The first time I saw these beautiful lorikeets, the Plum-faced lorikeets, was in aviculture. Back in the days when I bred parrots in Sweden one of our most enjoyable trips we did with fellow aviculturists from Sweden were to meet our European friends who bred amazing species known to us only in books. We had trips going to friends and breeders in Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Holland.
It was in one of those trips in 1998 that I saw the Plum-faced for the first time in a collection of only Lories and lorikeets. A very knowledgeable and accomplished breeder and friend, Jos Hubers, had bred these beautiful small lorikeets in many years. They were breath-taking and in perfect conditions but unfortunately during that visit all the chicks that were on sale were already reserved to a breeder in Germany.
I never thought that one day I will, not only see them in aviculture, but also in the wild.
I started travelling to Papua, which was called at that time Irian Jaya, every year from 2001 until 2005. My trips lasted just one month a year but in 2005 I moved to Indonesia. I can say that I was hooked on the amount of exciting and amazing wildlife to be found in the country. The western half of New Guinea Island, under Indonesian rule, was much safer to travel to than the Eastern Part, Papua New Guinea. I knew from the beginning that if I was to travel to the remote places in the country I needed to learn the language (Bahasa Indonesia) as most of the people that live in these areas don´t speak English and some speak a little bit of Dutch but most of the Indonesian and even the Papuan do speak Bahasa Indonesia.
The same year I moved to Indonesia, 2005, I visited both the Arfak Mountains and the Snow Mountains. The lorikeets are found in both regions. I wanted to see and hopefully photograph any bird species I could find especially the parrots.
A bird with many names:
There are 3 recognized subspecies:
- Oreopsittacus arfaki arfaki which is restricted to the mountains of the Vogelkop, Papua
- Oreopsittacus arfaki major found in the mountains Central Range, the North-east and the South-east of Papua New Guinea.
- Oreopsittacus arfaki grandis found in the mountains of western part of the Central Range and
The same species has so many names such as Plum-faced, Arfak, and Whiskered and so on but lately this confusion with so many names became more understandable as each name now refers to a specific subspecies.
The one found in the Arfak got this name Arfak Lorikeet.
The subspecies from the Central Range is now known as the Plum-faced.
The last one from the Eastern Parts of New Guinea is known as the Whiskered.
These different names are still not accepted by all major bird lists.
In captivity the species was not well known before 1990. So many breeders were seeking to obtain some birds to start a breeding stock. At that time few birds had reached Europe and, according to a good friend of mine, Jos Hubers, who is a well-known and knowledgeable Dutch Lories, Lorikeets, Hanging-parrots and Fig-parrots breeder the first breeding of the species in Europe and probably worldwide was achieved in 1991 by a German breeder Mr. Neff. Mr. Neff was so knowledgeable and an expert at breeding the species that he managed to reach the 7th generation. The numbers of chicks reach about 200 birds. He sold his chicks to many breeders and collectors in the whole of Europe and beyond. Jos informed me that at one stage females of these Lorikeets were laying eggs from perches in one cage.
As breeding the species was not a challenge for him any longer he stopped keeping and breeding these and other Lories, Lorikeets and Fig-parrots and started the next challenge, keeping and breeding Cotingas which he managed to breed few months after he acquired them.
Most of the birds that were bred by Mr. Neff were lost as many breeders struggled to increase the population or even to keep them alive.
Jos got few birds from Mr. Neff and within few weeks managed to breed from them also.
Nowadays, there are so few of these Lorikeets in collections making their survival in captivity an uncertain one.
The normal clutch both in the wild and in captivity is 2 eggs and it takes between 21 to 23 days for these to hatch. The chicks leave the nest at an age of 35 to 40 days old and will be fed by the parents in the 2 to 3 following months, at the same time the chicks will start to feed by themselves.
The diet that the breeders and keepers of these lorikeets that I have discussed with and that they have used consist of a mix of Lory Nectar and the juice of the available fruits such as apples, mangoes, pears…. Nekton S formula has been given few times a week and this has proven to be a great addition to the diet especially during the breeding season as it contains all essential vitamins and is additionally enriched with amino acids and beneficial minerals for the health of the birds.
Many breeders have found these small lorikeets to be quite active and easily tamed but fairly sensitive to sudden changes.
In the wild:
Fortunately, the species, with all its subspecies, is still fairly common in the wild. In the Central range and the Snow Mountains these Lorikeets are frequently seen feeding in small flocks on their own or with the company of other Lorikeets such as Yellow-billed and Red-billed Lorikeets. I have even seen them feeding with Painted Tiger-parrots on the small bushes and on the ground.
In the Arfak Mountains, Vogelkop the species frequent the same fruiting and flowering trees as the Yellow-billed, Fairy, Josephine´s and the Stella’s Lorikeets and the Sunbirds, Honeyeaters in these parts. They are very tough and aggressive when feeding chasing away other species much larger than themselves. They are one of the most common species in this distribution and trapping them is still very low thus the big population.
Few flocks of as many as 25 to 30 birds are frequently seen daily when birdwatching this region. They are swift flyers and only threatened by raptors when they are feeding frenzy as they tend to drop their guard making them easy prey.
When the birds are ready to breed which is all year around and depends mostly on the availability of their favorite food they tend to leave the flocks and stay/feed close to where they have their nesting tree. They are seen at that time in pairs.
They feed mostly on berries and nectar taken from the many flowering trees and bushes in the region pollinating the many species of Rhododendron plants especially those from the Vireya family. The choices of food stuff in the high altitude are limited thus these and other birds have to be constantly on the move.
As the temperature is not that warm in these mountains the birds have to feed continuously to keep warm and swiftly fly from feeding tree to another spending long periods in each locations.
Because of the status of the species in the wild is still somewhat safe the chances of keeping a small population in captivity for conservation purposes might still be possible.
I would like to thank my friend Jos Hubers for the great information about the birds in captivity and also Mr. Neff for his details description of the breeding of these birds