Tasmania's journal of discovery

Flights of passion

The Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor), so named because of the aerial speed it reaches, is a semi-nomadic species largely found foraging in flowering eucalypts of Victoria and New South Wales.

As the weather warms up and thoughts turn to things other than food, Tasmania is the place where this brightly coloured member of the parrot family likes to be. The breeding season coincides with the flowering of Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), because the nectar of this eucalypt is the parrots’ main food at this time.

The main breeding area covers the south-east coast of Tasmania, with a second small population in the dry stringybark areas of forest between Launceston and Smithton in the north.

Between 23-25cm long, bigger than a budgie but smaller than a rosella, the Swift Parrot is streamlined for rapid flight.

A colourful bird, it is green with red on the throat, chin and forehead, has red patches on its shoulders and under the wings, a blue crown and cheeks, blue on its wings and a long pointed tail. It can be readily identified in flight by its bright red underwing patches.

Catching a glimpse of these aerial dynamos can be difficult, however, and for many people the only sign of their presence is the distinctive kik-kik-kik call they emit, often in flight as they speed among the trees.

Occasionally, however, they can be seen feeding in small chattering groups on the flowers of eucalypt trees.

Swift Parrots can sometimes be seen in the Hobart area, feeding on flowers of introduced eucalypts, particularly pink flowering gum. When they are feeding in small groups on flowers, they chatter quietly to themselves. Large feeding flocks also occur. These are noisy affairs with birds squabbling and chasing each other in and out of the trees.

After breeding many of the birds from the east coast will often be found around the Central Plateau and western Tasmania as blue gum flowering declines and other eucalypts begin to flower elsewhere.

Their nests are most commonly found in south-eastern Tasmania, within the range of the blue gum and near the coast in dry forests on upper slopes and ridge tops. After their arrival in spring, both sexes join the search for a suitable home inside a hollow tree branch or the trunk of very old or dead eucalypt trees.

Such hollows may take hundreds of years to form and are very important homes for many birds, and animals like possums and bats — another reason to leave as much old growth forest in place as possible.

In the breeding season, males and females form pairs. Gregarious by natures, pairs may nest in close proximity to each other and often in the same tree. The size of each clutch is on average four eggs, but sometimes five may be laid. While the female sits on the eggs, the caring male visits the nest every four to five hours to feed the female.

Once hatched the young birds fledge at about six weeks with the first chicks seen outside the nest normally around late November and early December.

Swift Parrots begin to leave Tasmania for the mainland from mid February and most have left by the end of April.

Photography by Tun Pin Ong. Visit his web site here

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