Ultramarine lorikeet (Vini ultramarina)

Also known as: Pihiti
  
Spanish: Lori Ultramar
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyPsittacidae
GenusVini (1)
SizeLength: 18 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

With its spectacular turquoise-blue upperparts and dark purple crown, the ultramarine lorikeet is considered to be one of the most striking of all lorikeet species (4) (5). The cheeks, chin, throat and breast of this species are mottled white and dark purple (2) (5), and distinct purple-blue bands run across the chest, thighs and undertail (6). The eyes, legs and bill are all various shades of orange, with the bill ending in a black tip (5) (6). Juveniles have a similar colouring to the adult, except the breast mottling is absent, the bill is completely black, and the eyes are dark brown (6). The vocalisations of the ultramarine lorikeet are a very high-pitched whistle and a harsh screech (2).

Found only on the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, over the last century, native and introduced populations of the ultramarine lorikeet have been found on the islands of Ua Pou, Nuku Hiva, Fatu Hiva and Ua Huka. Today, as a result of severe population declines that have led to local extinctions, the only remaining sustainable population occurs on Ua Huka (2), with possibly a small number remaining in isolated areas at high altitude on Ua Pou (7).

On Ua Huka, the ultramarine lorikeet is found in all wooded habitats from lowland areas to high montane cloud forests. It is most common in lowland, coastal plantations of banana, coconut and mango (4) (7).

Noisy and conspicuous, the ultramarine lorikeet can generally be found perched at the top of the forest canopy (6). It feeds on a variety of items, but mainly mango fruit and the pollen and nectar from flowers of the coconut palm, banana and Hibiscus tiliaceus (4). Like other lorikeets, the tongue of the ultramarine lorikeet has a brush-like tip, which helps to sweep nectar and pollen into its mouth (8).

While nesting has been reported to occur between June and August, observations of young in January and February indicate that this species may breed throughout the year (4). The ultramarine lorikeet nests in tree hollows, left-over nests of other bird species and even holes in old, hanging coconuts (4) (5). The female lays a clutch of two eggs and, once hatched, the young remain in the nest for around eight weeks (5).

As a result of their naturally small population sizes and restricted ranges, island birds are particularly sensitive to human-induced changes (4). The introduction of the black rat (Rattus rattus) by sea vessels to Nuku Hiva around 1915, Ua Pou around 1980, and Fatu Hiva in 2000 (2), contributed to the swift extinction of each island’s ultramarine lorikeet population. The arboreal rats inhabit hollows in trees, and are easily able to access this species’ nests and consume its eggs (4).

Today, the island of Ua Huka is the last stronghold for the ultramarine lorikeet. The population is regarded as stable, and in 2002 was estimated to be around 2,400 individuals (7). However, as this species is highly susceptible to predation by black rats, its continued survival depends on the absence of rats from the island. Observations from other islands suggest that the introduction of black rats has led to local extinctions in as little as 20 years (2) (4).

There have been several conservation initiatives proposed and implemented for this species. In the 1990s, a small number of ultramarine lorikeets were translocated to Fatu Hiva where, until the black rat’s introduction in 2000, they had formed a successful, growing population. Sadly, measures to protect this species from the rats proved unsuccessful, and by 2007 Fatu Hiva’s ultramarine lorikeet population was considered extinct. Nevertheless, a similar translocation initiative has been proposed, this time to transfer individuals to the nearby island of Mohotani, but only if the island’s cat population can be eradicated (2).

At present, the major focus for conserving this species is to ensure that the black rat does not become established on Ua Huku, and therefore rat traps have been issued to the local council to be placed around the island’s ports (2) (4). The BirdLife International Partnership is currently appealing for funds to help support its program to protect three endangered small parrots of the pacific, one of which is the ultramarine lorikeet. The program, already underway, includes training local organisations in techniques to remove rats from their islands so that the birds can be reintroduced, as well as strengthening measures to protect rat-free islands from colonisation. This program will prove key to ensuring the future of this beautiful bird (9).

To learn more about lorikeet conservation visit:

Authenticated (06/05/2009) by Mark Ziembicki, Biodiversity Conservation Unit, Dept. of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts (NRETA).
http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/wildlife/programs/staff/index.html

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (October, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  3. CITES (October, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Ziembicki, M. and Raust, P. (2004) Conservation of the ultramarine lory in the Marquesas Islands. Psittascene, 16: 11 - 14.
  5. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse To Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  6. World Parrot Trust (October, 2008)
    http://www.parrots.org
  7. Ziembicki, M. and Raust, P. (2003) Status, distribution and conservation of the Ultramarine lorikeet Vini ultramarina in the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie, Papeete, French Polynesia.
  8. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  9. BirdLife International (October, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/how_to_help/2006_appeal/parrot_appeal.html