Swift Parrot observations and field notes

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Swift Parrot observations and field notes
From: David Adams <>
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2012 14:59:05 +1000
I live on the far coast of NSW between Narooma and Bermagui and the
Swift Parrots are currently passing through. I have a suspicion that
these birds are under-reported for a few reasons and I'd like to pass
along some field notes to help others and for correction.

 Recent Local Sightings
Just to bring people up to speed, here are some sighting reports from
my little patch over the past few weeks:

26-7       Tight, fast-flying groups of around 20+ during the day and
then at dusk.
03-08      30+ at dusk.
10-8       4 at dusk
11-8       1 in the early morning
12-8       60+ at dusk

Today, I went into the local spotted gum forest and found some small
groups way up in the tops of the trees, only detectable by their
calls. A big group of around 1,000 was reported from less than an hour
north of here last week so clearly the birds are on the move. That
group has evidently already dispersed - it must have been quite a

I suspect that Swift Parrots are overlooked and under-reported a lot
for a couple of reasons:

* These birds are remarkably unobtrusive. They're just not as loud or
obvious as other birds.

* These guys are unmistakable with a good view. Ha! I very, very
rarely get good views of these birds.

* Most of us are probably more reluctant to report rare birds
incorrectly than common ones. As a result, rare birds very likely seem
even more rare. The second time I heard and glimpsed Swift Parrots was
out my back window into a gum in my back yard. It was obviously them
from the calls but I didn't tell anyone as I didn't get good views
through the binoculars. I figured, what are the odds of me having rare
parrots in my back hard? As it turns out, pretty darn good as my back
yard seem seems to be right along one of their seasonal flight paths.

These birds are exceptionally pretty so it's worth giving yourself
every chance to spot them, if you're within their range.

 Field Marks and Notes
While there's no problem identifying a Swift Parrot if you see them or
hear them, you don't always get that opportunity. Below are some notes
I've kept this year that could prove helpful. I'd be very grateful for
additions or corrections to what I've got down here from other people:

* Down here, the only common Lorikeet-like birds are Rainbow Lorikeets
and Musk Lorikeets. Rainbows and Swift Parrots are pretty obviously
different except that their flight profiles aren't that different if
you aren't able to judge size and distance. Musk Lorikeets can
actually be pretty hard to tell apart on the wing - harder than I
would have thought.

* The single best way to find and identify these parrots is through
their call. I think that the first time I found them was because they
were calling right along the side of the road. I turned the car around
because the call is so obviously not one of the other local parrots.
If you've got the Morcombe iPhone/iPad app, there's an excellent
recording on there. It's worth trying to memorize the call if you're
anywhere that these birds might appear as the are _very_ easy to
overlook otherwise. If you've memorized all of your local parrot
calls, then stop and look if you ever hear something that makes you
think "that sounds like a parrot, but I don't know which one." Chances
are, it's them. It's a really charming call, too.

* The long tail of the Swift Parrot is diagnostic but surprisingly
easy not to see. I've had them flying overhead in poor light and not
seen the long tails.

* The red patch underneath is high contrast making it easy to see,
even in poor light.

* I can't describe what's so special about their particular hue of
green - but it looks different to the Muskies - it's brighter or
lighter - definitely different.

* They really do fly fast! It's harder to get some glass on them than
on Musk Lorikeets.

* Their normal flight pattern is pretty similar to that of a Musk
Lorikeet. They normally fly straight, fast, and in tight groups.

* I've been getting confused this year because most of the birds I'm
seeing are in wheeling, fast-moving flocks around dusk. I suspect that
they're looking for roosts. There's quite a bit of wild speculation
below and I'd be glad to hear what anyone else has to offer on their
actual, known roosting behavior. Here's what's seems different from
their behavior during the day:

-- They're *not* making their full, classic call. Instead, they're
using a shorter call that I speculate is a contact-roosting call.

-- Instead of landing, chatting and eating they're wheeling around,
more like pigeons than lorikeets.

-- A tight little flock nosily hits the top of tree and then goes silent.

-- I'm seeing these groups at dusk only. During the day walking all
around the same areas I'm not hearing a single bird. I'm guessing that
they're using the coast as a navigation guide which is funneling them
along the end of my road at dusk.

In the local Spotted Gum forest (recently cleared pretty heavily by
NSW Forestry for the all-important pulp trade) today I had a chance to
hear and see Rainbow Lorikeets, Swift Parrots, and Musk Lorikeets all
in the same area. I was glad to have a chance to make some comparisons
in the field. What I noticed:

-- The Swift Parrot call is not as loud as the Musk Lorikeet nor does
it carry as far. The Bell Miners and Yellow-Faced Honeyeaters were
considerably louder. Of course, they were also closer because they
were lower in the canopy.

-- They're small, hyperactive green birds in the tops of the trees.
Grrr. It can be hard.

* I don't know that Swift Parrots have a preferred canopy location as
I've seen them in the tops of tall trees, the tops of short trees and
Barbara Jones (local bird expert) told me that the huge group that was
here in 2009 "were down low (below three meters) eating the flower of
the native coastal broom which is prevalent there."

* I'm not sure what they're eating right now. Apart from Wattle and
some very limited Spotted Gum blossoms, there's just nothing happening
here. It was odd in the forest today as I found the Parrots and Musk
Lorikeets clustered excitedly in specific trees where I couldn't see
any blossom at all. I think of both of these species as
blossom-feeders. Double-checking, I see that they also eat lerps,
which would explain finding them near Bell Miners. With that said, I
also got different perspectives on some trees in the forest and there
were several with blossoms in the canopy that would not have been
visible from right below. So, I'm not sure what they're eating.

Any comments or good tricks for spotting and distinguishing these
birds? I can't offer comparison with Lorikeets that are more common
elsewhere in the Swift Parrot's range. We get Little Lorikeets here
but I really never see them. (Presumably, I'm overlooking them or they
avoid my bit of coast. People within an hour+ of here north or south
see them every year.)

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