The scientific community now recognizes that the phenomenon of meat-eating by lorikeets was not a one-off aberration, but is widespread, known to have been occurring for decades.
When Professor Daryl Jones of Griffith University, Australia, first heard of rainbow lorikeets eating meat, he was “shocked”.1 Rainbow lorikeets are a beautiful Australian parrot species (Trichoglossus haematodus) renowned for eating fruit (much to the dismay of orchardists!2), as well as seeds, nectar, and pollen. In other words, 100% herbivorous. But two years ago the owner of a back yard bird-feeding station north of Brisbane reported that lorikeets were eating the mincemeat he’d left out for carnivorous birds, e.g. magpies, kookaburras, and butcher birds.1
Professor Jones said at the time, “To see a lorikeet eating meat astonishes me completely. I have never heard of such a thing before.”1 Given Prof Jones’s undertakings in up-to-date research on “what birds feed on all around the world”,1 with particular emphasis on Australia, his surprise was especially notable. Prof Jones let it be known that he “would like to hear from anyone who has observed lorikeets eating meat”.1
And he certainly did hear from them, with more than 500 emails landing in his inbox.3 It soon became evident that the phenomenon of meat-eating rainbow lorikeets was not confined to a few birds just north of Brisbane. Rather, it was Australia-wide, “really common and really widespread”, frequently observed in captive and wild birds.3 What’s more, Prof Jones received 144 responses which indicated that other parrots, including scaly-breasted parrots and cockatiels, were also regular consumers of meat.
And observers reported to Prof Jones that it had actually been occurring for quite some time. “People have said they’ve seen it for up to 20 years.”3
And what has been the reaction of the international science community to such widespread meat-eating in parrots? “This is something that has shocked people around the world, people initially like myself just refused to believe it and said it can’t possibly be true,” explained Prof Jones. “It’s really opened up some eyes and some avenues for further research.”3
As well as lorikeets, other parrots formerly thought to be exclusively vegetarian are now known to eat meat, much to the surprise of scientists. From left, the scaly-breasted parrot, cockatiel and galah.
While the unfolding meat-loving lorikeet saga caught the scientific community by surprise, it perhaps ought not have. After all, these Australian accounts of meat-eating in parrots are not unique in the parrot world. The kea of New Zealand is a parrot renowned for its carnivory.4
New Zealand’s carnivorous parrot, the kea.
And beyond parrots, there have been numerous other modern-day examples of other birds and creatures traditionally regarded as being exclusively vegetarian which suddenly adopted very different dietary behaviour, often to the surprise and shock of observers; e.g. the ‘Vampire Finches’ of the Galápagos, sheep that kill birds, a horse that devours hens, and a cow that gobbles up live chickens.
Furthermore, from a biblical perspective, we really ought not be surprised whenever we encounter carnivory in today’s world. According to Genesis 1, originally all animals and birds were given “every green plant for food”. That means that every kind of animal and bird today that eats meat, was in fact originally vegetarian. So they’ve transitioned from a 100% vegetarian diet at some point in history. The Bible’s eyewitness account of history tells us that it can only have happened in the intervening years since the Fall, about 6,000 years ago, because prior to that, it was truly a “very good” world, just as God said, in which there was no death, no pain, no suffering, no carnivory.
So the fact of widespread evidence of meat-eating in parrots (and other creatures) is really just another symptom of the harsh reality that we now live in a fallen world. But in order to see things in that context (i.e. a biblical worldview), eyes really have to be open to at least consider the possibility that the Bible’s history is true. Therefore if meat-eating in parrots has really “opened up some eyes” as Professor Jones says,3 let’s pray that it will open up some more—and wider.
As well as scrounging for berries, they seek out animal fat for its high energy, tearing open carcasses to consume meat and internal organs, scraping dried meat from bones and licking out the marrow.And:
Suspicions of keas ‘preying’ on sheep were confirmed after graziers found wool and raw mutton in the stomachs of birds shot on the sheep runs—shootings prompted by regular sightings of keas clinging to live sheep and pecking at ‘sores’.