The African Love Birds’ eye-ring group gets its name from the white, fleshy orbital eye-ring that distinguishes it from other Agapornids like the peach-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis). This group consists of four different species: masked (A. personata), Fischer’s (A. fischeri), black-cheeked (A. nigrigenis), and Nyasa (A. lilianae) Love Birds. They are not sexually dimorphic, and it might be difficult to tell whether you have a real pair without viable eggs or having the birds sexed.
These birds transport nesting material in their beaks to nest boxes, where they construct enormous, dome-shaped nests. Although budgie nest boxes work well, many lovebird breeders are now switching to horizontal nest boxes that are 12 inches long, 6 inches high, and 6 inches broad. Love Birds seem to prefer these over vertical boxes when given the option. The palmetto palm frond, which the birds find malleable and simple to mold, is an excellent nesting material. Palmetto is green and hence keeps the eggs moist for many weeks.
The masked lovebird is the most common of the four species and is often available for purchase at moderate costs in pet shops. Fischers are still widely available, although they cannot be imported. This might potentially increase their market worth while decreasing their availability. The black-cheeked love bird was exceedingly uncommon in the United States until recently, but a few breeders are meticulously building up colonies that will perhaps make these birds more commonly accessible in the future.
Several breeders have worked tirelessly with the Nyasa lovebird in the past, but all have failed in the end. The Nyasa is a difficult species to acclimate, and the death rate for young birds during their first molt is often quite high. Only two breeders in the United States are now working with this species, and their efforts will hopefully result in the establishment of this little bird.
All four species have traits that make them seem identical in their natural coloration: an eye-ring, a red beak, and a green body.
The Fischers and the mask are around the same size (6 inches long), with waxy red bills and blue rumps. The black cheek and Nyasa are smaller (5 inches long) and have light-green rumps (any darkening indicates hybridization with masked or Fischer’s Love Birds). Their bills are crimson at the tip and gradually fade to a light pink at the base, and they have a distinct brown iris.
Breeding and Mutations
All eye-ring species are capable of colony breeding; in fact, some breeders feel these birds flourish and reproduce better in colonies. In a colony environment, Black-cheeked and Nyasa Love Birds are exceptionally quiet. The only potential issue is that Nyasas have been known to assault the young of other couples when they first emerge from the nest box. The masked and Fischer’s Love Birds are likewise gentle, although they may be aggressive against lone, unpaired birds on occasion. While Masked and Fischer’s are quite tough, black cheeks and Nyasas need be kept inside throughout the winter. Prolonged cold and wet conditions may be fatal.
All eye-ring species make wonderful foster parents for other eye-rings. If they are on eggs, more eggs may be laid, or chicks can be introduced to an already established nest of young. Just make sure the eggs or chicks are within a week of the same age as the nest you’re adding them to, and that there are no more than five young in the whole clutch. Infertile couples may also be utilized to nurture eggs and grow children.
Overall, I’ve discovered that the eye-ring species, particularly the masked and black cheeks, make the greatest hand-fed pets of all the Love Birds. In fact, I’ve discovered that black cheeks are the most affectionate of all hand-fed Love Birds. However, until this bird becomes established, all available stock should be used for breeding.
All four species may readily interbreed, and their progeny are viable. In recent years, many breeders (particularly in Europe) have made the terrible error of believing that the eye-ring group was merely one species with four subspecies. As a consequence, significant hybridization has occurred in an endeavor to develop a diversity of color variations. This is regrettable since finding 100% pure stock has becoming more difficult.
The ino factor is an example of this hybridization (lutino and albino). The lutino Nyasa lovebird has been the sole real natural occurrence of the ino factor. All other mutations, including the lutino and albino masked and Fischer’s, as well as the lutino black cheek, have hybrid blood from the Nyasa. In the blue series, hybridization has also occurred, with the blue Fischer’s and blue Nyasa descended from the blue masked. The masked is the authentic origin of the dilute mutation (yellow and white), and the dilute yellow Fischer’s is ultimately of hybrid blood.
The fallow masked is a significant pure mutation that was created in the mid 1970s. Kay Parcell’s outdoor colony of blue maskeds in Southern California is where this bird came from. The fallow masked is a light-blue bird that looks similar to the dilute blue masked but has red eyes. It seems to be a dilute green masked with red eyes in the green series. Fallow masked are similar to many other mutations in that they generate both the obvious mutation and birds that seem normal but are divided to fallow. This mutation is significant since it is one of the few pure lovebird mutations developed in the United States.
According to Kay, the visible fallow is a sensitive mutation that should be produced in an aviary rather than in a cage. Visible fallows are flighty, sensitive to sunlight, and need hiding locations, like as nest boxes, which should be put up all year. Kay feels that this might be due to her impaired eyesight. If this is the case, it might explain their flightiness and need to avoid direct sunshine. Kay has had a lot of success by letting her birds choose their own mates. This is accomplished by releasing multiple birds into a single flight, so establishing a colony. Kay advises avoiding mating a conspicuous fallow to another visible fallow. Again, they are sensitive birds, and breeding a fallow to a fallow would almost certainly result in offspring with birth abnormalities. The greatest results are obtained by combining a visible fallow with a split. This sort of pairing produces 50 percent fallow and 50 percent split fallow.
Kay has struggled to establish this species, but not because they are difficult to breed. She said they reproduce easily for her and are terrific parents. Her breeding stock has proved tough to retain. Initially, she sent virtually all of her birds to a lovebird breeder that specializes in genetics. The breeder was supposed to establish them, but he has not been as effective as predicted. A few years later, a burglar stole virtually all of her fallows and splits, forcing her to start again. Fortunately, Kay has reached the point in her breeding program when she will most likely have enough young to sell. The avicultural world should pay close attention to this mutation, and those of us who adore Love Birds appreciate Kay’s vigilance and dedication to the fallow mask.
The dark-factored Masked lovebird is another stunning new mutation that has emerged in recent years. The colors in this mutant are just deeper and richer than regular green and blue. Actually, numerous mutations exist within this mutation, including the single dark factor (“Medium,” or Jade and Cobalt) and the double dark factor (“Dark”, or olive and Slate). The dark factor predominates over the natural colorarion in this bird, which is a remarkable phenomenon. This indicates that when a normal-colored bird is paired with a dark-factor bird, the average clutch will have more dark factors than normals. There are no obvious factor divides, just dark factor splits. Furthermore, double dark factors may be simply made by combining two single dark factors. This mutation has previously been hybridized into the other eye-ring Love Birds in Europe, creating Fischer’s and Nyasas with dark-factor black cheeks.
Most obvious hybrid traces can be eliminated via decades of continual outcrossing, but is it really worth it? Mutations have their allure, but I’d rather have a huge, powerful specimen in its normal color than a little, weaker-looking variation that arose from who knows what. Pure mutations may be increased in size and stamina by mating with normal-colored birds.
The eye-ring species are enjoyable to deal with since their breeding attempts are pretty regular. A stable, suitable couple can produce approximately a dozen young each year with a little luck, patience, and training. These birds are entertaining to watch; they seem to be tiny clowns that are continuously showing off. I recall seeing a lovely blue mask owned by a woman at a pet shop for the first time. I had never been interested in birds before that time, but I became enthralled—a sensation I still have now!
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