These small parrots are popular with both companion bird owners and Professional Aviculturists
The African Love Bird is unique in that some species are relatively new to aviculture while others are centuries old. Several species were not found until this century, while others have been preserved by man for almost 400 years. Agapornis, the Latin or scientific term for love birds, got its name from their habit of sitting in couples and preening each other’s feathers. A few essential facts about Love Birds are that they are tiny in size, that they come from Africa and its neighboring islands, and that they are all members of the parrot family. There are nine distinct species of this robust tiny parrot with its short rounded tail. While some species are almost as abundant as budgies, others are as uncommon as the most secretive wild bird.
Three of the nine species in Love Birds are dimorphic. If the cock is noticeably different in color from the hen, the species is dimorphic. This category includes the following three love bird species: Madagascar, Red-faced, and Abyssinian.
Agapornis Cana, the Madagascar Love Bird, is also known as the Grayheaded Love Bird. 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 white gray beak, and light gray feet are all characteristics of cocks. Hens differ from cocks in that they are fully green.
The Madagascar Love Bird is, as one would imagine, from the island of Madagascar. It is also found in lower numbers on several surrounding islands, and there have been sporadic sightings on South Africa’s mainland. For well over a century, these birds have been freely imported. This species is now very scarce due to export limitations out of Madagascar.
Madagascars are scarce because they are not prolific breeders. They are frequently bred in pairs, which makes finding enough room even more challenging. They are seen in big flocks in the wild, but captive breeding has not been consistently effective when colony breeding is tried.
Red-faced The second species of dimorphic Love Bird is the Love Bird, or Agapornis Pullaria. Cocks are birght green in hue with a yellowish underside and front. The face and crown are orange-red, the flights and wing bend are green, and the underwing coverts and shoulder are black. Red is on the beak, while gray is on the feet. Red-faced Love Bird hens have more orange in their faces than brilliant red, and their underwing coverts are green.
The Red-faced lovebird has the most territory of all of the love birds. It reaches all the way from the coasts of central Africa to western Ethiopia. The Red-faced lovebird is said to be the first to be introduced into Europe. According to the Duke of Bedford, it was employed in portraits as early as the 16th century.
Given the bird’s lengthy time in captivity, one would expect it to be well established and, more importantly, well understood. However, the opposite is true. There are just a few Red-faced Love Birds in captivity, and they have only been bred a few times. Only a few people in the United States have had success with this species. Red-faced lovebirds nest on termite mounds in the wild, although they have been reared differently in captivity. The secret to successful reproduction seems to be maintaining this species in single pairs.
Agapornis Taranta, often known as the Blackwinged Love Bird, is an Abyssinian Love Bird. The cock is viridian green, with carmine crimson forehead, lores, and thin ring of feathers around the eye, and black underwing coverts. Hens have no red on their heads or eyes, and their underwing coverts are green with some black.
The abyssinian is an Ethiopian high-altitude inhabitant. It was relatively unknown in aviculture until this century, and it was first brought into the commerce in the early 1900s. Abyssinians are unquestionably “single pair” breeders.
Monomorphics are sexes who seem visually identical. There are two types of Love Birds: those with a periophtalmic ring (a ring around the eye) and those without.
Fischer’s Lovebird, Agapornis Fischeri, cocks and hens look the same. Fischer’s Love Birds are green with darker wings and backs and paler underparts. The forehead is brilliant orange-red, fading to dark olive, with milder orange cheeks and neck. Violet blue coverts on the rump and upper tail. The bill is cherry red, with white cere and exposed skin around the eye and light gray feet.
Fischer’s lovebirds may be found in the wild in northern Tanzania’s inland plateaus. They breed readily in captivity and have been reared in big colonies.
Agapornis Lilianae, commonly known as the Nyasa Love Bird, is also known as Lilian’s Love Bird. Nyasa’a are green, with whiter underparts and darker back and wings. The head is salmon to orange in color, with a brighter forehead and lighter cheeks, neck, and upper breast. The centre of the eye and the ring surrounding it are naked white flesh. Red is on the beak, while gray is on the feet.
Another Love Bird that is relatively new to aviculture is the Nyasa. Miss Lilian Sclater, for whom it was named, did not characterize it until the late 1890s. It was not, however, imported until the 1920’s. Nyasas are sociable birds that live in groups of twenty to one hundred birds in the wild. They mate readily in captivity, both in colonies and in cages. They are the most uncommon eye-ring in captivity.
Agapornis Nigrigenis, the black-cheeked love bird, is green, somewhat darker than the Nyasa and lighter green on the underparts and rump. The head is brownish-black, the neck is salmon-colored, the rear of the head is yellowish-olive, and the wings are a deeper green. The cerebrum and the ring surrounding the eye are both made of naked white skin. The bill has a vivid red color, while the feet are gray.
The Black-cheeked is very fond of the most restricted regions. It is divided between two river valleys, one in southwest Zambia and the other in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls region. Similarly, the Black-cheeked Love Bird was not described until the early 1900s and was imported soon after. The birds breed well and may be raised in colonies.
The Masked Love Bird, Agapornis Personata, has a green overall plumage with a brown to sooty black head, including the lores and cheeks. A yellow collar that is half an inch broad at its narrowest point on the back of the neck and one inch wide at its largest point on the breast. The cere and the exposed skin surrounding the eye are white. The bill is bright red, while the feet are dark gray.
The Masked Love Bird is found in northern Tanzania on inland plateaus. They were discovered in the late 1800s but were not imported until the 1920s. In colonies, Masked Love Birds reproduce freely. The blue mutant was discovered in the wild and was quickly introduced.
Agapornis Roseicollis, the Peachfaced Love Bird, has an overall bright, almond-green plumage that is yellow on the underside with a beautiful blue rump. The frontal band is a rich rose-red, with milder rose-red lores, sides of the head, and neck. The bill is horn-colored with a greenish tip. The feet are a greyish color.
The Peachfaced is located in South Angola’s arid country. It was discovered in the late 1700s but was first mistaken with the Red-faced Love Bird. Birds in the wild are frequently encountered in flocks of 10. They are most prolific in captivity, to the point of domesticity.
Agapornis Swinderniana, sometimes known as Swindern’s Love Bird, is a black-collared love bird. Swindern’s must be treated separately from other Love Birds since it has a distinct and independent sub-species.
The predominant body color of Agapornis Swinderniana is dark green, paler on the cheeks and underparts, with a yellow wash on the neck. A thin black collar on the neck blends into the green of the back, with a chrome yellow section below. The coverts on the lower back, rump, and upper tail are vivid blue, while the underwing coverts are green. The central tail feathers are green, with a red-orange patch on occasion; the lateral tail feathers are brilliant red towards the base, with a black bar and green tips. The eye’s iris is golden-yellow. The bill is blackish-horn in color, while the feet are dark gray in color. It is a deep forest inhabitant found in Liberia that is considered endangered in the wild.
The yellow region below the nuchal collar is expanded and tinted orange in Agapornis Swinderniana Zenkeri. It’s also a little brighter green and a little bigger than A.s. swinderniana. A.s. zenkeri is located in the Cameroons, east of Zaire’s central region. This subspecies was saved in Africa by a priest called Father Hutsebour. He managed to keep these birds alive by feeding them sycamore figs. When the birds were taken off this diet, they died within three days. They have never been exported effectively.
When an aviculturist first encounters Agapornis, he or she typically chooses to add this vivacious little hookbill to his or her collection of birds. While it is tough, its requirements vary from those of the softbill and even other hookbill birds.
A juvenile Peachfaced Love Bird is your best bet for finding the right bird. The Peachfaced lovebird is one of the simplest to care for. Its fascinating personality and active demeanor will keep you entertained for hours. Choose a juvenile bird with light brow patterns and, if feasible, dark hue at the base of the beak. A juvenile bird is more adaptable to you, your schedule, and the food you feed. The simpler it is to tame and train a juvenile bird.
The health of the Love Bird may be assessed partially by observation and partly through the seller’s reputation. The bird should be attentive, energetic, plump, and sleek-feathered. Examine the bird’s eyes and vent; the eyes should be clear, and the feathers surrounding the vent should be clean. Avoid “tame” birds that are huddled on a perch with their feathers fluffed out, eyes closed, and heads drooping or tucked under a wing. Nature’s method is to conceal weakness. When a bird shows indications of disease, it is often too sick to be saved.
To prevent bringing illness into your collection, every newly acquired bird should be quarantined for at least thirty days in a different area of the home away from other birds.
If your bird becomes unwell, try to keep it warm and quiet in a hospital cage. Feed it honey water and keep its favorite snacks and seeds nearby. Feed it some warm gruel. Consult an avian veterinarian or an experienced aviculturist. Stock up on pet antibiotics and learn how to give them before a health issue occurs.
Whether you get a single Love Bird or a pair, you’ll want to know the sex of the bird. The hen, on average, has a larger head, shoulders, and pelvic spread than the cock. The first two traits are seen, while the third is felt.
Hold the bird with its back against your hand, with your thumb and little finger catching the wings against the body, to feel the pelvic region. Between your second and third fingers, the head will emerge. This allows you to put your finger between the bird’s legs in the belly region. Two points of bone should be felt right above the tail. The bird may be a male if the two spots are really close together. It may be a girl if you can nearly fit your little finger between the points. You have a 50% chance of being correct!
The housing options vary from a parakeet cage to an outdoor aviary. The reason for obtaining the Love Bird or birds will influence your decision. Because your pet will be free for part of the day, a large parakeet cage should be large enough for one bird. The double cage (36) is ideal for breeding “x15″x24” height) should enough for a couple. If you make your own cage, you should consider the chewing behavior. Wooden pieces should be wire-wrapped or replaced when the bird destroys them.
The Love Bird has the ability to flee. It was my first Peachfaced. He’d wedge his head and shoulders between two bars, exhale, and wiggle forward a bit. Then he inhaled deeply and popped through the bars like a cork. He burst out whenever he pleased, smashing anything he got his beak into.
The love bird must be kept apart from all other species of birds due to his chewing tendency. He has the ability to maim or kill any bird smaller than himself. If you respect your other birds, never keep them alongside finches, canaries, parakeets, or even cockatiels.
In addition to the cage, you’ll need seed hoppers, perches, and a watering system. The size and kind of hoppers are regulated by the cage size. Allow the bird to exercise his feet by providing different perch widths. Water tubes for hamsters offer closed systems that manage evaporation, dangle outside the cage for simple service, and prevent the birds from contaminating the water. However, the bird must first learn to drink from the tube, so supply bowls of water. The tube must be examined on a regular basis since a stuck valve will produce a vacuum, preventing water from reaching the bird. A nice gravity flow open drinker looks like a Mason jar that has been inverted upside down and put into a water dispenser.
Feed your bird a nice basic seed mix of finch mix, parakeet mix, and wild bird seed after it has established in its new home. You should not need to offer vitamins if you supply fresh, insecticide-free greens, shredded carrot, and fresh corn kernels, yet vitamin supplements will not hurt the bird. A high protein dry baby food is an excellent supplement. Cuttlebone and mineral block should be accessible at all times. Millet spray is always enjoyable. Whatever diet you choose, stick to it because the bird’s digestive system will adjust to it.
You and nature may decide that it is time for your Love Birds to breed. If possible, allow birds to choose their own mates in a group setting. One male and one female does not always 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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