The black lory is a rare beauty


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 6 April 2021
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Parrots are known for their extraordinary colours, but those that buck the trend can be just as striking. Meet the black lory.

The black lory (Chalcopsitta atra), a native of West Papua in Indonesia, is set apart from its colourful cousins by its almost monotoned plumage. And what makes it even more special is that the undersides of its tail feathers look like they’ve been dipped in sunset.

Like Australia’s iconic black cockatoos, the black lory’s plumage is glossy and wonderful. It’s also not really black. As you can see in the image above, it’s more of a deep, deep plum colour when viewed in bright sunlight.

What’s interesting is that colour has been making its way back into the species via two of the three subspecies that are spread across Indonesia. 

Chalcopsitta atra bernsteini, found on the Indonesian island of Misool, has red or purple markings on its forehead and thighs, and blue patches on its back.

Chalcopsitta atra insignis, native to the Onin, Bomberai, and Bird’s Head Peninsulas of West Papua and nearby islands, has so much red peeking through its black plumage, it looks very similar to dusky lory.

The third subspecies, Chalcopsitta atra atra, found in the western part of Bird’s Head Peninsula and nearby islands, is most similar to the black lory in that it doesn’t have these additional colours.

A close relative of the black lory, the yellow-streaked lory (Chalcopsitta sintillata), native to Papua New Guinea, takes this strange scattered colouring even further, mixing red and black with green and gold:

(Image credit: Roberto Nistri / Alamy Stock Photo)

As juveniles, black lories have white rings around their eyes, which are quite adorable. Here’s one hanging out with a rainbow lorikeet:

If you’re wondering what the difference between a lory and a lorikeet is, lories generally have relatively short tails, like you can see on this black-capped lory, while lorikeets have longer tails. 

But it’s not a hard and fast rule – in Australasia, all species tend to be referred to as lorikeets.

Black lories have a stable population in the wild, and while they’re not as popular as more colourful species in the pet trade, there are some die-hard enthusiasts that describe them as the gentlest and best natured of the lories, and also the most easily tamed.

And oh boy, can they vocalise. As you can see in the video below of two babies, their ear-splitting cries are not for the faint-hearted:

Here’s a much quieter adult, competing with a red-capped lory to master a foraging ball: