BILL NAYLOR speaks up for a fascinating little psittacid, which looks normal, but roosts upside down like a bat. And that’s only the start of this delightful bird’s charms
THE sapphire-crowned, or as it is more commonly known, the blue-crowned hanging parrot (Loriculus galgulas), is one of the best-known of the 13 species of hanging parrots, which occupy the genus Loriculus.
In fact, the blue-crowned hanging parrot could justifiably be called the crimson-throated, since the male’s bright red bib is just as eye-catching as its blue crown, or its red rump. These vivid markings, along with its predominantly bright green plumage, make for a stunningly attractive bird. The hen lacks the red bib and the crown has less blue. There is no significant geographical variation.
Hanging parrots are mainly fruit- and nectar-eaters and are usually considered closely related to fig parrots, but DNA analysis suggests that they have a closer affinity to lovebirds.
Before the EU import ban, they were popular, yet infrequently imported.
In Malaysia they have been kept as cage birds for centuries, typically located on verandas in pumpkin-shaped bamboo cages with wide bars, through which the birds can eject their frequent droppings. They produce twittering or buzzing vocals, including a squeaky alarm call, and will mimic whistles and calls of other birds.
Traditional cages are cramped and unsuitable for these active, inquisitive little birds. More suitable, spacious cages usually have a backdrop of plastic behind the bars on three sides, which can be removed and easily cleaned.
Hanging parrots get their name from their habit of roosting upside down. This behaviour is thought to deter nocturnal predators and they are the only birds known to do this. Where they occur in Indonesia and Asia, they are sometimes known as bat parrots. The habit is so ingrained that when resting during the day they will do so upside down.
Roosting males can be identified as they often utter a soft twittering song. A good indication that a hanging parrot is not in good health is its reluctance to hang upside down when sleeping. They are not shy, and in captivity often become tame.
Throughout their range they are common, and in some areas such as Jakarta there are feral populations. They are strong flyers and frequently visit offshore islands. Normally they are found on the edge of forests, bamboo thickets, parks, grounds of hotels, and gardens.
Hanging parrots’ diet includes seed, fruit, and insects. Being nectivores they converge on any flowering trees, and can cause damage to orchards and sugar cane plantations. They are very fond of rambutans, which are a high-protein fruit that resembles a lychee. Aviary birds enjoy being provided with buddleia and other nectar-producing shrubs. In captivity they will eat a wide variety of seeds, fruits and vegetables. Favourites include canary millet and niger seed, pomegranates, grapes, cucumbers and runner beans. Their nectivorous needs can be met with artificial nectar and pollen suitable for lorikeets.
During warmer weather, they can be housed in an outside aviary. They prefer a well-foliaged flight. In the wild they are usually seen high in foliage using their tail in woodpecker fashion for support, and can be identified by the manner in which they stride from one leafy branch to another.
Captive birds cause minimal damage to plants and will bathe in wet foliage in preference to a pond or receptacle. They are amiable with finches, doves, and parrot-like birds such as neophemas and Bourke’s parrots. But if the aviary is not spacious, their frequent droppings and their habit of constantly wiping their beaks on perches when feeding, make frequent replacement of perches a necessity.
Nectar should be provided in nectar bottles; if they get it in open dishes they will soil their plumage. Their nails have a tendency to become overgrown quickly. A wide-diameter perch of debarked hawthorn or other hard wood will help to wear them.
The male’s courtship display includes uttering a buzzing sound, while racing along a perch bobbing his head and raising his red throat and rump feathers.
In the wild, tree cavities are enlarged to provide nesting quarters. In captivity a lovebird nest box will suffice. But a larger box will allow for “furnishings”, as hanging parrots (similar to lovebirds) line the nest with material such as willow bark and leaves carried into the nest chamber among the feathers.
Usually three or four eggs are incubated by the hen for 21 days. The white downed nestlings fledge at 35 days. These black beaked dull versions of their parents leave the nest at around the same time.
Some pairs feed seed to the young – mealworms and ant eggs have also been used as rearing food. The male feeds the hen while she is on the nest, but she cares for the young.
Non-breeding birds sometimes assist in rearing. The males are identifiable after the first moult, although complete adult plumage is not assumed for two to three years.
Bill Naylor has worked in zoos, bird gardens and museums here and abroad, including expedition collecting for the British Museum.