Unmistakable with their glorious green backs, blue heads, and orange beaks with orange and gold breast.
Rainbow lorikeets enjoy a happy co-existence with humans in well treed urban areas and are increasingly common again as people ensure appropriate habitat and food plants are available for them in home gardens and parklands.
When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to be adopted by a wild rainbow lorikeet, who flew into our backyard one afternoon. We treated him to a plate of food that day and from then on he became a regular viisitor.
Joey, as we named him, would wait for his daily plate of 4.00pm treats, including parrot seed, honey, stale bread and fruits. He was always solitary, but we believed he was one of a then small population of these delightful birds, here, in Ballarat, in the mid 1960s.
Joey brought enormous joy to our lives for some three or four years. Every summer, our family would head to Queenscliff for three weeks holiday. Our neighbours would look after our animals in our absence and kept up Joey's 4 o'clock feed.
However, just on dusk, the evening we returned home from our holiday, we were confronted by a terrible sight. Right outside our house, two men had drenched Joey in water to prevent him flying and were attempting to catch him with a fishing net. My dad intervened, saying he was our pet, but he was wild and a protected species. He threatened them with a call to the police and already had taken their car numberplate details. Fortunately they took my dad seriously and left in haste.
Joey followed us into the backyard, still so drenched he was unable to fly to his usual tree. My parents and I were devastated at the prospect of this beautiful wild bird spending his life in some tiny cage, as a captive pet.
After some discussion, we made a very difficult decision. We captured Joey ourselves, which involved my dad grabbing him with a pair of gardening gloves. Joey protested strongly, biting right through my dad's gloves and hard into his finger. My dad managed to pop Joey into a cage that had once housed our budgie and he slept in our sunroom overnight, whilst we sorted out as happy a future as possible for our beloved wild pet.
First thing the following morning, my mum called the Melbourne Zoo and explained what had happened to Joey. The zoo had recently opened their 'great flight aviary' and indeed would welcome our beloved rainbow lorikeet for release within it. All three of us agreed this was a satisfactory compromise. Joey would have space to still fly about and would be well fed. He would also get to meet a few more rainbow lorikeets and have the opportunity to breed.
We were pretty sure those nasty parrot smugglers would return to trap him if he remained in his semi-wild state. We also knew the zoo would welcome us as visitors whenever we wanted to pay him a visit.
Despite this, saying goodbye to Joey on that fateful Tuesday morning was a very teary event for all of us. A friend that was returning to Melbourne had agreed to provide a rainbow lorikeet taxi service to Melbourne zoo. It was with heavy hearts we bid our darling wild pet goodbye.
Some weeks later we headed to Melbourne Zoo, making a beeline for 'the great flight aviary'. Within five minutes Joey had landed on my shoulder and spent at least ten minutes with us as we made our way through the wonderfully huge enclosure, full of lush plantings and feeding stations. It was wonderful to see he had settled in and that he was enjoying about the best possible conditions for a captive bird we could possibly have organised for him.
It was some months before our next visit to the zoo. Again we headed to the 'great flight aviary'. This time Joey again came to greet us soon after our arrival, but he was not alone. His new mate was more wary of us and did not come to sit on my shoulder, but she did stay close to Joey in the branches. He flew from us to her several times, then the two of them took flight and made a lap around the aviary together, a gloriuos sight. Joey again came to me before we left the aviary to say goodbye.
For many years afterwards, Joey would continue to greet me whenever we visited the zoo. It was as if he too had wonderful memories of those joyous times where he made such a powerful connection with our family. He seemed happy enough in his new surroundings and he was contributing to the Melbourne Zoo's captive breeding program.
Today, rainbow lorikeets are, thankfully, a way more common sight again in Ballarat and Melbourne, than they were in the 1960s when I was growing up. Perhaps the habitat to support them has increased, but I can't help but wonder if there are a few less horrible and immoral illegal parrot smugglers capturing wild birds and dooming them to lives in small inadequate cages, devoid of space to fly, enduring poor diets and solitary confinement?
The photographs of rainbow lorikeets on this blog come courtesy of my friend Jurgen Lenz, who also captures rainbow lorikeets with his camera, whenever he can, leaving them free to bring colour and joy, as wild, free indigenous birds!
For further information about Australia's rainbow lorikeets click on this link, to 'Backyard Birds'!