Parrots in Melanesia
Guy Dutson© (Jan 1999)
I have just returned from a year researching the birds of the Melanesian region from the Admiralty and Bismarck islands of Papua New Guinea through the Solomon islands and Vanuatu to New Caledonia.
Very little research has been conducted on the birds of this region which includes at least 15 endemic species of parrot.
I started my travels in Manus, where Meeks Pygmy-Parrot (Micropsitta meeki) was relatively common. This species was seen on most days in pairs or small flocks often in scrubby forest recovering from shifting cultivation. Its one other subspecies was however considerably rarer on Mussau where I only saw it in the hilly interior of this island. The rather similar Finsch's Pygmy-Parrot (Micropsitta finschii) occurs across New Ireland and the Solomon islands where it is generally rather common in lowland forest and scrub. The beautiful Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot (Micropsitta bruijnii) was however localised in mountain forest often in larger flocks than the lowland species. The Cardinal Lory (Chalcopsitta cardinalis) was common on the islands north of New Ireland (but not on New Hanover contra Juniper and Parr's Parrot guide). Presumably it is excluded from New Ireland by the presence of the Easter Black-naped Lory (Lorius hypoinochrous). however the Cardinal Lory coexists with the Yellow-bibbed Lory chlorocercus) across the eastern Solomon islands.
The little-known White-naped Lory (Lorius albidinuchus) was found at over 900 m in the mountain forests of Southern New Ireland and above the altitudinal range of the Eastern Black-naped Lory. Here it was fairly common but it has such a small geographical range that it must be numerically one of the rarest Melanesian parrots.
The Bismarck Hanging Parrot (Loriculus aurantiifrons tener) was inexplicably rare with a handful of records on New Hanover and New Britain. This species appears to have been always uncommon but as with an apparent requirement for tall lowland forest, it requires further research into its conservation status. The Red-chinned Lorikeet (Charmosyna rubrigularis) was a localised but common inhabitant of mountain forests but also descending to some adjacent coastal forests. Up to 600 were seen in pre-roost flocks screeching over the mist forest in the evenings. The Blue-eyed Cockatoo (Cacatua ophthalmica) of New Britain was a common and conspicuous inhabitant of all forest except the higher mountains Archaeological research by David Steadman and others has shown that this species used to occur on New Ireland and possibly Mussau. Presumably it was targetted by hunters for its feathers - fortunately there are no present threats on New Britain.
In the Solomon islands Ducorp's Cockatoo (Cacatua ducorps) was equally common and conspicuous in forest and area's with patches of native trees. It was a particularly obstructive bird with many small flocks screeching at me from treetops or circling with a. remarkably floppy flight-action. The Yellow-bibbed Lory occurred in slightly numbers but was seen daily in lowland forests throughout its range. It was distinctly rare on Rennell however, perhaps supporting the theory that it was introduced here it was the most common pet bird in Melanesia but the numbers traded on the domestic market are still small. Singing Parrots (Geoffroyus heteroclitus hyacinthinus) were widespread but less common, their eerie song often the first indication of a bird high in a treetop. This is a well camouflaged and rather unobtrusive bird when perched but highly vocal in flight.
The extensive coconut plantations on much of the coastal land in the Solomon islands were often full of lorikeets. The Red-flanked Lorikeet (Charmosyna placentis pallidor) ranges no further west than Bougainville but the Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus) and Cardina Lory were found in coconut plantations across the whole Solomons. Yellow-bibbed Lories were sometimes found in coconuts and Duchess Lorikeets (Charmosya margarethae) were seen on a few occasions. The beautiful Duchess was only seen on islands with large mountains, preferring flowering trees in the hills but locally common in the lowlands Meek's Lorikeet was seen in some coastal flowering trees but was far more common in high mountain forests where small flocks frequently flew past but were rarely seen perched. The closely related Palm Lorikeet ( Charnnosyna palmarum) is still undergoing the and abundance fluctuations noted by explorers earlier this century. In Vanuatu, I only saw this species in the high mountains of Santo, but it was common in seaside villages on the small islands of the Duffs and Tikopia between the Solomons and Vanuatu. It was found on Vanikoro earlier this century but the villagers there told me that it was displaced by the Rainbow Lorikeet which is a still uncommon newcomer on Vanikoro.
My last stop was the French territory of New Caledonia. An expedition is there at present trying to trace the New Caledonian Lorikeet (Charmosyna diadema). I did not spend much time on the main island. The Horned Parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus) and endemic subspecies of Red-fronted parakeet both seemed rather scarce. The Ouvea Parakeet variously regarded as a species endemic to the tiny islet of Ouvea or as a subspecies of Horned Parakeet, is the subject of a species recovery plan. Further information on this parakeet can be found on the internet at hthp/www.netacces.com/asfo/index.html
Overall the Melanesian parrots seemed to be faring well. However many have very small geographical ranges and relaxation of the tight trade controls will require close monitoring. I am very grateful to The Parrot Society for a grant towards my costs.
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