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.
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).