NZ DOC vs. rainbow lorikeets

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2000:

AUCKLAND, N.Z.; SAN FRANCISCO; MIAMI––The New Zealand Department of Conservation has budgeted $245,000 toward all-out eradication of feral rainbow lorikeets, including $18,000 for the use of alpha chlorolase poison, but the brightly colored Australian birds have an influential defender in Rex Gilliland, 61.

A life member of the Royal Society of New Zealand and a leading member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Gilliland is no reflexive friend of ferals. His curriculum vitae states that he “previously assisted the DoC by eradicating the Norway rat from Saddle Island in the Hauraki Gulf at his own expense.”

Also to assist the survival of indigenous New Zealand birds, Gilliland has for many years sponsored kaka exhibition and research at the Auckland Zoo, and planted more than 400 trees to help the birds and other wildlife of Tiri Tiri Island.

But Gilliland just doesn’t buy the so-called science behind the DoC antipathy toward rainbow lorikeets, as he outlines in depth at a web site, , created in hopes of averting the planned massacre. Point by point, Gilliland refutes the DoC contentions that rainbow lorikeets are expanding their habitat beyond urban Perth, or even could; that they have ever threatened fruit crops; that they carry disease; that they compete with native species; and that eradication serves some plausible ecological end.

“The DoC could have told the simple truth: that any new introduction is unpredictable in effect, and is not desirable on that account alone,” Gilliland writes. “But perhaps that was insufficiently convincing. It seems that the very paucity of adverse data about the rainbow lorikeet in the published [scientific] literature has led to exaggeration and invention…If this same appalling level of expertise and competence is also applied to the understanding and conservation of native birds, we should be truly worried for their future.”

Gilliland traces most of the allegations against rainbow lorikeets back to a single 1997 essay, “Rainbow lorikeets: an avian weed in the west,” by David Lamont, of Perth University, Australia. Other published criticisms of rainbow lorikeets, Gilliland demonstrates, merely amplified Lamont’s contentions––which in any event were based on Australian experience rather than that of New Zealand–– without independent cross-checking.

Directly contradicting Lamont, Edith Cowan University professor Harry Recher recently told the Auckland SPCA that “The effect of the rainbow lorikeet on other birds is neutral.”

Bird enthusiast Mark K. Bittner of San Francisco, California, reached similar conclusions recently after six years of feeding and watching the feral cherry-headed conures who live around Telegraph Hill.

“I’m not without nativist sympathies,” Bittner wrote in the March 5 edition of the San Francisco E x a m i n e r, “but dogmatism of any kind is inevitably cruel. The conures are not taking over another species’ ecological niche. They survive in an unnatural urban ecology. Conures can’t migrate, so they must have adequate food year-round within their territory. Artificially planted areas––gardens––furnish most of the flock’s diet. Many of the trees from which they eat, such as loquats, coral trees, saucer magnolias, and eucalyptus, are also non-native. The conures couldn’t survive in truly natural areas because there isn’t enough food available in the winter. The tree in which they nest, the Canary Island date palm, is another non-native.

“The flock is not growing explosively,” Bittner continued, “and I don’t think it ever will, as conures are not good breeders. As for how they get along with the natives, while the conures can be extraordinarily aggressive with one another, they entirely ignore the native birds. The conures occasionally become a meal for hawks.” Bittner’s further observations are posted at

But there are those in officialdom who want to exterminate the San Francisco conures, along with the feral monk parakeets of Florida, central Texas, and the greater New York City area. The monk parakeets already survived a USDA attempt to kill them all as “major agricultural pests” in the 1970s, after disease outbreaks among hens raised in intensive confinement were linked to parakeets and other psitacines who were illegally smuggled into the U.S.

As recently as April 10, 2000, Florida Power & Light Company crews hosed monk parakeets off of their nests atop electrical poles in Cooper City, shattering about 30 eggs and outraging residents of the Rock Creek residential development. Florida Power & Light spokesperson Lynn Shatas said it was an accident. Because the parakeets are not protected by either U.S. or Florida law, the firm faced no legal consequences.

The parrots reportedly began rebuilding their nests two days later.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.