As Good As It Gets – Chalcopsitta Lories in U.S. Aviculture

Margrethe Warden  


 Of all the lory species available in the United States, my favorites, hands down, are those in the Chalcopsitta group. This group includes Yellow-streakeds, C. scintillata; Duyvenbodes, C. duivenbodei; and Blacks, C. atra. Also in this genus are the Cardinals, C. cardinalis; however, they are not as firmly established in U.S. aviculture as others in this genus. Members of this group are larger than most other lories, have long, rounded tails and are native the lowlands of New Guinea and some nearby islands. At this time they appear to be well established in their native habitat.  Their wing beats are distinctively shallow and flight seems slow. The most notable trait of this group is the bare skin surrounding the lower mandible.  They do not posses the same brightly colored plumage of some of the more commonly seen lories but in my opinion their subtle coloring makes them more beautiful.

 As a whole, this group of lories seems to be the gentlest and best natured of the lories. This characteristic is documented as far back as one hundred years ago. In his 1896 book “The Loriidae”, St. George Mivart declares that this particular group of lories “…frequently approach the human habitations, which lead to their often being caught. Then they are easily domesticated and at least two species of them are said to be amongst the gentlest of birds.” Of the Chalcopsitta group, Mivart additionally indicates that some “will spontaneously approach human dwellings, and in most of them make excellent pets, except for those persons who cannot tolerate the shrill cries they often emit.”  

  One of the most overlooked lories in my opinion has been the black lory, Chalcopsitta atra. This bird is without a doubt one of the most delightful lories one could have. On first glance you might think it’s just a black crow only with a hooked bill but closer examination reveals this is an incorrect assessment. While the bird is primarily black in color, there is a purple sheen to the feathers. Another look reveals subtle shades of yellow and red. The black lories I have owned have been at least 12” long and weigh in the neighborhood of 250 grams. While they are as noisy as any other parrot, I have found all of them, including my breeders, to be gentle and affectionate. They are typically fearless, as lories tend to be. Of the black lory specifically, Mivart states “It seems to approach human habitation: hence it is often caught, when it is easily domesticated and shows itself gentle and attractive.”  Black lories may be one of the oldest known lories. Both Mivart and Rosemary Low refer to a 1771 description of them in account of a voyage to New Guinea by Sonnerat. While blacks are not noted for being accomplished talkers and mimics many have managed to acquire a small vocabulary. 

The yellow-streaked lories have gained recognition as wonderful pets. These birds have dark green plumage, red forehead and thighs and its breast is streaked with bright yellow shafts. They are the flashiest members of this genus and the only one that has green feathers. Their beaks are dark and they are slightly smaller than the black lories.  Owners of these lories describe them as generally sweet, very loving and good-natured but also indicate they often tend to be one-person birds. Of the yellow-streaked, Mivart claims it “…has a docile disposition and is easily domesticated.”  These outgoing birds enjoy the company of human companions and can charm a crowd of any age. 

The Duyvenbode’s or brown lory is another subtle but dramatically marked bird. The plumage is generally dark brown, highlighted with bright yellow on the thighs, forehead, around the beak and under the wings. Their beaks are also black. As pets, these birds have been described as sweet and devoted and tend to like most humans. They make excellent companion birds. They are typical lories so do not be surprised at the high-pitched shriek that is their voice.  

Cardinal lories, are gaining in popularity as their population in the Unites States increases. While they existed in the Unites States in small numbers, in January 1999, the Solomon Island Parrot Consortium added 49 more birds to the existing population. The wild caught, imported birds have done well and have reproduced. Several consortium members are working on the F2 generation. These birds are a deep, dark red bird, not the bright, flashy red colors of some of the more common varieties of lory. I have come to enjoy these birds almost as much as any of the other lories I’ve worked with. They are also calm by nature and seem to make good companions when hand reared. They are native to the Solomon Islands where they are still relatively plentiful. As their numbers increase here, I expect to see them become popular in the pet trade. Those who have had the pleasure of their company speak highly of the charm and personality. 

As is the case with all lories, everything is a toy. The most entertaining of all playthings are those which make noise.  Balls with bells and toys that are loose that can be tossed about the cage provide great amusement. These birds also enjoy ropes (be mindful of fraying), swings and things with knots that can be undone. I once accidentally dropped the plastic back piece from a plastic crock into the cage housing a pair of yellow streaks.  One of the birds immediately jumped on it and proceeded to slam it all around the cage, “killing” it, for some time before I could retrieve it. 

Large cages are a must for these birds. The smallest size I house a single Chalcopsitta in is 3’ by 3’ by 2’. Smaller cages are acceptable only if the lory gets plenty of time outside the cage. Lories can be aggressive and full of mischief with other birds so it is not a good idea to house them with other lories or other birds unless you are setting them up for breeding. If they share out of the cage time with other birds be sure they do so only under strict supervision. 

Feeding Chalcopsitta lories is simple. Start out with a good commercial lory nectar such as Lory Life or Nekton. In addition to that, add fresh fruits and vegetables. My lories all seem to enjoy papayas, corn, peas, apples, berries, melon, sweet potato, mango, persimmon and sprouted seeds and peas. The Chalcopsittas seem to be particularly vulnerable to hemochromatosis or iron storage disease. It is very important to ensure that the total dietary iron remains below 100 parts per million (ppm).  This can be accomplished by feeding a quality commercial diet supplemented with fruits and vegetables that are low in iron and ascorbic acid. 

All lories like water. They require and abundant supply of fresh drinking water. They also are vigorous bathers who cannot seem to get enough bath time! A spray bottle or large, shallow pan of water can provide for an adequate bath. Many lory owners let their birds enjoy splashing and playing in a shallowly filled bathtub.

When setting up pairs of Chalcopsitta lories for breeding it is best to start with young birds that can mature together. Allow the birds ample time to gradually get to know each other before placing them in a cage together. When breeding these lories, it is necessary to use the largest cage possible to allow some room for flying and playing.  Breeders have had the most success using the ‘L’ or boot shaped nest boxes. The boxes I use are roughly 10”x10”x18” with a three-inch opening. They usually lay clutches of two eggs and the incubation period is about 25 days. Handfeeding lory chicks is relatively easy. I start them out using a commercial handfeeding formula that is fairly low in iron and gradually switch them over to liquid nectar. In the early weeks I’ll also add some organic baby applesauce or other organic baby fruit. Small paper cups such as the ones used for bathrooms or water coolers are ideal for feeding. They are less messy than syringes and disposable.  It has been my experience that lories wean easily and their natural curiosity aids them in trying and accepting all kinds of new foods. 

For anyone who is thinking about getting started with lories, the Chalcopsitta family will provide a richly rewarding avian experience. If I could only have one lory in the world I would narrow it down to a choice from this group. They are delightful and devoted companions and should provide years of pleasure for the human fortunate enough to have them in their life.

Warden, Margrethe, The Lory Owner's Survival Guide, USA 2004.

Mivart, St. George, “The Loriidae A Monograph of the Lories or Brush Tongued Parrots Composing the Family Loriidae”, London, 1896.

Low, Rosemary,  Lories and Lorikeets”, London, 1977.