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Rainbow Lorikeet advice for health (physical and behavioral) and longevity

Expert Question

Thank you for considering my question. I have a rainbow lorikeet that has ended up as my pet. I’m a WIRES carer and he (I can’t be sure he is a male) came into my care in April as a displaced chick while he was a grey ball of down. I hand raised him with the intention of releasing him but at a certain point I took him to a vet who advised that he had beak and feather so was not releasable but that he could have a good life as a pet.

So at that point my partner and I started to treat him as a pet. A few weeks later I took him to another vet due to a thrush infection and while there, they did a DNA test that showed he does not have B&F. He does have poorly formed feathers though which the vet attributed to a nutritional &/or trauma incident related to him coming into care. He can fly in a limited way but needs to molt before he will be able to fly properly and the vet advised that he would not be releasable due to the length of time in care.

My partner and I love him very much and he has become known as Friend. I am a relatively new wildlife carer and we have never had a pet bird before so we have been figuring things out as we go.

Friend has a large cage but we try to let him out as much as possible and he loves interacting with us and is super playful. About two weeks ago Friend had been hanging out with me in my bedroom for about an hour, playing and exploring the space. At one point he just flew straight up from the bed and bit me extremely hard on my upper lip, drawing blood. I had to catch him to put him in his cage. He has since engaged in the same behaviour about 6 times with me, always going for my face and in particular my mouth; though he hasn’t done it to my partner Nathan. We are both very attached with Friend though I am the one who feed him as a baby, I’m the one who does things like give him medication if he needs it.

I have started to recognize his precursor behaviour, his eyes pin and he stares intently at my face and there is just a shift in his body language. Each time he has bitten me (and now when he is starting to show the signs) we have put him back in his cage and waited for at least 15mins & he has settled down to get him out.

I’m afraid I’m starting to become fearful of handling him. I don’t want him to be unhappy and I really don’t want to be bitten.

I had thought that perhaps it was a result of hormones related to Spring but everything I have read says that they don’t sexually mature until two years and he was only born around March/April.

As we don’t know much at all about having a pet bird we haven’t trained him at all and it was fairly common for us to have to catch him to put him in his cage when it was time. After reading info online I see how silly
that is and we’re trying to use positive reinforcement of his much loved grapes to get him into his cage.

He use to do a thing where he would hop around our heads and shoulders and flap super rapidly for about 30secs and bite at our heads though not hard. We use to cover our faces while he flapped but we didn’t stop him doing
it. Since the biting started we have not allowed him to engage in this behaviour on us.

I really want to sort out what is going on for him and I want to do the right thing by him and me. I would really appreciate some advise, I’m worried that I could be making it worse through ignorance.

He is molting at the moment and he spent last weekend at the vet because he had been regurgitating. The vet thought it was an infection though he was also treated for heavy metal poisoning just in case. I have given him his last dose of antibiotics tonight.

I’m more than happy to do as much research and training with him as I need to and Nathan & I are happy to go to as much effort as is needed. We would happily consider getting him a companion rainbow lorikeet and have been
thinking about it anyway as we want his social needs to be met especially during the day while we’re at work. I was a little bit worried about the possibility of them not getting on and how to go about it. At this point I
feel like I need to sort out the issues with his behaviour before adding another bird into the mix. We would even consider taking him to live at a Wildlife park such as Featherdale if that was what was best for him. We would find it a very difficult thing to do but we would rather he was happy. He calls back and forth to the local wild lorikeets and they occasionally come down close to observe him. I just worry that having been a tame bird that going to
somewhere like Featherdale may also cause him problems and stress.

I’m sorry for the super long question but I want to give you the full picture. If you have any questions please let me know.

Thank you for your time.

Expert Answer

Dear Michaela,

You asked Jim McKendry about Friend’s behavior but he is unfortunately unavailable this month. I hope the responses from my team are helpful! S.

Hi Michaela,
Shauna from the LLP teaching team! It is a super call on your part to be looking into Friend’s diet. Good nutrition is imperative to help assure a bird's health (physical and behavioral) and longevity. This becomes even more critical in cases of malnutrition evidenced by poor feathering such as you describe with Friend. Malnutrition can result in a wide range of adverse effects by compromising a bird’s state of overall well-being.

It's important to keep in mind that there have been only a few wild Lorikeet or other parrot diet studies to date, resulting in very little information about species typical diets. However, it is also worth considering that what birds eat in captivity needn't be absolutely identical to the diet of their wild counterparts, given the huge difference in lifestyles between wild and captive birds. The brass ring of nutrition is the health of each individual in the environment in which they live.

We do know that Lorikeets have some special dietary requirements such as a food regimen that is low in iron and not excessively high in vitamin A or vitamin C. To meet these needs in captivity a specialized diet is critical. A diet that isn’t too high in iron and also doesn’t contain excessive amounts of vitamin A is needed. A safe way to provide vitamin A is through beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Spirulina, in the correct amount, works well. The diet should also be diverse, including fresh fruits, a vegetable slurry, and a Lorikeet powder, Lorikeet pellet, or both. If offering Lorikeet pellets they can be left in a bowl all day. Also during the day a few whole foods, such as a whole berry hidden in a flower can be offered for foraging activity. Wildlife nutrition specialist from Australia, Debra McDonald, Ph.D., studied wild Lorikeet diet. Her product, Dr. Mac’s formulated Lorikeet diet, may be available in your area. For more information, go to

Lorikeet slurry can be offered by combining some of the foods that are listed below with a blender. Slurries not only add fresh food to the diet, but they also provide phyto-nutrients and antioxidants, which formulated foods lack. Fruit also provides energy via natural sugars.

Fruits to consider for lorikeet slurry are as follows: papaya (include daily), mango, melon (several varieties to choose from), kiwi, apple, berries, lychees guavas, plum, peach, or apricot.

Vegetables you might include in the slurry: Sweet potato, carrot, beets, zucchini, squash. Always include some dark leafy greens, e.g., kale, mustard greens, collards, and dark leafy lettuces.

For some Lorikeet foraging enrichment, you can offer green beans, corn, and fresh flower blossoms such as nasturtiums, pansy, hibiscus, roses, sunflowers, zucchini flowers and dandelion.

Sprouted seeds can also be part of a healthy Lorikeet diet, and their addition will enhance overall nutrition by adding easy to digest protein, B- complex vitamins, and other nutrients.

Lory’s can be fed twice a day such as offering a formulated Lory food next to a bowl of fresh water, some sprouted seeds in the morning, professionally formulated Lory food in the afternoon (next to fresh water again), and about 2 Tablespoons of slurry (mixed fruit and greens from a blender).

Foods to never offer are: honey, corn syrup or other refined syrups, molasses or table sugar. Refined sugars are not the same as plant sugars. Plants contain raffinose sugar, which act similarly to fiber and slows digestion time down. Refined sugars may negatively effect beneficial gut flora where as raffinose may be beneficial to gut flora. Also molasses is high in iron so not recommended for Lorikeets.

This is the diet protocol used at The Gabriel Foundation (TGF, a US parrot welfare organization). If you are able to offer Dr. Mac’s Organic Lory Nectar then you should follow instructions for that product, which may be slightly different than what we do at TGF. All diet suggestions above are a combination of what has been used successfully at TGF and information shared by Dr. McDonald.

As with any diet change have a good scale on hand to keep an eye on Friend’s weight. Be sure to get weights at the same time each day. An ideal time would be in the morning before breakfast, if that works with your schedule. Also be sure to discuss diet choices and changes with Friend’s veterinarian.

All the very best,

Hi Michaela, 

Billie here! I'm also teacher from the LLP team. First of all, thank you for coming to WPT for help with your problem. It sounds like you are willing to do whatever is needed to give Friend a life-long home. With that willingness, you will succeed. While we can't cover all the information in one short email, we can certainly give you more "food" for thought about how behavior works, and some resources to consider.

Your main behavior concern is that Friend flies to your face and bites your lips. I do not blame you for not wanting to get bitten—especially in the face. Biting is not a necessary part of having a companion parrots by any means. At the same time, we don't blame friend for biting because from his point of view, it works -- or he wouldn't continue to do it!  Our plan for behavior change requires that we redesign the environment, including what you do, to reduce the signals to bite and to remove reinforcers for biting.

It's very astute of you to recognize his body language just before flying at your face. You described that his eyes pin, he stares at your face, and he shifts his body. Those are excellent observations, which we can use as predictors or warning signs. What you can predict, you can usually redirect or prevent.

Let's start with the most basic foundation of behavior: Behavior that is repeated always serves a function the behaving individual. If you can observe what that is you may be able to provide that reinforcer for an acceptable, alternative behavior. For example, if the most immediate consequence for biting is that you move away, than try to move away at the first warning sign, when his eyes pin. This empowers your bird to use his behavior for an effect; that's what behavior is for! It is a separate learning objective to teach your bird to approach you willingly and with enthusiasm. You can teach that by reinforcing small steps toward your hand. Again, give coming to you more function (value) for Friend and he will do it more often.

Even if we can't figure out what reinforces a behavior, we can often reduce it by reinforcing a different behavior, the behavior you want to see more often. This approach, differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, is usually paired with ignoring the problem behavior at the same time. The problem with biting is that it really can't be ignored. When you are bitten, you are going to have some kind of reaction to it. No matter what your reaction is, whether screaming, ducking, or you turning away, it is most likely the bird has already been reinforced for biting you.  The feel of your skin on his beak, or on his tongue could well be a reinforcer for his behavior. Flight is another reinforcer to consider. It is also entirely possible, since this is a young bird, that Friend is testing the limits in his environment, i.e., learning how to gain valued outcomes and escape unpleasant ones. Another consideration is the number of times he has been captured, which you wisely note is more intrusive than other methods available.

It is essential that you completely avoid getting bitten since anything your bird has an opportunity to practice improves! Even a small bird can do serious damage, especially when flying to your face. And it probably reduces the quality of Friend's life too, to have a biting relationship with his companion.

When we want to change a behavior, we need to change what happens just prior to the behavior, what happens just after the behavior, or both. We never want any bird to get the opportunity to practice biting so let's focus on what happens immediately before the behavior that sets the occasion for the behavior to occur. We should also be aware of what any consequences might be that would be maintaining and escalating the behavior.

If possible, try to remember the 6 times that Friend flew at you to bite you.  Some possibilities might be:

1. How long has Friend been out of his cage?
2. What activity was he engaged in at the time?  Was it interrupted?
3. Who was in the room?  Were people talking loudly or interacting in particular ways?
4. Were you talking animatedly or waving your hands?
5. Was your attention directed elsewhere?
6. What does the bird escape/avoid by flying and biting your the face? Was Friend returned to the cage? Medication time? Capture time?
7. What does he gain by flying and biting your face?

These details can be key. For example, if Friend is most likely to bite when he has been out an hour and has not had much to do, you could put him in his cage before the hour is up. Leave him out for 45 minutes and put him away. Or, you can give him toys to play with while he is out of his cage so he has plenty to do, which may increase the value of going back into the cage when he's tired of playing. 

In the wild, birds are on the move a lot of the time foraging for food, building nests, flying to different places. In our homes, we need to take care to provide some of these activities. Make sure Friend has lots of toys in his cage that he plays with and toys on the outside of his cage. You will learn what toys he likes best as you try different types. You can make a lot of toys yourself to keep the cost down. Craft stores have a lot of supplies you can use. Just make sure that any wood parts aren't painted and that you don't give him anything toxic. If he doesn't play with them when first introduced, that can be a great training activity.

It is also important that they have down time hanging out, relaxing, preening and napping.  They should also get adequate rest each night. It might take some detective work on your part to figure out what sets the occasion for the behavior to occur, but the effort is certainly worth it.

As you suggest in your email, positive reinforcement is the way to go. To that end, we would suggest getting some information on bird behavior. At there are some excellent articles. Once you get to the web site, go to "Written Works" and then "Learning and Behavior." I would suggest you start with the article "He Said - She Said, Science says." The others are excellent as well. Check out the articles in "The Success Files" area under "Written Works" that deal specifically with biting that might give you some useful information.  Also you could start training some basic behaviors, such as stationing, turnaround, and targeting, as they are easy to train. You could then move to step up and step down, and recall. All the time respecting the body language that says, "No thanks!"  There are some wonderful articles at and great videos on training your companion bird available at Barbara Heidenreich's website. Her web site is

We know you will succeed! Have fun; teach and learn together!
Good luck!

Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.