Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens in Rockford has opened the Wings of Wonder exhibit again. It features dozens of quirky and colorful little birds called lorys and lorikeets.
As soon as you walk into the greenhouse, you can hear them singing from inside their enclosure. When you enter the enclosure, a volunteer like Diane Donze will open the doors for you and tell you a little about the birds before you meet them.
"They're from Australia, the New Guinea area," Donze said. "There's 37 of them in there and there's seven different varieties of lorikeets. They're super friendly, super social. They might land on your head, they might land on your shoulder. They're kind of inquisitive, so they might come and check things out."
Inside the enclosure, dozens of birds in bright greens, blues, and reds perch on branches, the sides of their enclosure, and on the people visiting them. Volunteer Tina Miller stood with Gloria, the only red lory, sitting on her shoulder.
"Gloria is a lory, and she's technically a blue streak lory," Miller said. "They're native to Australia. She kind of looks like an Angry Bird, with her little black mask and being all red, but she's actually very sweet. She loves people. She loves Fleetwood Mac. She loves men. She gets on people and she doesn't want to leave."
The rest of the lorys and lorikeets are green or a rainbow mix of colors, except for Willy.
"Willy is orange and black, and he is an orange dusky, an orange dusky lory, and he's kind of like the alpha bird around here," Miller explained. "He likes to be the first one to be fed, and the first one to be held, and he will often scare the other ones off. Even Gloria. Gloria's kind of intimidated by him."
Dave Picken is another volunteer at the conservatory who is happy to chat with visitors about the lorikeets.
He said, "Certainly when the people go in there they really don't know what to expect. And when the birds start landing on them and they're not familiar with it, it's kind of a shocking experience."
Picken says he recently photographed a visitor with 13 lorikeets covering her arms, shoulders, and head.
In their native Australia these outgoing birds are a common sight. So common they can even become an agricultural pest. They love to eat fruit, sometimes much to the annoyance of farmers whose crops become a snack for a flock of hungry lorys. You won't see them in the wild, here, though. Kara Anderson said visiting the birds was a unique experience for her, but not surprising to a friend who recently visited Australia.
"It's just so fun that they're so used to having people around," Anderson said. "My friend that was actually standing here went to Australia and she said that they're just in the trees there, and every once in a while they will come down and land on a person. So they must just be kind of outgoing anyway."
Lyndi Toohill is the Manager of Education and Programs for the conservatory. She explained that lorys and lorikeets are actually separate species, and they are both members of the parrot family. Lorikeets are usually a little smaller and more stout. Lorikeets also have longer tails than lorys.
One unique thing about lorys and lorikeets, Toohill says, is their special tongue that allows them to drink nectar from flowers, or from the cups that visitors to the conservatory can feed them from.
"They've got what's called a brush-shaped tongue," Toohill said. "So if you saw that out there while they were drinking their little nectar cups, they've got the tongue, and then they've got just like the little bits hanging off their tongue on the end and that's what helps them to soak up that nectar."
These birds have been at the conservatory since early September, and will stay until November. But what about the rest of the year?
Toohill explained that this group of birds is a traveling flock. "They travel all over the country to temporary exhibits like ours," she said. "They live in Naples, Florida, so that's where they'll go back to when they're finished with us."
The birds fly between their home base in Naples and temporary exhibits like Wings of Wonder. To get to Rockford, they flew into O'Hare airport and got a ride from a courier from there. They spent the airplane and car rides in individual cages with fruit to snack on.
You can visit Wings of Wonder at Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens until November 11.