Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Australian King-Parrot

King-Parrots (Alisterus scapularis) are common in East Gippsland and often visit our garden. Recently they have been feeding on the seeds of local Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and the fruits of non-local White Cedar trees (Melia azedarach).

Bursaria spinosa is of high value for wildlife as it provides habitat for birds and is a nectar source for butterflies and other insects. Further, as an understory bush it helps provide ecosystem stability in dry forest and woodland by hosting and sustaining wasps etc. that in turn keep in balance the insect larvae that skeletonise eucalypt leaves.

Melia azedarach, commonly known by many names, including White Cedar, is a deciduous tree in the mahogany family and is native to Indomalaya and Australasia. The fruits are poisonous to humans however the toxins are not harmful to birds. We planted some in our garden for their summer shade and fire resistance capacity. Being deciduous, frost is not an issue and they allow winter sun to penetrate.

In the wild King-Parrots are wary and fly a long distance if disturbed, however they can be very tame around parks and gardens. The ones in our garden are moderately confiding if approached quietly.

For the camera nerds - the following four photos were taken hand held using 600mm focal length in very low light at about 5.30pm with a fully overcast sky. I used ISO2000 and 1600 with f/5.6 aperture and 0ev giving shutter speeds of 1/40 to 1/160. You can achieve sharp images hand held with these settings when the subject is close.

Male King-Parrot feeding on Bursaria spinosa seeds. 

As the male fed he looked at me from time to time to make sure I was not a threat. 

A female King-Parrot was feeding close to two males.

The female also kept an eye on me as she fed.
The Bursaria seeds are soft, moist and green like a fresh pea – not dry and hard.

The following two photos were taken on another day of a male and female King-Parrot feeding on the fruits of one of the White Cedars.

Female King-Parrot feeding on the fruits of White Cedar.

They were eating the seed and discarding the outer fruity shell.

The male enjoying White Cedar seeds.

The King-Parrots have been attracted to our garden by planted local native shrubs and tropical trees native to northern Australia.

Notes regarding Australian parrots:

Note 1

I thought it was worth quoting the first two sentences of the Introduction to Australian Parrots (2nd Ed), Forshaw and Cooper, “Australia has been termed Terra Psittacorum – the Land of Parrots! Approximately one-sixth of the world’s species occur here and no other country has such a richness and diversity of forms”. How lucky we are!

The King-Parrot features on the back of the dust cover of the 2nd edition - illustrated with the late William Cooper’s magnificent paintings.

Note 2

Origin of the name King-Parrot


The species was originally called King’s Parrot for Governor Philip Gidley King. Later the ‘s was deleted from the name and later still RAOU introduced the hyphen, giving the current name King-Parrot (source - Australian Bird Names, Fraser and Gray).