callistemon (bottlebrushes) are all essential species for Rainbow lorikeets. One study found that around 87% of a Rainbow lorikeet’s diet consists of nectar and pollen taken from plants and flowers.
Rainbow lorikeet amongst the callistemon or bottle brush tree flower, feeding on the nectar
Pollen and nectar are frequently confused, but they’re not the same. Pollen is usually secreted by the male flower cone and looks like fine dust. Each piece contains male sex cells, called gametes.
Rainbow lorikeets eat pollen as it’s highly nutritious and contains a high percentage of protein. Protein is essential to keep the Rainbow lorikeets’ beautiful plumage bright and healthy.
On the other hand, nectar is a sugar-like substance secreted by plants to attract pollinators. By secreting nectar, flowering plants incentivise insects and birds, including Rainbow lorikeets, to visit them, thus spreading their pollen to other flowers.
Nectar is anything between 15% and 75% sugar and provides tremendous energy, which is partly why lorikeets are so lively!
Rainbow lorikeet eating berries from a tree in the wild
As well as pollen and nectar, Rainbow lorikeets fruits such as papaya, figs, apples, grapes, pears, citrus, banana and mango.
Much of their diet consists of non-native species - Rainbow lorikeets love to feed from gardens, farms, orchards and vineyards where non-native fruits and berries are growing. They also scavenge fallen fruit from the ground (especially mangos), though they prefer to take it fresh from the tree or bush.
Rainbow lorikeets do not solely feed on plant foods - they do also consume some insects and invertebrates.
Moth and butterfly pupae are among their favourites, but Rainbow lorikeets are frequently observed eating many invertebrates, including flies, worms, larvae, beetles, spiders and grasshoppers.
Close up of a Rainbow lorikeet
Rainbow lorikeets must be fed with a lorikeet-specific feed. Lorikeet feed emulates real pollen and nectar and is essentially a blend of sugars and nutrients.
In addition, it’s recommended to feed lorikeets fruit two to three times a day; grapes, pear, sultanas, pomegranate, and sultanas are all great choices. Frozen fruits provide a cooling snack on particularly hot days.
Citrus fruits are also fine in moderation, but most Rainbow lorikeets prefer sweeter fruits rather than strong citrus fruits. As far as vegetables go, Rainbow lorikeets also enjoy vegetables like carrots, pumpkins and dark leafy greens.
Rainbow lorikeets should also be offered what’s called ‘native browse’, which are cuttings from their natural environment, such as bottlebrush, eucalyptus, grevillea and banksia. The more natural their diets are, the better. Rainbow lorikeets will never be able to thrive on commercial feed alone.
Rainbow lorikeet eating an orange
There is no doubt that Rainbow lorikeets have a sweet tooth! (or a sweet beak, as they actually don't have any teeth at all!)
Natural nectar and pollen is their favourite, so if you keep a pet Rainbow lorikeet, make sure to provide it with native pollen-rich flowering plants. They also love sweet fruits such as apples, pears, grapes, melon, strawberries, mango, peaches and cherries.
Observational studies have revealed that Rainbow lorikeets eat the pollen and nectar of over 43 flowers.
Some of the staple flowers consumed by Rainbow lorikeets are Eucalyptus, Banksia, Hibiscus, coconut plants, Grevilleas and Callistemon (bottlebrushes).
Other examples are Melaleuca (from the myrtle family), Angophora (shrub-like trees), Bauhinia (large flowering plants), Xanthorrhoea (grass trees), Bombax (trees in the mallow family) and Verticordia (featherflowers).
Rainbow lorikeets are essential pollinators for many of these flowers, particularly coconut plants.
Rainbow lorikeet perched in a Eucalyptus tree
Rainbow lorikeets forage food from the canopies of trees and bushes as well as low-lying shrubberies.
They’re pretty nimble and will hang on small branches, spooning pollen and nectar from flowers with their specialised tongues. Rainbow lorikeet tongues have a brush-like tip called a papillate appendage, enabling them to collect vast volumes of nectar and pollen efficiently.
Baby Rainbow lorikeets are fed fruits, nectar and other soft and partially regurgitated foods. Like most parrots, Rainbow lorikeets mate for life and both parents feed the chicks. Parental feeding can be a messy affair, and sticky pollen frequently ends up covering the chicks’ heads!
Rainbow lorikeet feeding their chick
Australian winters are very mild, with infrequent frosts. Rainbow lorikeets do sometimes travel to warmer regions in the winter, typically heading north. Overall, their winter diets are not much different to their regular diets.
The best way to attract Rainbow lorikeets is to provide them with a selection of native flowering plants.
Some people try to attract them with bread soaked in honey, but honey does not provide the nutrients that Rainbow lorikeets need to thrive and can stunt their growth. Instead, feed them a diverse selection of soft, sweet fruits and cool, fresh water.
A group of Rainbow lorikeets eating from a bird feeder
Whilst it might be tempting to feed Rainbow lorikeets with honey, sugar water or other highly sugar-rich foods, they are poor at digesting commercial and artificially refined sugars.
It's best to feed Rainbow lorikeets with fruits; apples, pears, grapes, melon, strawberries, mango, peaches and cherries and vegetables; lettuce, celery, pumpkin and other dark leafy greens.
Purpose-made Rainbow lorikeet food is also widely available. Honey is okay in small quantities but choose an organic or unrefined brand.
Chocolate, coffee and avocado are toxic to many birds, including Rainbow lorikeets. Many people feed semi-tame and wild Rainbow lorikeets with bread soaked in honey, but this leads to health issues and growth deficiency in young lorikeets. Don’t feed Rainbow lorikeets with refined honey or other commercial or artificial sugar products.
Rainbow lorikeets have high water demands, partly because Australia is often very hot, and partly because they need to water down their sugar-rich diet. They also love to bathe and clean their glorious feathers!
Providing ample fresh water will help support Rainbow lorikeets and other birds.
Rainbow lorikeets drinking water from a tap in the outback
Rainbow lorikeets eat many species of fruits. Papaya, figs, apples, grapes, pears, citrus, banana and mango are all consumed regularly.
Rainbow lorikeets are flexible when it comes to vegetables and will eat carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin, beans, spinach, sweet corn, broccoli and celery.
Yes, frozen cucumber is excellent for Rainbow lorikeets and also has high water content.
Rainbow lorikeets do eat some insects and invertebrates in the wild, so yes, they do technically eat meat.
However, meat from invertebrates makes up a tiny proportion of their diet. There have also been observations of urban or semi-tame birds eating meat scraps and leftovers. Captive or pet Rainbow lorikeets don’t need to be fed meat, and it isn’t recommended.
A pair of Rainbow lorikeets
Rainbow lorikeets might crack seeds for fun but tend not to eat them. Therefore, it’s generally not recommended to feed them with seed.
It’s generally not recommended. Rainbow lorikeets are generally unable to digest hard foods like seeds.
They can eat the soft interior of tomatoes, but there are better fruits to feed Rainbow lorikeets, such as grapes, apples, pears, mango and sultanas.
No, Rainbow lorikeets don’t need Weetabix or other grains.
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