Notes on the Eye-Ring Love Birds
by Mark J. Roberts

The eye-ring group of African Love Birds derives its name from the white, fleshy, orbital eye-ring that sets it apart from other Agapornids such as the peach-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis). This group is made up of four separate and distinct species: the masked (A. personata), the Fischer's (A. fischeri), the black-cheeked (A. nigrigenis) and the Nyasa (A. lilianae) Love Birds. They are not sexually dimorphic, and it can be difficult to know if one has a true pair without the presence of fertile eggs or without having the birds sexed.

These species carry nesting material in their beaks to their nest boxes, where they build bulky, dome-shaped nests. A budgie nest box works fairly well, but many lovebird breeders are now converting to horizontal nest boxes that are 12 inches long by 6 inches high by 6 inches wide. Given the choice, Love Birds seem to prefer these to vertical boxes. An ideal nesting material is the palmetto palm frond, which the birds find pliable and easy to shape. Palmetto is green and, thus, provides humidity for the eggs for several weeks.

Species Characteristics

The masked lovebird is the most common of the four species and can often be found for sale in pet stores at reasonable prices. Fischer's are still fairly common, but they cannot be imported. One can expect this to Possibly raise their market value and lower their availability. Until recently, the black-cheeked love bird was extremely scarce in the United States, but there are a few breeders who are painstakingly building up colonies that will hopefully make these birds more readily available in the future.

Several breeders have diligently worked with the Nyasa lovebird in the past, and, in the long run, all of them met with failure. The Nyasa is a difficult bird to acclimatize, and the mortality rate for youngsters going through the first molt is usually terribly high. Presently, I know of only two breeders who are working with this bird in the U.S., and through their efforts, we will hopefully see this tiny bird established.

In their natural coloration, all four species have characteristics that make them similar in appearance: the eye-ring, a red beak and a green body.The mask and the Fischers are about the same size (6 inches long), with waxy red bills and blue-colored rumps. The black cheek and the Nyasa are smaller (5 inches long), with light-green rumps (any discoloration is a sure indication of hybridization with masked or Fischer's Love Birds). They have a distinct brown iris, and their bills are red at the tip and gradually fade to a pale pink at the base.

Breeding and Mutations

All eye-ring species can be colony-bred;in fact, some breeders believe these birds thrive and breed better in colony settings. Black-cheeked and Nyasa Love Birds are extremely peaceful in colony setting. The only possible problem is that Nyasas have been known to attack the youngsters of other pairs that are emerging from the nest box for the first time. The masked and Fischer's Love Birds are also peaceful but can occasionally show aggression toward lone, unpaired birds. While the Masked and Fischer's are fairly hardy, black cheeks and Nyasas should be wintered indoors. Prolonged cold and damp weather can be deadly to them.

All of the eye-ring species make excellent foster parents for other eye-rings. If they are on eggs, additional eggs can be added, or chicks can even be added to an existing nest of young. Just make sure that the eggs or chicks, are within a week of the same age of the nest that you are adding them to; also, no more than five young should be in the total clutch. Infertile pairs can also be used to foster eggs and raise young.

On the whole, I have found that the eye-ring species seem to make the best hand-fed pets of all the Love Birds, especially the masked and black cheeks. In fact, I have found that black cheeks are the sweetest of all hand-fed Love Birds. One should realize, though, that until this bird is established, all available stock should be utilized for breeding.

All four species will freely interbreed with each other, and their offspring are fertile. A tragic mistake in the past few years has been ·that many breeders (especially European) have thought that the eye-ring group was simply one species with four subspecies. This has resulted in massive hybridization in an effort to produce a variety of color mutations. This is unfortunate because it has become increasingly difficult to find 100-percent pure stock.

An example of this hybridization is found in the ino factor (lutino and albino). The only true natural occurrence of the ino factor has been the lutino Nyasa lovebird. All other mutations, such as the lutino and albino masked and Fischer's, and the lutino black cheek, have hybrid blood in them from the Nyasa. Hybridization has also occurred in the blue series, in that the blue Fischer's, and blue Nyasa originated from the blue masked. The same holds true of the dilute mutation (yellow and white) of which the masked is the legitimate origin of this color, and the dilute yellow Fischer's is ultimately of hybrid blood.

A very important pure mutation that was produced in mid 1970s is the fallow masked. This bird originated in the collection of Kay Parcell of Southern California, in her outdoor colony of blue maskeds. The fallow masked is described as a light-blue bird, and it appears very similar to the dilute blue masked, but with red eyes. In the green series, it looks much like a dilute green masked with red eyes. Fallow masked are like many other mutations in that not only do they produce the visible Mutation, but they also produce birds that look normal but are split to fallow. This mutation is of extreme importance; because it is one of the few pure lovebird mutations that has been developed here in the U.S.

According to Kay, the visible fallow is somewhat of a delicate mutation that should be aviary-bred as opposed to cage-bred. Visible fallows are flighty, sensitive to sunlight and need places to hide, such as nest boxes, which should be left up year round. Kay believes that this could possibly be because of poor vision. If this is so, then this might account for their flightiness and desire to stay out of the direct sunlight. Kay has had great success by allowing her birds to choose their own mates. This is done by releasing several birds into one flight and, thus, forming a colony. Kay cautions against breeding a visible fallow to a visible fallow. Again, these are delicate birds, and breeding a fallow to a fallow is likely to produce birds with birth defects. the best results come from pairing a visible fallow to a split. The result of this type of pairing is 50 percent fallow, and 50 percent split fallow.

Kay has had a difficult time establishing this bird but not because they are difficult to breed. In fact, she says they breed readily for her and are good parents. The difficulty has been in keeping her breeding stock. Originally, she gave nearly all of her birds to a lovebird breeder who is a genetics expert. The breeder was to establish them but, so far, has not been as successful as was hoped. A few years later, a thief stole nearly all of her fallows and splits; therefore, she had to start all over again. Fortunately Kay is now to the Point in her breeding program where she will probably have a sufficient number of young to sell. This mutation deserves careful attention from the avicultural community, and those of us who enjoy Love Birds appreciate Kay's diligence and commitment to the fallow mask.

Another beautiful new mutation that has evolved in the past few years is the dark-factored Masked lovebird. in this mutation, the colors are simply darker and richer in comparison to the normal green and blue. Actually, within this mutation are several mutations, including the single dark factor ("Medium", or Jade and Cobalt) and the double dark factor ("Dark", or olive and Slate). An interesting fact about this bird is that the dark factor is dominant over the natural colorarion. This means that when pairing a normal-colored bird to a dark-factor bird, there will be more dark factors than normals in the average clutch. There are no dark factor splits, only visibles. Also, double dark factors are easily produced by the pairing of two single dark factors. In Europe, this mutation has already been hybridized into the other eye-ring Love Birds, producing dark-factor black cheeks, Fischer's and Nyasas.

One can eliminate most visible hybrid traces by generations of continued outcrossing, but is it really worth it! Mutations have their appeal, but, personally, I would much rather have a big, strong specimen in the natural color than a small, weaker-looking mutation that has evolved from who knows what? The mutations that are pure can be strengthened in size and stamina by breeding them to the normal-colored bird.

The eye-ring species are rewarding to work with in that they are fairly consistent in their breeding efforts. With a little luck, patience and conditioning one can expect about a dozen young each year from a steady, compatible pair. These birds are fun to watch; they seem to be little clowns, always showing off. I can still remember the first time I saw a beautiful blue mask owned by a lady in a pet store. I had never had any interest in birds until that moment, but then I became enthralled--a feeling that continues even to this day!

(This article first appeared in the Dec. 1994 issue of Bird Breeder Magazine. It is reprinted with the permission of the author, who updated the article for publication here).

 
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Photo credits: Fischer's lovebird from Agapornis World (credit pending); olive and slate masked Love Birds and black-cheeked lovebird iin flight by Deb Sandidge.