More meat-eating lorikeets (and other parrots, too)
The scientific community now recognizes that the phenomenon of meat-eating by lorikeets was not a one-off aberration, but is widespread, known to have been occurring for decades.
Published: 14 March 2017 (GMT+10)
When Professor Daryl Jones of Griffith University, Australia, first heard of rainbow lorikeets eating meat, he was “shocked”.1 Rainbow lorikeets are a beautiful Australian parrot species (Trichoglossus haematodus) renowned for eating fruit (much to the dismay of orchardists!2), as well as seeds, nectar, and pollen. In other words, 100% herbivorous. But two years ago the owner of a back yard bird-feeding station north of Brisbane reported that lorikeets were eating the mincemeat he’d left out for carnivorous birds, e.g. magpies, kookaburras, and butcher birds.1
Professor Jones said at the time, “To see a lorikeet eating meat astonishes me completely. I have never heard of such a thing before.”1 Given Prof Jones’s undertakings in up-to-date research on “what birds feed on all around the world”,1 with particular emphasis on Australia, his surprise was especially notable. Prof Jones let it be known that he “would like to hear from anyone who has observed lorikeets eating meat”.1
And he certainly did hear from them, with more than 500 emails landing in his inbox.3 It soon became evident that the phenomenon of meat-eating rainbow lorikeets was not confined to a few birds just north of Brisbane. Rather, it was Australia-wide, “really common and really widespread”, frequently observed in captive and wild birds.3 What’s more, Prof Jones received 144 responses which indicated that other parrots, including scaly-breasted parrots and cockatiels, were also regular consumers of meat.
And observers reported to Prof Jones that it had actually been occurring for quite some time. “People have said they’ve seen it for up to 20 years.”3
And what has been the reaction of the international science community to such widespread meat-eating in parrots? “This is something that has shocked people around the world, people initially like myself just refused to believe it and said it can’t possibly be true,” explained Prof Jones. “It’s really opened up some eyes and some avenues for further research.”3
As well as lorikeets, other parrots formerly thought to be exclusively vegetarian are now known to eat meat, much to the surprise of scientists. From left, the scaly-breasted parrot, cockatiel and galah.
Surprise, surprise?—or not really …
While the unfolding meat-loving lorikeet saga caught the scientific community by surprise, it perhaps ought not have. After all, these Australian accounts of meat-eating in parrots are not unique in the parrot world. The kea of New Zealand is a parrot renowned for its carnivory.4
New Zealand’s carnivorous parrot, the kea.
And beyond parrots, there have been numerous other modern-day examples of other birds and creatures traditionally regarded as being exclusively vegetarian which suddenly adopted very different dietary behaviour, often to the surprise and shock of observers; e.g. the ‘Vampire Finches’ of the Galápagos, sheep that kill birds, a horse that devours hens, and a cow that gobbles up live chickens.
Furthermore, from a biblical perspective, we really ought not be surprised whenever we encounter carnivory in today’s world. According to Genesis 1, originally all animals and birds were given “every green plant for food”. That means that every kind of animal and bird today that eats meat, was in fact originally vegetarian. So they’ve transitioned from a 100% vegetarian diet at some point in history. The Bible’s eyewitness account of history tells us that it can only have happened in the intervening years since the Fall, about 6,000 years ago, because prior to that, it was truly a “very good” world, just as God said, in which there was no death, no pain, no suffering, no carnivory.
So the fact of widespread evidence of meat-eating in parrots (and other creatures) is really just another symptom of the harsh reality that we now live in a fallen world. But in order to see things in that context (i.e. a biblical worldview), eyes really have to be open to at least consider the possibility that the Bible’s history is true. Therefore if meat-eating in parrots has really “opened up some eyes” as Professor Jones says,3 let’s pray that it will open up some more—and wider.
References and notes
- Watson, M., Rainbow lorikeets eating meat leaves bird experts astonished, abc.net.au, 23 March 2015. (Creation Ministries International wrote on this at: Easy meat for the lorikeet, 14 April 2015. Four correspondents, three from Australia and one from USA, submitted comments referring to similar instances of meat-eating, which we published at the foot of that article.) Return to text.
- ABC Gardening Australia fact sheet: Growing lychee trees, abc.net.au, 28 March 2009. Return to text.
- Watson, M., Meat-eating rainbow lorikeet study changes what scientists knew about the birds, abc.net.au, 2 November 2016. Return to text.
- Weston, P., The kea: clever, clownish and … carnivorous?!, Creation 27(1):28-32, 2005; creation.com/Air-attack. Return to text.
Years ago I had a Quaker parakeet that would fly down to the dinner table and drag the (large!) leg of lamb from the plate and gnaw on it. He also loved cheese, spaghetti, tea, chocolate! and garlic-basically, whatever we were eating. When I had hens, their favorite treat was chicken and scrambled eggs! One would grab the neck and run with it like a football with the others chasing her trying to steal it away.
My Sun Conure loves chicken
We have a Macaw and she loves to sit next to our dinner plate and eat chicken, steak, mashed potatoes, whatever we eat she's wanting and able to eat... with exception of a few known toxins like avocados and alcohol and the like.
About 40 years ago we had a galah housed in a cage in the back yard. He loved it when we had a bar-b-q and got the chop bones to nibble on.
I've often noticed how surprised scientists are at animal behaviour that people with pets or even working animals are well aware of. They seem to often underestimate animals.
In New Zealand our alpine parrot is known to be a meat/fat eater as per comment below.
Species Information: Breeding and ecology
The kea is an unusual parrot. It is the only truly alpine parrot in the world, and gained early notoriety among settler farmers for attacks on their sheep. Innately curious, kea are attracted to people wherever they enter its mountain domain, and are a feature at South Island ski-fields and mountain huts. Their attraction to people and their paraphernalia is a two-edged sword, providing both new threats and new opportunities.
Yes indeed, as our Creation magazine article on the kea pointed out:
As well as scrounging for berries, they seek out animal fat for its high energy, tearing open carcasses to consume meat and internal organs, scraping dried meat from bones and licking out the marrow.
Suspicions of keas ‘preying’ on sheep were confirmed after graziers found wool and raw mutton in the stomachs of birds shot on the sheep runs—shootings prompted by regular sightings of keas clinging to live sheep and pecking at ‘sores’.