Swift Parrot

A very great rarity ... in nature

The Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) is an exceedingly beautiful bird, as seen in this photo. The depth of the colours and brilliance of the plumage clearly indicates a very close relationship to the Lories (subfamily name Loriinae), which are also known for very beautiful and extremely intensive colours.

The Swift Parrot used to be a great rarity in human care and quite common in the wild. Now the opposite applies, as this species has become very rare in nature over the years. The Swift Parrot is in fact threatened with extinction, as there at the time of writing it by Birdlife International is estimated that there only are 1,000 – 2,499 mature individuals left in the wild, and the population is even continuing to decline. Man's destruction of the species' habitats and of old trees with obvious nesting opportunities are the main reasons for the Swift Parrot's great decline in the wild.

The Swift Parrot is a slender, smaller parakeet with angular, pointed wings and a slender "tapered" tail, which gives the species a sort of streamlined silhouette when in flight.

It has a close relationship with the brush-tongued Lories (Loriinae), which is primarily due to its narrow beak and the appearance of the tongue. However, the Swift Parrot forms its own genus, but is considered a transitional form between, on the one hand, the Lories and, on the other, the Australian genus Platycercus and also the genus Barnardius) which also originates from Australia. The Swift Parrot differs among other things from the Lories by highly surprising to be a migratory bird.

Like another Australian genus Northiella (Bluebonnets), the Swift Parrot is a monotypic genus, i.e. that it consists of only one species, which the English ornithologist, dr. John Latham (hence the Latin genus name "Lathamus") already described it back in 1790. The Latin species name "discolor" means different colour and refers to the bird's facial mask. However, the Danish species name “Svale parakeet”, directly translated into English with “Swallow Parakeet”, seems much more descriptive, as the bird's anatomy with an elongated body and long pointed (swallow-like) wings may well give associations to a Swallow (family Hirundinidae). However, it is said, that the Swift Parrot's Danish species name comes from its distinctive, undulating flight. Its English species name "Swift Parrot" (Swift Lorikeet or Swift Parakeet) is also a very telling name in its own way, since "swift" translated from English means "fast", and fast is exactly what this small beautiful species is - fast in his movements and swift in its flight.

Over the past many years, the Swift Parrot has become quite popular - and thus widespread - in human care in Europe as a result of its lively behaviour and its very friendly nature towards other - even smaller - bird species. However, certain aviculturists are no longer so enthusiastic after keeping the Swift Parrot, as it – when it is fed in the same way as the Lories – can hog quite considerably with its thin liquid excrement.

Here you can see a male Swift Parrot. In contrast to this male bird, the female is generally duller in plumage. In the juvenile birds, you see an even more washed-out colouring and duller plumage. Photo from the internet.

Colour description

In his magnificent "Papegøjebogen" (not published in English, but would be designated: "The Parrot Book"), J. L. Albrecht-Møller describes the Swift Parrot as follows:

"The male: Green. Forehead and front part of cheeks and throat scarlet. Crown blue. Lore and a band along the red on the throat and cheeks yellow, the rest of the cheeks and sides of the head green with a bluish tinge. Mantle slightly olive green. The underside of the body green with a strong yellow tinge, the flanks are scarlet. Primaries black with a blue tinge at the base and narrow, green edges on the anterior vane. Secondaries green on the anterior vane, the inner ones with a red spot on the posterior vane. Upper wing coverts green, the narrow ones near the bend of wing dark red, the outer are blue. The upper side of the tail brownish-red, which fades into blue towards the tip, the three outermost tail feathers are mostly completely blue with a green tinge at the tip. Undertail coverts scarlet with greenish-yellow edges, the underside of the tail light ash grey. Iris nut brown to yellowish. Beak horn coloured to yellowish. Feet flesh coloured.

Length: 24 – 26 cm.

The female: Similar to the male, but is usually a little smaller and has less bright colours. Sometimes the red on the underside is missing.

Juvenile birds: Edge of forehead, beard stripe and other parts of the throat dull rosy red. Upper parts of the head green, each feather with a broad, blue seam at the tip, all other colours duller and more delicate. The largest shoulder feathers reddish yellow on the posterior vane. The underside of the body faded green, the undertail coverts grass green and only the largest spotted with red”.

The iris of the young birds is moreover dark brown, and the beak is dull orange. Young Swift Parrots, which have not yet moulted into their adult plumage, are thus significantly duller in plumage colours than their parents, and the young birds have a broad white underwing stripe, in addition to which the under-rump’s feathers have a yellowish colour mixed with red. The young birds moult at the age of 4 - 5 months and again at the age of 10 - 12 months.

Paradoxically, in nature you will often not be able to see the beautiful colours of this species, as it lives up to its English species name when it flies. The Swift Parrot has an extremely fast - and fantastically precise - flight, which helps to distinguish it from its "cousin", the Musk Lorikeet (Glossopsitta concinna), which can also be found in the same habitats in Australia, but which, among other things, differs from the Swift Parrot by its red underwing coverts. The Swift Parrot can also be a bit reminiscent of the Scaly-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus), which, however, differs from the Swift Parrot with its "scaly" yellow lower body.

The above map shows the Swift Parrot's distribution area on the Australian mainland and in Tasmania. However, the chances of seeing a Swift Parrot in the wild are quite small, as the population density, due to the very few remaining birds in the wild, is very low.

In the wild

BirdLife International lists the Swift Parrot's range as approximately 21,500 km2, so due to the very few remaining specimens in the wild, it is a rare sight. When reading Joseph M. Forshaw's excellent book "Australian Parrots", 2nd rev. edition from 1988, one might get the impression that the Swift Parrot is commonly found in the Australian fauna, which is by no means the case anymore.


The Swift Parrot's range includes south-eastern Australia, all the way from Adelaide in the west to southern Queensland, New South Wales (Griffith – Warialda) as well as south-eastern South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania (which is the Danish Queen Mary's native island). The Swift Parrot resides in Tasmania when the trees here are full of flowers and nectar (nectar is the sugary liquid produced in the flowers of monocots and dicots), which provides the best conditions for reproduction. So far, the National Conservation Program has shown that the Swift Parrot is a regular visitor to Queensland, having been recorded here for six out of the last eight years in the period up to 2005. On the Australian mainland, new sightings of the Swift Parrot have mainly been concentrated around the eastern part of Queensland.

The Swift Parrot migrates across Bass Strait between Tasmania and the Australian continent (especially at the state of Victoria). No other parrot species make a longer migration than the Swift Parrot. It arrives in Tasmania from late August to early September to breed, returning to mainland south-eastern Australia during March and April. The Swift Parrot typically migrates between the north coast of Tasmania on the stretch between Launceston and Smithton and the mainland around Port Phillip Bay, including the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas. During its migration, it appears to pass through the western part of Bass Strait during the daytime without stopping. Similar to the majority of the world's migratory birds, the Swift Parrot also runs the risk of encountering obstacles during migration in the form of e.g. birds of prey and natural disasters on the route to and from Tasmania. Not least the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a serious enemy of the Swift Parrot during its migration.

The Swift Parrot inhabits dry Sclerophyll and Eucalyptus forests and woodlands (Sclerophyll is the term for a type of vegetation that has 'hard' leaves and short stems and is very prominent throughout western and southern Australia). Sometimes the Swift Parrot is also seen in the ecosystems known as "wet" Sclerophyll forests.

It can be seen in small flocks of 4 – 20 individuals, which playfully in a "swallow-like" manner chase each other with rapid screams and with sharp turns in the air. If you are lucky, you can see the Swift Parrot in small groups of up to 30 birds or occasionally in larger flocks (of several hundred birds) around places that offer ample access to food. Flocks of over 1,000 individuals have previously been reported on a few exceptional occasions. Swift Parrots are generally gregarious when breeding, and many pairs may breed near each other in a form of 'loose' colonies.

In Tasmania, the Swift Parrott always breeds within 8 km of the coast. The largest occurrence of breeding populations is seen between Cape Bernier and Orford and the Wellington Range near Hobart, which is the "capital" of Tasmania. A smaller breeding population occurs in northern Tasmania between Launceston and Smithton, to which the birds migrate first.

In other words, the Swift Parrot breeds in the Australian summer in Tasmania and after the breeding season the birds disperse all over Tasmania before migrating north to the Australian mainland to winter. In most years, a large proportion of the population overwinters in central Victoria, while a smaller number of birds overwinter further afield. During periods of extreme drought in central Victoria, the Swift Parrot may make a marathon migration of up to 1,000 km away from the drought to seek refuge in the wetter coastal areas of New South Wales. Small flocks have been observed on a regular basis in Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. The range in South Australia appears to have been reduced, with only sporadic, recent sightings of small flocks or individual birds from the south-east of the state. In the period 1987 - 1988, the Swift Parrot population was estimated at 5,000 birds and 1,320 breeding pairs, and in 1995-1996 it was estimated that there were 1,000 breeding pairs. In 2001, the population was estimated to be less than 2,500 adult birds, so it is certainly not a bird that is seen frequently in the large distribution area.

The Swift Parrots drink nectar from Eucalyptus flowers using their special tongue, which has small knobs ("brushes") on the surface of the tongue that help hold the nectar. The Swift Parrot buries its beak in the flowers and scoops up the nectar with its tongue, which can be shaped into a "cup" (just like when a person closes his hand and fills it with water). Photo from the internet.

As already mentioned, the Swift Parrot differs from most parrot species in being a migratory bird that primarily follows the flowering of various Eucalyptus trees. Its food mainly consists of nectar and flower honey, but it also eats the flowers themselves, although it mainly takes nectar and pollen with its brush tongues (pollen is flower dust that is spread during the spreading of plants, i.e. by pollination). In the wild, the Swift Parrot also feeds on seeds and grains, green vegetation, fruit and other nectar and pollen, insects and larvae.

In Tasmania, the Swift Parrot is most often seen breeding in Eucalyptus trees, typically Eucalyptus globulus ("Blue Gum") or Eucalyptus ovata ("Mushroom Gum"). It follows the flowering trees and the flowering is said to be sufficient to support the crop for three out of every ten years. Most breeding birds are found in "forest patches" of less than 0.01 km2, and breeding takes place in hollows in both live and dead Eucalyptus trees. The most common tree species used by the Swift Parrot as a home for its nest are Eucalyptus obliqua ("Stringybark"), Eucalyptus pulchella ("White Peppermint") and Tasmanian Eucalyptus globulus ("Blue Gum"), Eucalyptus viminalis ("White Gum") and Eucalyptus delegatensis ("Gum-topped Stringybark"). On the mainland, it lives in biotopes such as Eucalyptus forest and woodlands, farmland and plantations, and sometimes in urban areas. Sometimes there is little access to the primary food source in the form of nectar from lushly flowering Eucalyptus of various species as well as "Lerp", which is a sugary secretion (excrement) that sap-sucking larvae and insects (belonging to the genera Glycaspis and Lasiopsylla) have deposited on leaves, twigs and branches like a structure of crystallized honeycomb. During the winter, the Swift Parrots live a nomadic existence and look for other forms of food than flowering Eucalyptus and "Lerp". Its habitat varies from year to year and is dependent on the climatic conditions and the associated food options. However, the Swift Parrot may also return and use the same habitats from year to year and often remains in winter habitats for extended periods within a season. As a result of the Swift Parrots great mobility, they are recorded in hundreds of places in Australia, which is somewhat paradoxical since there are so few of them. These locations vary and are closely related to access to flowering Eucalyptus and availability of other types of food such as "Lerp". Sometimes it also uses urban areas to search for food. The importance of larger trees as a main food source for the Swift Parrot has been demonstrated repeatedly, as these trees tend to offer a more reliable and abundant source of nectar.

In the wild, the Swift Parrot is usually noisy, active and conspicuous, but appears quiet when foraging and resting in the middle of the day, where it prefers to sit high in the trees. The Swift Parrot has a voracious appetite, which is why you sometimes can see the Swift Parrot with a plumage completely matted with nectar. You can actually approach a tree with the Swift Parrots as they eagerly consume food, where you often can see them hanging upside down high up in the trees, where various Lory species also forage. The Swift Parrot thus primarily seeks its food in trees, mainly Eucalyptus trees, but it also occasionally stays on the ground to consume seeds, fallen flowers, fruit, berries and "Lerp", as well as - of course - to drink water.

The Swift Parrot often calls loudly, but, as previously mentioned, it can also be a quiet bird. Its voice has a soft melodic tone that is distinctly different from the very sharp vocal splendor of the actual Lories. If during a summer visit to Tasmania you want to make an attempt to see the Swift Parrot in the wild, you must especially seek out areas with Eucalyptus trees of the species Eucalyptus globulus ("Blue Gum") and other Eucalyptus species with "Lerp" on their leaves or petals, which also applies on the mainland in autumn and winter.

Breeding success is closely linked to the presence of flowering 'Blue Gum' Eucalyptus trees in Tasmania. In years with poor flowering, there seems to be little breeding. First-year birds have been seen breeding, but usually they breed later in the season, around November.

The Swift Parrots choose large trees as nesting sites. The nests are found in the hollows of the trees and should preferably be as high up as possible (typically 6 – 20 m above the ground), where several pairs often breed in the same tree. A recent study has shown that Swift Parrots' nests often are located close to each other. Trees with nests can be located only 10 - 15 m apart, and up to four active nests can be seen in each tree. They breed in living as well as dead trees. At the same time, the Swift Parrot has a penchant for breeding in dry forests on slopes and hills, which unfortunately makes it extremely vulnerable to "bush fires” when there are chicks in the nest.

3 – 5 white eggs are laid per clutch, and the breeding season falls, as mentioned, from September until February in Tasmania.

There is no information available on the lifespan of the Swift Parrot in the wild.

The Swift Parrot likes to use high hollows in Eucalyptus trees as a nesting opportunity. Paradoxically, it competes for these nesting opportunities with the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris), which has been introduced to Australia, where, like other invasive species, it threatens the native Australian fauna. Photo from the internet.


In 2010, the Swift Parrot was assessed by BirdLife International - the official "Red List" authority for birds on behalf of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) - to belong to the "Endangered" category, i.e. a threatened species. The background for this categorization is that the population of breeding birds is very small and continues to decline, since the population faces a number of threats both in the areas where it breeds and where it stays in the winter.


Since 2015 BirdLife International has categorized the Swift Parrot as “Critically Endangered”, and today BirdLife International estimates that there are only 1,000 - 2,500 adult specimens of the Swift Parrot left in the wild, and the trend for the population is estimated to be continuously decreasing (cf. "the Swift Parrot Recovery Team" 2001).

The population is believed to be declining in line with the loss of habitat and the destruction of the same, which all in all has meant a reduction of its total distribution area. The frequency with which this species disappears from the wild has not yet been estimated.

Among aviculturists, you often hear that the large parrot species are highly endangered in the wild. This is also true, but if you look at BirdLife International's records for selected large South American parrot species, and compare the number estimates for these with the Swift Parrot (cf. the table below), you can see that the Swift Parrot is significantly rarer in the wild than e.g. Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus):

In Tasmania, the Swift Parrot's breeding areas have been significantly reduced at the same time that the habitats have become fragmented, which is due to the clearing of areas with Eucalyptus globulus ("Blue Gum") in favor of cultivated land, plantation and sawmill operations, chipping and real urbanization. Over half of Tasmania's areas of "Blue Gum" forest have already been cleared back in 2011. Furthermore, selective logging has resulted in the removal of larger trees from the remaining forest areas, which often regenerate poorly. At the same time, the Swift Parrot competes with the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) for the remaining nesting opportunities, which is especially seen along forest edges. Even with the protection of the remaining habitats (of which 80 % apparently is privately owned land) as well as attempts to maintain and restore wooded areas, regular breeding seems doubtful, as the Swift Parrot no longer has stable access to nectar.

On the Australian mainland, clearance and degradation of the Swift Parrott's habitat in favor of agriculture, forestry, residential and commercial development has had an even greater impact on the species. Thus, many of the preferred lowland habitats with the most fertile and productive localities have been cleared or significantly altered. Dry refuge habitats continue to be cleared and fragmented in favor of coastal development. Residual areas, including many of those that currently exist in conservation-worthy ecosystems, have also been heavily exploited and degraded, and this practice also continues in many areas, including in forest areas with hardwood production. This practice results in poor and unreliable access to nectar sources due to significantly fewer large old trees. Competition from other large nectarivores may be further exacerbated by continued forest fragmentation. In winter, the Swift Parrot's survival on the Australian continent depends heavily on public lands that have been exploited for timber, honey and minerals. At the same time, global warming threatens to change the appearance and composition of habitats. In addition, on the Australian mainland it is not uncommon to experience Swift Parrots dying through collisions with windows, vehicles and fences.

Finally, the Swift Parrot is also threatened by the dangerous infectious disease "Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease" (PBFD) as well as illegal capture and trade.

The Swift Parrot is one of the world's rarest parrot species in the wild, and the Australian authorities have set very strict guidelines for keeping it in captivity on this continent. Conversely, over recent years the Swift Parrot has become very widespread among aviculturists in Europe, and the birds are traded – despite their great rarity in the wild – at spot prices (e.g. in Denmark the price has been as low as approximately 40.- Euro per bird). This can become a big problem, as in the long term there may be too few serious breeders who want to deal with this parrot species, and if it becomes rare among European aviculturists, then the Swift Parrot's days in human care may be numbered. The photo shows one of my own breeding females.

Nature protection measures

On a national level, back in 1999 the Swift Parrot was categorized as an endangered species pursuant to "the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act", which happened after a number of states independently had categorized it as an endangered species in previous years, cf. e.g. "The Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act" from 1988 from the state of Victoria. Pursuant to the national law, an action plan was drawn up for the recovery of the species in the wild and for the future management of this species. In 2007, the state of Victoria categorized the Swift Parrot as truly endangered.

A 6-point rescue plan was drawn up for measures to ensure the Swift Parrot's survival in the Australian fauna, cf. "the National Swift Parrot Recovery Plan 2006 - 2010".

In all the states where the Swift Parrot lives, it is thus protected by legislation, and the species can only be kept in human care with permission from the Australian authorities (Advanced license). In Tasmania, only those aviculturists who have kept the Swift Parrot in human care from before 1998 are allowed to continue to keep this species. It is also illegal for Australian aviculturists to sell, trade or transfer the Swift Parrot to other aviculturists.

According to the "GUIDE to BIRD PRICES 2023 - 2024 " from AVICULTURAL SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA, INC. (cf. the magazine "AUSTRALIAN AVICULTURE", volume 77 - No. 11 - November 2023), the current price for a pair of Swift Parrots is - for trade between aviculturists – 700.- Australian Dollars, corresponding to approximately 425.- Euros.

The Swift Parrot is, by virtue of its aerodynamic anatomy, an eminent flyer as a result of its relatively small head and beak and not least by virtue of its long-pointed wings and a very pointed tail.

Over time, the authorities in Australia have become increasingly restrictive in relation to the Swift Parrot. Many Australian aviculturists cannot understand that if conservation authorities really are so concerned about the plight of the Swift Parrot in the wild, why are these authorities not doing everything in their power to ensure that responsible aviculturists breed as many Swift Parrots in human care as possible? The Australian aviculturists are asking themselves what is the value of the abundance of information and experience that the authorities have gradually gathered about the Swift Parrot in the wild, if this valuable information does not flow on and is used as a foundation for captive breeding programs combined with the use of the latest DNA technology and permanent ring marking of young birds.

The Australian authorities have gone so far as to propose setting up strict requirements regarding the Swift Parrot's feeding and living quarters in human care, before issuing permits to aviculturists who wish to keep the Swift Parrot in human care. It has also been suggested that such guidelines should be established in collaboration with other relevant conservation authorities and that the guidelines should be enforced by inspectors from the Department of Environment.

The Australian authorities do not suggest that aviculturists should be the "saviors" of the Swift Parrot, but given the massive destruction of the species' natural habitats and the devastating competition from invasive bird species such as especially the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), there is a great need for a concerted effort to create a large-scale and systematic breeding program for the Swift Parrot in human care in Australia.

For Australian aviculturists, it is ironic to read European avicultural magazines and learn that the Swift Parrot has fallen to prices that are far lower than in Australia, to which at least 4 different colour mutations have even been bred in Europe in human care. Europe's success with the Swift Parrot must be seen in the light of the fact that in 1960 Australia adopted strict legislation on a total export ban, which, among other things, includes all the continent's parrot species. This is ironic for Australian aviculturists because the Swift Parrot in Australia is kept in human care in extremely low numbers and because the state that has the potential to contribute so much to the Swift Parrot's long-term survival is more focused on establishing restrictive and outdated legislation around the species in the wild rather than to ensure that birds in human care can contribute to the survival of the species in the wild. You can ask yourself who is best to contribute to the breeding of the Swift Parrot – an aviculturist who has kept and bred the Swift Parrot in human care for a number of years, or some authorities who are paid by the Australian government for this occupation? There can be no doubt about that.

Many aviculturists believe that Australian lawmakers should learn from the experience from Brazil regarding conservation methods for the different blue macaws, including the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) and Spix Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii). Here, the Brazilians chose to establish a recovery program, which is led by a board of directors made up of members with very diverse backgrounds. Included in this board, in addition to government officials, are also ornithologists, Zoo specialists and – not least – Brazilian aviculturists who have kept these three Macaw species in human care over several years and who possess invaluable knowledge and experience.

As a result of the Swift Parrot's very peaceful nature, it can be kept together with conspecifics and smaller bird species such as Java Sparrows (Padda oryzeva) or other smaller Australian parakeets such as Grass Parakeets (genus Neophema). Even during the breeding season, this species does not show aggressiveness. Here is a couple with their chicks.

Often - and sometimes with good reason - aviculturists are accused of being responsible for the disappearance of various parrot species from the wild around the world. It is therefore encouraging that also the nature conservation program for the highly endangered Spix Macaw recognizes that private aviculturists hold the key to the survival of this species for future generations. In Australian birding circles, a similar approach is hoped for in relation to the conservation of the Swift Parrot, but the ongoing prejudice against aviculturists by Australian legislators and authorities suggests that this may have long prospects.

One only has to go back to the 1980’s to observe the impact of Australian legislation on a number of parrot species. Here, aviculturists in Queensland were not allowed to keep the Australian Red-sided Eclectus (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi), the Hooded Parrot (Psephotellus dissimilis), and the Golden-shouldered Parrot (Psephotellus chrysopterygius) as well as several other parrot species. As a result of overgrazing by domestic cattle and other destructive farming methods, the numbers of the Hooded Parrots and the Golden-shouldered Parrot in the wild were reduced to unsustainable levels. Aviculturists throughout Australia were required to list these (and other) parrot species in a national permit system. Later the laws in Queensland were repealed and it was then allowed to keep and breed these species in human care after a permit was issued. Within a few years, the price of Hooded Parrots dropped from about 750.- Australian Dollars to 100.- Australian Dollars for a pair, and the price of Golden-shouldered Parrots dropped from 3,000.- Australian Dollars to only 300.- Australian Dollars. Today, the Hooded Parrot is so intensively bred among Australian aviculturists that young birds can now be purchased for as little as 10.- Australian Dollars per bird, and the State of New South Wales has now removed this parrot species from the approval scheme. This will also reduce the temptation to capture these birds in the wild. It would be encouraging if the same scenario could be achieved in relation to the Swift Parrot. The Australians can see that European aviculturists with an extremely limited population of Swift Parrots over the years have been able to breed this species diligently in human care, so it should be possible to achieve the same breeding results in Australia.

As we read more and more about the effects of the destruction of the Swift Parrot's habitat, it would be encouraging if local and national conservation authorities could work with aviculturists to ensure the survival of the Swift Parrot. At least it would be a start if the Australian authorities instead would cooperate with the aviculturists' organizations, since it could lead to a much more harmonious relationship than a situation, where aviculturists are told what to do without the opportunity to come up with any prior proposal for legislation and guidelines on how to keep the Swift Parrot in human care in Australia.

The Swift Parrot is listed on Appendix II under CITES. Among the conservation measures that are under way under the auspices of CITES Appendix II, following can be mentioned: Regular monitoring of the Swift Parrot’s population in Tasmania as well as throughout the distribution area on the mainland, for which a large network of volunteers is used. This effort is coordinated by i.a. "the Swift Parrot Recovery Team". The monitoring also includes recording the loss of habitat types and changes in surrounding biotopes. Nature conservation also includes the development and further development of guidelines for forestry as well as information programs for the restoration of habitats. In addition to determining trends and breeding distribution under different climatic conditions, research will also be carried out on breeding success and the viability of the stock, under which e.g. nests, feeding sites and migration routes using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) are identified.

Like it or not, private aviculturists may well be the key to the long-term survival of many endangered bird species, including the Swift Parrot. Let us not hope that restrictions and prejudices against aviculturists send the Swift Parrot down the same "death route" as e.g. The Paradis Parrot (Psephotellus pulcherrimus) and the Rodrigues Parrot (Necropsittacus rodericanus), both of which have unfortunately been exterminated by mankind. We must hope that a more enlightened attitude may enable a far greater number of Australian aviculturists to discover the joys of keeping one of the most colourful and trusting of all Australian parrots, the Swift Parrot.

In conclusion, it must be stated that it is my impression that the recent years' efforts to preserve the Swift Parrot in the Australian fauna have unfortunately not been as well-founded, well-organized and massive as the efforts towards another of the continent's highly threatened parrot species, namely the Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster). We can only encourage the responsible Australian authorities, in close and confidential cooperation with serious, experienced Australian aviculturists, to improve the efforts to a significant extent as soon as possible.

A beautifully coloured Swift Parrot in top condition is a glorious and beautiful sight, and it is completely understandable that over the past several years this species has achieved such a wide spread among European aviculturists. Even though Australia is home to some of the world's most beautiful and brightly coloured parrot species, the country's postal service has not yet - like a couple of ther countries - let these birds be illustrated on stamps. Here is one of my own male birds.

In human care

The Swift Parrot was first seen in human care back in 1863 at the London Zoo, and in the following years imports often followed.

It is a bird that should be kept in aviaries. It tends to animal cruelty to keep this species in a cage where it doesn't belong at all. Having said that, newly purchased Swift Parrots always arrive at my place in quarantine in a small cage, where - in the first period after the acquisition - there is an opportunity to associate with the birds so closely that they become more familiar with human contact, which will be a great advantage when the birds are later moved to an aviary.

The Swift Parrot is a very curious bird that wants to investigate everything, and therefore it is sometime not rare that it can find an accidental opening in the aviary that allows it to escape. For the same reason, the wire mesh must be of a size so that it cannot get its head out through it.

The species is known for having a very peaceful behaviour, and it can even be kept together with smaller bird species such as Java Sparrow (Padda oryzeva) or smaller Australian parakeets such as Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) and Grass Parakeets (genus Neophema).

After acclimatization and getting used to seed food, the Swift Parrot is both persistent and hardy. It is always active and seems graceful, and you can often see the male sitting on a branch while it makes some strange movements, where it "flips" its wings. At the same time, some sharp screams are emitted, but they are not unpleasant. In general, both sexes have a fairly pleasant, but perhaps somewhat monotonous, babbling song, and the female's voice seems markedly weaker than the male's.

Some aviculturists believe that the Swift Parrot breeds most easily in a separate aviary and prefers to breed in an open aviary rather than in an indoor aviary. More nesting options should be offered, preferably in a planted aviary, where the nest is slightly hidden by the vegetation. If given the opportunity, the Swift Parrott prefers hollowed-out logs as a nest box, but in general it is very open to the possibilities offered to it, regardless of whether it is horizontal, vertical or inclined nest boxes. The bottom of the nest box should be provided with an approximately 5 cm thick nest material at the bottom, e.g. in the form of moss, which seems to be a suitable nesting material for most Swift Parrots. Sometimes you can see females digging in the nest material to such an extent that this "flies" out of the entrance hole to the nest box, which also can be seen with the Black-winged Lovebird (Agapornis taranta) from Africa. In contrast to nest boxes used with different Lory species, where you can often observe "wet boxes", this is not seen in the Swift Parrot, which is why it is not necessary to supplement the existing nest material with sphagnum, etc., provided you primarily feed your birds with seeds, cf. below.

When trying to breed with Swift Parrots, it is important that the birds are calm during the breeding season, so unnecessary disturbances must be avoided. I do not breed with females until they are approximately 2 years. 3 – 5 (sometimes 6) white eggs are laid, which are hatched by the female alone. Some breeding pairs of Swift Parrots regularly produce 2 – 3 chicks, others 4 chicks per clutch and another 5 chicks per clutch. When the female incubates, she leaves the nest in the morning and late afternoon to do toilet and be fed by the male. The incubation period is approximately 25 days in human care, but is stated to be 20 days in the wild, which seems strange. The chicks leave the nest after approximately 6 weeks and sometimes the Swift Parrot can achieve 2 clutches during one breeding season. The chicks leave the nest 1 – 2 weeks later than you see in other seed-eating parakeets, which is connected to the fact that their wings cannot support the powerful body until they are approximately 6 weeks old.

One can only be deeply fascinated of the beauty of the Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) and the depth of the colours and brilliance of the plumage reveals the close relationship to the Lories (subfamily name Loriinae).

Among Australian aviculturists, Swift Parrots’ breeding usually begins in late September, but egg-laying sometimes does not occur until late November. The late breeding season can have disastrous consequences for mainland birds due to the strong heat at this time of year. In Australia, aviculturists usually get two clutches in a season when breeding begins in early September.

Whether kept in pairs or in a small flock, the Swift Parrot appears to have only modest preferences for aviary design. Some aviculturists have 2 pairs of Swift Parrots in an aviary 5 meters long, 1.5 meters wide and 2 meters high, others keep them in a smaller aviary 3 meters long, 1 meter wide and 2 meters high. Whether you keep a single or two pairs together, or even a small flock, there will be chicks from the Swift Parrot. In colony breeding, you can often see flocks where there are more males than females, and yet chicks are produced without signs of overt aggression, which is sometimes observed by some aviculturists. It is also said that polygamy can occur among Swift Parrots that are kept in flocks. The primary problem that can arise from keeping the Swift Parrot in very large aviary complexes is the risk of a broken neck and/or wings due to the species' extremely fast flight, which is especially a risk when the birds are disturbed at night.

In Australia, the birds are particularly exposed at night in areas where possums live, locally called Opossums (Didelphimorphia), which can give the birds a violent shock, and this is actually the most frequent cause of death among Swift Parrots in human care. Stray cats and wild birds can also surprise the Swift Parrots in human care at night, but the birds can also be scared out of their wits during the day by flying birds of prey. When you keep the Swift Parrot in aviaries that are over 3 m in length, you should therefore mitigate this potential risk by, for example, setting up a "wall" of dense natural branches or a carpet that hangs a short distance from both end walls. The juvenile Swift Parrots in particular are especially vulnerable to this fate in the first few weeks after they leave the nest.

In Australia, a PhD thesis has been made, which included determining the causes of death among Swift Parrots in human care (and in the wild) through necropsy of a number of birds. In a single breeder, parasitic roundworms were found to be the cause of death in three birds, and in a fourth bird, death was due to head trauma (as a result of marsupials). All of this breeder's adult Swift Parrots were dewormed each year directly in the birds’ crop, as well as water-based deworming twice a year, but juvenile birds were not. The breeder had some negative experiences among juvenile birds of other parrot species, which he thought was due to the viral deworming, which is why he had made it a rule never to give young birds of Swift Parrots deworming. The only birds lost to roundworms (Ascarids) were young Swift Parrots. Since the above-mentioned PhD thesis, the breeder has given worming via the crop to all Swift Parrots, including the young birds.

Especially in Australia, as an aviculturist, you must be aware that it is of crucial importance that you minimize heat development in both aviaries and nest boxes. The Swift Parrot appears to be very intolerant of extreme heat, especially during the breeding season, which in Australia often leads to the loss of chicks when there are unusually hot periods. In years, when there are particular problems with the summer heat, it often results in aviculturists having to hand-rear chicks abandoned by the parent birds. Therefore, Swift Parrot aviaries in Australia are covered with cloths or solid dark roofing sheets. In Australia, it is also common to build nest boxes with either a roof (lid) or bottom made of tin, which is highly heat absorbent. For the Swift Parrots, Australian aviculturists therefore replace these parts with wood or even small cement boards to reduce the heat in the nest boxes. Some Australian aviculturists also have roofs on their aviaries which can be opened in very hot weather to ensure fresh air currents over birds and nest boxes. Still other aviculturists set up hessian in the nest box, which can be moistened with water when it gets really hot, so that eggs and chicks are not abandoned by the parent birds. Paradoxically, the less warm summers in Europe are believed to be the primary reason for the great success of European aviculturists in breeding the Swift Parrot in human care.

The Swift Parrot has appeared in several different colour mutations, here you can see a Misty, which, among other things, can be seen in several places in the Netherlands and Belgium. The first colour mutation among Swift Parrots was dilute (yellow) and is said to have originated in Germany.

Photo from the internet.

Colour mutations

Since www.birdkeeper.dk is not - apart from a few exceptions - a forum for colour mutations, this point only needs to be touched upon very briefly.

In Europe, the Swift Parrot has appeared in at least four different colour mutations, i.a. Misty (khaki) which I have had the pleasure of seeing abroad, as well as Olive.

In addition, you also see different modifications of the Swift Parrot with larger or smaller areas of red feathers, not least on the belly.

There are i.e. in the Netherlands Swift Parrots with larger or smaller parts of red feathers, especially on the chest and belly, that has been created - similar to what is seen in certain other Australian parakeet species - through selectively breed birds where the red colour is represented on parts of the bird, which is not seen on this species in nature in general.


There are two ways to go about feeding the Swift Parrot in human care. Either you can primarily feed them with liquid food, as is known from the different Lory species (honey water, liquid nectar mixture, possibly mixed with fruit compote, baby food, milk powder, etc.), or you can choose to primarily feed them based on a seed mixture supplemented with fruit and vegetables. Many aviculturists swear by the latter, as the birds do not hog as much with their excrements.

If you choose to feed the Swift Parrot with liquid food, you can either mix the liquid food yourself, or you can buy ready-made, water-soluble powder mixes. It is important that any dietary change is gradual, especially when introducing different varieties of seed feed. In any case, the feed composition must be varied and should consist of many different sweet fruits (apples, pears, grapes, oranges, kiwi fruit and watermelons) and greens in the form of different types of salad, including green leaf lettuce, spinach, celery, corn, peas and broccoli, to which are added clover flowers, all kinds of grass seeds, and fresh natural branches, preferably with twigs full of leaf buds. Sprouted seed in all stages of maturity is also a must for the Swift Parrot, but be very careful with the rinsing under clean water, so that the seed is cleaned of fungal spores and other impurities.

In the wild, successful breeding of the Swift Parrot, as previously mentioned, is closely linked to the presence of two different Eucalyptus species in particular, namely "Blue Gum" (Eucalyptus globulus) and "Swamp Gum" (Eucalyptus ovata), but in Australia birds in human care will also consume flowering buds of a much wider range of Eucalyptus varieties with joy. The most successful Australian breeders use a commercial pellet-based diet, a water-soluble Lory mix and a parakeet seed mix supplemented with seasonal fruit. It is rare to see the Swift Parrots eating fruit in the wild, but in human care the Swift Parrots is happy with this.

Some recommend limiting the number of sunflower seeds in the feed, as these seeds are known to be very fatty, and the Swift Parrot tends to suffer from obesity in human care if you feed it incorrectly, especially if its aviary is not very large.

The Swift Parrot loves to bathe and must therefore always have access to fresh bathing water. It is an amusing sight to experience the bird "flipping" with its wings in a tub of water until it is completely soaked.

During the breeding season, egg food and sand cake are welcome. Many authors also point out that there is also a need for insect food during the breeding season, as it seems to be an important source of food for the wild birds during the breeding season. Therefore, in human care, mealworms, ant pupae and larvae are often used as food, which can contribute to successful breeding year after year. With the latest feeding information and research available on the Swift Parrot, aviculturists can achieve a far greater degree of breeding success than was previously possible. We do not have to go back further than 1981, when Joseph M. Forshaw in "Parrots of the World" noted that the Swift Parrots rarely breeds in human care, and does not easily adapt to an existence in aviaries, which must be said to be information, which no longer applies to Europe and Tasmania. It is a shame that only so few Australian aviculturists are allowed to keep this species in human care and thereby contribute to its survival.

The progress in knowledge of optimal dietary information has also meant that the Swift Parrot can be experienced in a much better state of health than in the past. Despite this fact, you should regularly check the health of your birds, not least for signs of obesity, so that you can possibly change the feed composition.

Overall, I find the Swift Parrot to be one of the most beautiful and thrifty species in our aviaries.


Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 16.06.2011 / 22.01.2024


Here are two of my own Swift Parrot chicks. It is clear to see that these are young birds by virtue of their weak colouring and dull feather colours.