For some time now, the lorikeets had been chattering loudly in the trees overhead. Now, people began to gather expectantly and the birds’ chatter intensified as feeding time approached.
It seems that lorikeet feeding is a popular Australian past time. Usually, the birds are given soaked cereal or bread, but not enough to fill them up. The idea is that they continue to find most of the food they need in the wild, ensuring a proper, balanced diet. But this means that they are hungry.
As soon as the keeper showed up with his tray, the lorikeets descended onto the ground like a flutter of rainbow petals. Before long, not only the ground was covered, but so where we. At first it seemed as if the birds simply climbed over each other in their eagerness to get to the food. But a pecking order was soon established. Just before the feed, I had observed various pairs preening each other. Their pair-bond reinforced, they now set out to peck on single birds in tandem.
A few of us picked up plates and shovelled a bit of the gruel into them in order to better distribute it (which traded us nasty looks from the dominant birds, although they appeared to assess our size and reluctantly gave way). As a result, we were soon covered in lorikeets right from the tip of our fingers to the top of our heads. The squabbling got heated as we reached out to offer some of the morsels to subordinate birds. Their sharp claws dug into our arms as they took hold to lunge out at each other or defend themselves.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the food tray was by now defended by what might have been the alpha bird itself. It didn’t feed, but strutted around the tray—many times its length— daring any other bird to approach. Once again, I moved a bit of the food to one side where the poor subordinates were gathered to look on with hungry eyes. The bully bird immediately fluffed itself up and strutted over to see off the competition. At least it meant that some of the timid losers managed to sneak behind it and hastily grab a few morsels before it turned its attention back onto the tray.
In the end, our arms and hands were pock-marked with red dots where the lorikeets had dug in and occasionally nipped at the skin in a mis-guided attempt to illicit more food. What if they’d been sparrows or crows—scrawny, menacing specimens straight out of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, desperate for sustenance? Unaware of where the bread ends and the flesh begins?
Well, they kind of were, but they sure are pretty. I guess, we can forgive anything for beauty…