Chris Watson

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet: a wild hybrid

birdingChris Watson

A hybrid Scaly-breasted Lorikeet with its mate, a Rainbow Lorikeet in the background.

My encounters with wild hybrids have been few. Back in Alice Springs a local friend put me onto a tree hollow that was used for a year by a Long-billed Corella holed-up with a Galah but I never saw the outcome of that pairing. Then there are the more usual hybrid Pacific Black Ducks that are pretty common here and there.

Flashback to Alice Springs: a Long-billed Corella and a Galah as unconventional homemakers.

But I've never before seen wild lorikeet hybridisation. It's not uncommon to hear about it and it's rampant in aviculture. Scaly-breasted Lorikeet is not a species that I've seen around Melbourne before but I'm aware that they're about. They have a patchy distribution and are only present in small numbers but a quick search on eBird reveals the areas where they are most regularly spotted.

The more usual presentation of Scaly-breasted Lorikeet - this is a bird in Brisbane. The head colour conforms to the green of the rest of the plumage and the yellow scaling across the breast is a more uniform bright yellow when compared with the hybrid bird.

Ricketts Point in Beaumaris is one of these places. Scaly-breasted Lorikeets are recorded pretty regularly and have been observed (and photographed) pairing with Rainbow Lorikeets here in the past. Large flowering Banksias (Banksia integrifolia) provide abundant nectar as well as numerous breeding hollows. The regular pedestrian traffic means birds are accustomed to human incursion so this presents a good opportunity for observation. 

Fellow Manky Shearwater Sean Dooley had spied some Cattle Egret (an uncommon visitor) earlier in the day so I'd popped down to see if they were still lurking; no luck on that count. Seeing the scaly breast flash past and land on a tree trunk beside my head was what first singled the bird out as different to the dozens of Rainbow Lorikeets. In stalking the bird for a better look it quickly became obvious that it didn't look quite right for a pure Scaly-breasted Lorikeet. The head had a a definite streaky bluish tint and the scaly breast was a deeper golden orange rather than a bright yellow. All doubt left me when it perched beside a Rainbow Lorikeet and a lot of mutual preening and noisy chatter ensued. 

The Ricketts Point bird immediately caught my eye as being out-of-the-ordinary.

So it would appear to be a pretty clear-cut case of natural hybridisation between Rainbow and Scaly-breasted Lorikeet. There was nothing else unusual around the reserve but it was still a beautiful day, plenty of Australian Pelicans, Pacific and Silver Gulls about and this unusual bird was a pleasant surprise.