By Roland G. Dubuc

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 green.
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 pair" breeder.

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 captivity.

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 colonies.

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 blackish-gray.
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 introduction.

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 domesticity.

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 separate sub-species.
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 exported.

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 destroys them.
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 water dispenser.

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 to it.

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 cave-like opening.
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 entrance.
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 bi-monthly journal.
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 they’ve learned.


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green fischer's lovebird


Photo credits: Lutino Fischer's by Gwen Powell.