By Roland G.
These small parrots are
popular with both companion bird owners and Professional Aviculturists
The African Love Bird is unusual in
that some species are relatively new to the world of Aviculture, while
others are very old. In fact, several species were not even discovered
until this century, yet others have been kept by man for over four
hundred years. Love Birds, whose Latin or scientific name of the genus
is Agapornis, acquired their name because of their fondness for sitting
in pairs while preening each other’s feathers. A few basic facts
to remember about Love Birds are, first, they are small in size,
second, they originate from Africa and its adjacent islands and third,
all Love Birds are members of the parrot family. This stout little
parrot with its short rounded tail, comprises a total of nine different
species. While some species are nearly as common as budgies, others
remain as rare as the most elusive bird in the wild.
In Love Birds, three of the nine species are dimorphic. A species is
dimorphic if the cock is visibly different in color from the hen. The
following three love bird species, Madagascar, Red-faced, and
Abyssinian, fall into this category.
Madagascar Love Bird, or Agapornis Cana, is also known as the
Grayheaded Love Bird. Cocks carry gray on the head, back of the neck
and breast; a green body that is darker on the back and wings, black
underwing coverts, a whitish gray bill and pale gray feet. Hens differ
from the cocks by being completely green.
As might be expected, the Madagascar Love Bird is from the island of
Madagascar. It is also found in smaller numbers on some of the
neighboring islands and there have been isolated sightings on the
mainland of South Africa. These birds have been freely imported for
well over a hundred years. Today, because of export regulations out of
Madagascar, this species has become very rare.
One reason Madagascars are rare is that they are not prolific breeders.
They are usually bred in pairs, which adds to the difficulty of finding
sufficient space. In the wild, they are found in very large flocks,
however, captive breeding has not been generally successful when colony
breeding is attempted.
Red-faced Love Bird, or Agapornis Pullaria, is the second species of
dimorphic Love Bird. Cocks are colored birght green, and are more
yellowish on the front and underneath. The face and crown are
orange-red, the flights and bend of the wing are green, and the
shoulder and underwing coverts are black. The bill is red, and the feet
are gray. Red-faced Love Bird hens have more orange in the face, which
is not quite as bright red, while underwing coverts are green.
The Red-faced has perhaps the longest expanse of territory of any of
the love birds. It stretches from the coastal regions of central
Africa, all the way to western Ethiopia. The Red-faced is considered to
be the first love bird imported into Europe. The Duke of Bedford
mentions that it was used in portraits as early as the 16th cetury.
Considering this long period in captivity, one would assume the bird to
be well established and certainly, well understood. However, the
converse is true. There are few Red-faced Love Birds in captivity, and
they have been bred on only a few occasions. Here in the United States,
only a handful of have had success with this species. In the wild,
Red-faced lovebirds nest in termite sites, however, in captivity, they
have been bred using different methods. The key to breeding success
appears to be in keeping this species in single pairs.
Abyssinian Love Bird, or Agapornis Taranta, is also known as the
Blackwinged Love Bird. The cock is viridian green, the forehead, lores,
and small ring of feathers around the eye, are carmine red and the
underwing coverts are black. Hens have no red on the head or eye area,
their underwing coverts are green, but variable to black with some
The abyssinian is a high altitude dweller from Ethiopia. It was little
known to aviculture until this century and was first imported into the
trade in the early 1900’s. Abyssinians are definitely a "single
The monomorphics include sexes which appear visually alike. In Love
Birds, it includes two categories, birds with a periophtalmic ring (a
ring around the eye) and those without a ring.
Fischer’s Lovebird, Agapornis Fischeri, both cocks and hens appear
alike. Fischer’s Love Birds are green, being darker on the wings
and back, and lighter on the underparts. The forehead is bright
orange-red, suffusing to dark olive, with cheeks and throat a paler
orange. The rump and upper tail coverts are violet blue. The bill is
coral red, the cere and bare skin around the eye is white and the feet
are pale gray.
In the wild, Fischer’s lovebirds are found on the inland plateaus
of northern Tanzania. In captivity, they breed freely and have been
bred in large colonies.
Nyasa Love Bird, Agapornis Lilianae, is also called
Lilian’s Love Bird. Nyasa’a are green, paler on the
underparts and darker on the back and wings. The head is bright salmon
to orange, brighter on the forehead, and paler on the cheeks, throat
and upper breast. The core and ring around the eye are bare white skin.
The bill is red, and the feet are gray.
The Nyasa is another Love Bird relatively new to aviculture. It was not
described until the late 1890’s by Miss Lilian Sclater, for whom
it was named. However, it was not until the 1920’s that it was
imported. In the wild, Nyasas are gregarious, and found in groups of
twenty to one hundred birds. In captivity, they breed freely in
colonies, as well as in cages. They are the rarest eye-ring in
Black-cheeked Love Bird, Agapornis Nigrigenis, are green, being slightly
darker than the Nyasa, and lighter green on the underparts and rump.
The head appears brownish-black, the throat salmon, the back of the
head is yellowish-olive and the wings are darker green. The cere and
the ring around the eye are bare white skin. The bill is bright red and
the feet are gray.
The Black-cheeked is fond in the most restrictive areas. It is located
in two river valleys, one in southwest Zambia and the other in the
Victoria Falls area of Zimbabwe. The Black-cheeked Love Bird was
similarly not described until the early 1900’s and was imported
shortly thereafter. The birds are good breeders, and can be bred in
Masked Love Bird, Agapornis Personata, has a generally green
plumage, with the head, including the lores and cheeks, brown to sooty
black. A yellow collar, about half an inch wide at its narrowest point
on the back of the neck, is widest on the breast. The cere, and bare
skin area around the eye, is white. The bill is red, and the feet are
The Masked Love Bird is foind on inland plateaus in northeastern
Tanzania. Discovered in the late 1800’s, they were not imported
until the 1920’s. Masked Love Birds breed freely in colonies. The
blue mutation occured in the wild, and was imported soon after its
Peachfaced Love Bird, Agapornis Roseicollis, has an overall bright,
almond-green plumage, which is yellow on the underside, with a
brilliant blue rump. The frontal band is a deep rose-red, and the
lores, sides of the head, and throat, are a paler rose-red. The bill is
horn colored and greenish toward the tip. The feet are gray.
The Peachfaced is found in the dry country of South Angola. It was
first found in the late 1700’s but was confused at that time with
the Red-faced Love Bird. In the wild, birds are usually found in groups
of ten. In captivity, the are most prolific, to the point of
Black-collared Love Bird, Agapornis Swinderniana, is also known as
Swindern’s Love Bird. The Swindern’s must be discussed
differently from other Love Birds since it also includes a distinct and
In Agapornis Swinderniana, the main body color is dusky green,
lighter on the cheeks and underparts, with a yellow wash on the throat.
A narrow black collar on the nape, with a chrome yellow area below,
merges into the green of the back. The lower back, rump, and upper tail
coverts, are brilliant blue; the underwing coverts are green. The
central tail feathers are green, occasionally with a red-orange spot;
lateral tail feathers are bright red towards the base, with a black bar
and green tips. The iris of the eye is golden-yellow. The bill is
blackish-horn and the feet are dark gray. It is a dense forest dweller,
found in Liberia and is considered to be rare in the wild.
In Agapornis Swinderniana Zenkeri, the yellow area below the
nuchal collar is extended and is colored orange. It is also slightly
brighter green and slightly larger in size than A.s. swinderniana. A.s.
zenkeri is found in the Cameroons, east of the central part of Zaire.
This particular subspecies was kept alive in Africa by a missionary
named Father Hutsebour. He was able to keep these birds alive on a diet
of sycamore figs. However, when the birds were removed from this diet,
they would die within three days. They have never been successfully
Once introduced to Agapornis, the aviculturist frequently decides to
add this lively little hookbill to his or her collection of birds.
While it tends to be hardy, its needs differ from those of the softbill
and even other hookbill birds.
The best chance of selecting a perfect bird is to acquire a young,
Peachfaced Love Bird. The Peachfaced is one of the easiest love birds
to keep. Its engaging personality and lively manner will give you much
entertainment. Choose a young bird, one with light markings across the
brow, and if possible, dark color at the base of the beak. A young bird
adjusts more easily to you, your routine, and the diet you provide. The
younger the bird, the easier it is to tame and train.
The Love Bird’s health can be determined partly by observation,
and partly by the seller’s reputation. the bird should be alert,
lively, sleek-feathered and plump. Check both the eyes and the
bird’s vent; the eyes should be clear, and the feathers around
the vent should be clean. Avoid the "tame" bird huddling on a perch
with its feathers fluffed out, eyes closed, and head drooping or tucked
under a wing. Nature’s way is to hide weakness. By the time a
bird displays signs of illness, it is often too ill to be helped.
To avoid introducing disease into you collection, any newly acquired
bird should be quarantined in a separate part of the house, away from
other birds, for a minimum of thirty days.
If your bird should show signs of illness, try to keep it warm and
quiet in a hospital cage. Feed it honey water, and make its favorite
foods and seeds easily available. Try to feed it a warm gruel. Ask the
advice of an avian veterinarian, or an experienced aviculturist. Keep a
supply of pet antibiotics on hand, and learn how to administer them
before a health problem arises.
Whether you choose one Love Bird for a pet, or a pair, you will want to
determine the sex of the bird. Generally, the hen has a broader head,
shoulders, and pelvic span than does the cock. The first two
characteristics can be seen, the third, felt.
to feel the pelvic area, hold the bird with its back against your palm,
with your thumb and little finger capturing the wings against the body.
The head will protrude between your second and third fingers. This
leaves the belly area clear for you to insert your finger between the
bird’s legs. You should be able to feel two points of bone just
above the tail. If the two points are extremely close together, the
bird may be a male. If you can almost insert your little finger between
the points, it may be a female. You have a 50% chance of being right!
Choice of housing ranges from a parakeet cage to an outdoor aviary.
Your purpose for acquiring the Love Bird or birds will determine your
choice. A Large parakeet cage should be roomy enough for one bird,
since your pet will be free part of each day. For breeding purposes,
the double cage (36"x15"x24" high) will do for a pair. The habit of
chewing should be considered if you build your own cage. Wood parts
should be wire covered, or else plan on replacing the as the bird
The Love Bird can be an escape artist. My first Peachfaced was. He
would slip head and shoulders between two bars, expel his breath, and
wriggle forward a little. Then he drew a deep breath and popped through
the bars like a cork. He popped out at will, destroying everything he
got his beak into.
Because of his chewing habit, the love bird must be seperated from all
other types of birds. He is capable of maiming or killing any bird
smaller than himself. Never house them with finches, canaries,
parakeets, or even cockatiels, if you value your other birds.
In addition to a cage, you need hoppers for seed, perches, and a
watering device. Size and type of hoppers are determined by the size of
the cage. Provide various perch widths for the bird to exercise his
feet. Hamster water tubes provide closed systems which controls
evaporation, hang outside the cage for easy servicing, and do not allow
the birds to contaminate the water. However, the bird must learn to
drink from the tube, so also provide bowls of water at first. The tube
must be checked frequently, as a sticky valve will create a vacuum,
withholding water from the bird. A good type of gravity flow open
drinker resembles a Mason jar turned upside down and screwed into a
Once your bird has settled in its new home, feed your bird a good basic
seed mix of finch mix, parakeet mix, and wild bird seed. If you provide
fresh, insecticide-free greens, shredded carrot, and fresh corn
kernels, you should not need to give vitamins, although vitamin
supplements will not harm the bird. High protien dry baby food is a
good supplement. Cuttlebone and mineral block should always be
available. Millet spray is always a treat. Whatever diet you chose
should be maintained, as the bird’s digestive system will adjust
The time may come when you and nature decide it’s time for your
Love Birds to breed. If possible, provide a group opportunity for birds
to choose their own mates. One male, plus one female, does not
necessarily equal a breeding pair.
In the autumn, provide a nest box measuring 6"x 6"x10", nesting
materials, some privacy, and stand back. The birds attack the nesting
materials, shredding them into strips softened by chewing or soaking in
water. Materials to provide include: palm fronds, newspaper, dried
grasses and straw. Whatever you use should be fibrous and
uncontaminated by insecticides or pesticides. The Love Birds will stuff
the box with these materials, forming a tunnel through it to a
The hen typically lays 4 to 6 eggs and incubates the eggs for 21-24
days. If your pair lays 8 or more eggs, and incubates too long,
congratulations, you have paired up two hens! In a true pair, the cock
helps to incubate, bu tspends much of his time guarding the nest box
When the eggs hatch, both parents feed the young. Provide foods that
are easy for the parents to digest, such as dry high-protien baby
cereal, oat groats, lukewarm oatmeal, or nestling food. The babies
fledge in five to six weeks and the parents continue to care for the
young until they are weaned two weeks later.
If your birds allow the eggs to cool, or the young to die, be
understanding. Parenthood is a shock to the bird with no prior
experience to draw upon. By the second or third clutch, they should be
able to care for their young. While love birds will, as a rule, rest
themselves, limit pairs to two, possibly three clutches of young per
year. Parenthood is hard on a bird.
This article only touches on the basics of selecting and caring for
Love Birds. There are more complete publications available from your
local pet store or library. One of the best ways to become more
knowledgeable, however, is to join a specialty bird club such as the
African Love Bird Society, an International society which devotes
itself to the propogationand care of Agapornis. Members receive a
Another excellent source of information is any bird club in your area.
Not only will you meet other bird owners, but you will have a wealth of
information in the other members. You will never meet a friendlier,
more helpful group then the members of a bird club. They have faced the
same experiences as you, and they’re eager to share what