Cardinal Lory

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Is the Cardinal Lory right for you?

Species group:

Other common names:

Scientific name: Chalcopsitta cardinalis

The basics:
The Cardinal Lory is one of the most beautiful of the lories, and pet owners say that it has one of the best personalities of any of the red lories. They tend to be somewhat little-known in aviculture because the Solomon Islands legalized export in 1989, while the United States banned their import in 1992, so there was only a small window of opportunity for legal breeding pairs to enter America. Most of the resulting domestic-bred babies were themselves placed in breeding situations, but those who are lucky enough to own one as a pet report that they're sweet and playful.

Warning: The lovely Cardinal Lory can be impractical for the average person, since they demand an expensive, high maintenance lifestyle.

This lory is found in the wild on several Indonesian islands such as Buka and Bouganville, as well as Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. It is an adaptable species that is quite common in primary or secondary forest or even coconut palm plantations, as long as it can dine on the nectar from flowering trees. It is a strong flyer, even over water, and there are reports that it has recently colonized Ontong Java atoll.

A striking bright red nectar-feeding parrot.

175 - 215 grams (6.2 - 7.6 oz.)

Average size:
30 - 31 centimeters (12 in.)

15 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
Although most Cardinal Lories will find their way into breeder's aviaries, those lucky pet owners who hold one of these birds report that they are outgoing, trusting birds who love to play. They appreciate toys, and they love to engage with their owners.

Housing the Cardinal Lory is another genuine challenge. Because of their rarity, you are unlikely to have a single pet, but assuming you somehow obtain a rescue or a rehomed single bird, the care is much the same as for the other Eos lories. They tend to have loose, squirtable feces that are sticky, sweet, and quickly develop an odor, so it's important to set up a cage that's easy to clean. Some people advocate clear acrylic on the sides and back of the cage, and other people suggest a long, rather than a tall cage, since a lory that gets up high can squirt its mess much further than a bird who perches lower.

Many people recommend a hanging cage over a tile or concrete floor. We don't usually have concrete floors in our houses, but it's possible that we might have a family room with a quarry tile floor. Otherwise, put down lots of plastic over that carpet or wooden flooring, as well as any nearby walls that wouldn't be easy to wash off. A minimum size for your Cardinal Lory's flight cage is 36”w x 48”d x 24”h, but these active birds do better with even more room. A Florida room or a conservatory might be a great place for your lory, but know your plants, since you can only have bird-safe greenery where you have a busy nectar-eater checking each flower.

The Cardinal Lory has a reputation for being a gentle pet, but keep the bird sweet by providing a play area away from the cage. Always teach your pet to step up on your arm or a hand-held perch on command, so that you can move it to or from the cage area without a struggle. These playful, active birds love toys, so provide plenty of them. A nest box for sleeping at night could be appreciated too.

Feeding a Cardinal Lory is a challenge. All lories and lorikeets are brush-tongued parrots, an unusual branch of the psittacine family tree that is evolved to feed on the nectar from flowering trees, with a little bit of flowers, fruit, and perhaps insects on the side. To create a practical version of this diet in captivity, most people start with a high quality, well-regarded commercial liquid nectar, with about 50% of the diet coming from the nectar and the remaining 50% coming from a fruit and vegetable puree or chop salad. If you have kept other parrots, you may be familiar with a chop salad that leans heavily toward the greens and vegetable side of the produce aisle. With the lories, you need to be focused mostly on the fruits, with a small amount of such vegetables as cooked corn added for variety.

Cardinal Lories are at risk for iron storage disease and gout, which means that they thrive on a low iron, low protein diet. Many deep green vegetables, including spinach, chard, and turnip tops, contain oxalates, a chemical that improves the body's ability to store iron – a bad thing for lories. Vitamin C also helps the body store iron, which means that you shouldn't overfeed C-rich citrus fruit like oranges. Similarly, a healthy “soak and cook” with plenty of sprouted beans and peas will have way too much protein for lories.

They cannot digest seed, and if you try to maintain your Cardinal Lory on a seed-based diet, it will starve. What about pellets? Most off-the-shelf pellets are dangerous for lories but, in recent decades, specialty suppliers have developed a small pellet or a dry powder, as an alternative to liquid nectar. However, not everyone agrees that these pellets are a healthy diet for lories. It does change the quality of their droppings, to make them firmer and easier to clean, but many breeders feel that liquid nectar is more natural and easier on the lory's system.

The major advantage of the new “dry” nectar is that you don't have sweet, damp food sitting in front of your bird all day. If you go this route, be sure to provide plenty of water in a nearby hanging water bottle. Be certain that the pellet or mix is a low iron product intended for lories, or don't even consider it.

Most experts do stick with liquid nectar, but we all know that nectar (sugar water!) is a great growth medium for bacteria. Hence, you have to change the nectar bottles frequently – every four hours during the day in hot weather and at least twice a day in any circumstance. You must never feed honey, avocado, or chocolate to your Cardinal Lory.

Written by Elaine Radford

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