The Ultramarine Lory, (Vini ultramarina) One of the most threatened lory species.

by Jos Hubers© The Netherlands

The Ultramarine Lory, Vini ultramarina. Photograph by Mr. Peter Odekerken, Australia©

The Ultramarine Lory, Vini ultramarinaWe can certainly count the Vini species as amongst the most beautiful of lory species. Two of the five (there are no subspecies) Vini species have exceptional colours even for lories.

Every aviculturist agrees that these lories belong to the prettiest of parrot species, but none of them has the special colours of the Tahitian lory, Vini peruviana, and the Ultramarine lory, Vini ultramarina. Both have blue as the main body colour. Especially the Ultramarine lory has a blue colour which we only know from several mutations in the bird world. In the Natural History Museum in New York many skins can be found. Comparing the skins, the colours of the Ultramarine lory are even more beautiful than that of the much desired Tahitian lory.

Description (Length 18cm)

The photograph gives a clear picture of the Ultramarine Lory. The upper part of the bird which is not visible is light blue, the upper tail coverts are a bit lighter in colour. With young birds the abdomen is a dull, dark blue; feathers have a white edge. The mandible is dark brown, the iris is dark brown and the legs are orange brown. On average, the females are a little smaller in size.

Distribution

The original distribution area were the Marquesas Islands. These belong to French Polynesia. At the moment this species can only be found in Ua Huka and Fatu Hiva.

Observations by Holyoak in 1975

Holyoak performed thorough research into this lory species in 1975. The following has been published by him.

Most often the birds were observed in pairs or as single birds. Seldom small flocks. Usually they can be found in the canopy, flying noisily from one top of a tree to another.

Their flight is fast and direct. Their food mainly consists of pollen, nectar, several kinds of fruit and insects and their larvae. Every now and then flocks of these birds come to the villages to feed in the trees of local gardens.

Breeding

Breeding usually takes place between June and August. The nest is most often a hollow in a rotten piece of branch. However, old nests made by finches are also used.

This species was first bred in aviculture in 1939 by the Duke of Tavistock. Not much information is available of this occurrence. Both parents incubated the egg (the second egg was laid outside the nest) and reared the young. The young fledged after 8 weeks.

The reintroduction of the Ultramarine Lory in the Marquesas Islands.

This year an article was published about this subject in "Bird Conservation International". This article was sent to me by Jan Roger van Oosten. Because of the length of this article I will give you a summary.

The Ultramarine Lory is one of the most threatened lory species. Once, it was probably distributed throughout the whole Marquesas Archipelago. Today it almost only exists on the very small island of Ua Huka.

Based on fossil records, it can be concluded that before people inhabited these islands this lory species was distributed across the whole archipelago (Steadman 1989).

After the first colonists arrived the numbers decreased rapidly. In the seventies counts were made (by Holyoak and Tribault); they supplied the following figures: On Nuku Hiva between 40 and 150 birds in 1972, on Ua Pou 250-350 pairs in 1975, on Ua Huka 200-250 pairs in 1975. The birds on Ua Huka were descendants from two birds introduced from Ua Pou in 1941 (inbreeding does not have any influence). During the latest research in 1988 (Tribault) and 1991 (Seitre and Seitre) it showed that the Ultramarine Lory which had occurred on both Nuku Huva and Ua Pou, had disappeared almost completely.

This led to a protection programme being developed in 1990. Looking at previous results the decision was made to reintroduce this lory onto another island.

29 Lories in total were reintroduced between 1992 and 1994. An island has to meet certain requirements; these are biological, political and practical requirements.

Biological requirements

The island has to be free of rats, this has the highest priority. On the many islands introduced Black rat, Rattus rattus. This one has the eggs and young of the Ultramarine Lory on its menu list! These rats are probably the main cause of the disappearance of the Ultramarine Lory from Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou. Further threats occurring on certain islands are caused by agricultural activities such as the destruction of suitable habitats by grazing.

Tropical storms, competition with introduced species like some kinds of honey bees and diseases effecting banana blossom have also contributed to the decreasing numbers. Above all, the harbour expansion on Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou are probably the main reason; this caused the introduction of the Black rat.

Alternative islands like Tahuatu, Eiso and Mohotani also did not look to be suitable because rats were caught on Tahuata and the other two islands were suffering from overgrazing. On both Ua Huka and Fatu Hiva no Black rats are known to exists. The Polynesian rat, Rattus exulans, is the domestic rat in this area. There is no evidence that this rat really threatens the existence of the Ultramarine Lories. There is no airport or harbour on Fatu Hiva therefore the chance of rat introduction on Fatu Hiva is remote. Large parts of this 80km islands still have suitable habitats.

The preferred food available on Ua Huka is also available on Fatu Hiva.

Political and practical requirements

Fatu Hiva was also chosen because of the small human population (about 500 in 1989). We could have a discussion about the question of only reintroducing the Ultramarine Lory on uninhabited islands. However, if a good protection plan is available it means employment, money and interest for the local population. The local authorities on Fatu Hiva have appointed somebody who stays on the island permanently and who will keep an eye on the birds as well as is possible. Protection in the long term only works if the local population is involved.

In a later Lory Journal we will have a closer look into this project with the latest results.

This whole project (Polynesia Lory Project) is financed by: The Zoological Society of San Diego and the Delegation de l'Environment, French Polynesia.

The information of the project are documented by C. Kuehler, A. Lieberman, A. Varney, P. Unitt, R.M. Sulpice, J. Azua and B. Tehevini.

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