STOP PRESS! Swift Parrots in Sydney

May 1, 2014

Birders of Sydney, look up, look up...high into the canopy of any flowering gum tree that shrieks and squawks with feeding parrots.

The usual suspects are, of course, the Rainbow Lorikeets with which many of us are familiar. Sometimes—if we're lucky—we might also see the smaller, quieter Musk Lorikeets feeding alongside. But this week a report came in from the NSW National Parks of a 'large' flock of Swift Parrots feeding in the Royal National Park just south of the city.

These birds are extremely rare. Less than a thousand breeding pairs are believed to exist in the whole of Australia. Swift Parrots raise their young in Tasmania but between March and May many of them fly across the Bass Strait to winter on the mainland.

Victoria, naturally enough, is the major recipient of these annual travellers but some venture further north and east and —just occasionally—they make a stop-over in Sydney­— provided, that is, that we can lay on a plentiful supply of nectar, pollen and lerps (the sugary shelters made by tiny insects, often on the underside of gum leaves).

And so we cross our fingers and hope that these beautiful birds will grace our city with their presence. I cannot think of a better reason to care for our bushland and cultivate native plants in our gardens than to entice Swift Parrots.

I personally have yet to clap eyes on this parrot royalty so I'm stumbling around, craning my neck under the blossoms of Swamp Mahoganies around my suburb, listening out for high-pitched sqeaking. How will I recognize them?

Well, here you can see two beautiful photographs of a Swift Parrot taken by top-gun bird photographer, Chris Tzaros. Lacking the blue head and scaly orange and yellow breast of the Rainbow Lorikeet, the endangered Swift Parrot is more likely to be confused with the relatively common and smaller Musk Lorikeet (only 20cm rather than 25cm long). A  feature of Musk Lorikeets that I always look for is a red ‘teardrop’ behind the eyes. You won't find that on Swift Parrots, although they certainly do have a red noseband and throat.

Perhaps Swift Parrots are easiest to identify on the wing. They have a thin, pointy tail, dark at its tip, and conspicuous red patches under their wings. The wing tips, too, are dark. They don’t call them ‘swift’ for nothing. Their flight is fast and direct, and the rapid beat of their wings creates a whirring sound as they zip overhead.

Locations visited

Royal National Park


Land Birds 1 species
Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) 1



Written by

Louise Egerton

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