Family Travel 2012

Nichole Livengood



Animal Adventure: Feeding the lorikeets at Riverbanks Zoo

Posted 10/8/2012 11:22:00 AM

The lorikeet exhibit at Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo and Garden offers families a chance to get up close and personal with a few of Australia’s feathered friends, and they were putting on quite a show when I popped in for a visit.

When I walked through the entrance to the lorikeet aviary with Bird Keeper Lisa Signorino, we were immediately greeted by a few of her favorite little parrots. They chirped and tweeted and landed on her shoulder, her arm and even her head. A little bright-colored bird she introduced as Sasha rubbed against her face and gave her a lick on the cheek. One of the birds lightly dug through the strands of her hair. “The love to preen your hair,” she says. Preening is when birds use their beaks to clean and straighten their feathers.


Zoo visitors can buy cups of nectar to feed the lorikeets in the exhibit. It’s surprising when the birds fly up and land on you for a drink, but they are naturally curious and friendly. Even in the wild these little parrots will come to people for food, but they don’t like to be petted and don’t poke at them. They may give you a warning peck.

Signorino has been at the Riverbanks Zoo since the lorikeet exhibit opened 10 years ago with just eleven birds. The flock has grown to 44 plus four babies, which have just made their debut. She’s hand raised over half of the birds.

How does she tell them apart? The male and female lorikeets are practically indistinguishable except that the females might be a little smaller. All of the birds have little identification bands on their feet, but Signorino said she can identify the birds by the variations of brightly colored feathers that help them blend in with trees and flowers in their native country, and all have their own little distinct personalities.

“That’s Ed,” she said when one lorikeet landed nearby. “He’s six years old and he runs the exhibit.”

She says she has taught some of the birds to say “pretty bird,” and some will wave. I watched two little birds wrestle and tumble around like cats. Signorino says they love to play with each other.

Fun Fact: Lorikeets are not seed eating birds. They have special feather-like tongues adopted for gathering pollen and nectar. They play an important role in helping to pollinate wild plants.

This hands-on animal adventure is one you don’t want to miss. You can feed the Lorikeets at Koala Knockabout from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Nectar for feeding is $2 a cup, and sales help support the Lorikeets’ neighbors, the koalas.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, with extended spring/summer weekend hours. Admission is $11.75 for adults, $9.25 for children ages 3-12, and $10.75 for military with ID and senior citizens. Children younger than two are admitted free.