African Lovebirds (Genus agapornis)


Kristine Kushinski, DVM, Gainesville, Florida

African lovebirds are a group of delightful small parrots which belong to the genus Agapomis. There are nine species comprising this genus which are divided into primitive and more advanced species. The primitive species are those which taxonomists believe broke off the evolutionary branch earlier and are characterized by lack of a white eyering and sexual dimorphism. These primitive species are A. cana (Madagascar), A. taranta (Abyssinian), and A. pullaria (Red-faced).

Madagascar Lovebird (Agapornis cana)

The Madagascar lovebird is the only lovebird found on the island of Madagascar and is considered the most primitive of the Agapomis species. It is sexually dimorphic (the sexes can be easily distinguished from one another) and the female is all green. The male has a grey head. This is the smallest lovebird, averaging around 30 grams body weight. In the wild they are found in small flocks of five to 30 birds at elevations up to I 500m. They feed on grass seeds. In captivity they will eat small seeds such as those found in finch, canary, or budgie mixes. They also should be offered a mix of chopped vegetables and fruits along with a mineral block. The soft foods are especially important when babies are in the nest.

They are solitary nesters and it may be best to allow them their own cage or flight for breeding. In the wild they are reported to breed in November and December but seem to breed year round in captivity, even when kept outdoors. They will breed in cages as small as l' x 1' x 18" or in large flights. As with other species, it is probably best to offer them as much room as you can. I use 2' x 2' x 3' cages for all my lovebirds. Madagascars may breed in regular budgie type nestboxes or nest logs but I have had best success with a tunnel nestbox. They seem to favor willow as nesting material but may use palm frond or other materials as well. The female will chew these into small C-shape pieces which she will tuck into ruffled feathers and carry back to the nest. They are pad nesters and do not build elaborate nests. The clutch size ranges from four to six small elliptical white eggs. The female incubates and is usually joined by the male in the nest at night. Incubation usually lasts about 23 days. Several sources state the young emerge from the nest in plumage resembling the female. In captivity, the sex of the young has been evident with the first feathers on the head. Males are grey and females green, just as in-the adult.

for handrearing.

The Madagascar is a quiet and attractive lovebird. It is best to separate the young into pairs or small groups as they frequently become aggressive at four to six months of age and may kill cage mates when in crowded situations. This may occur as they are trying to pair off. Even when handfed, Maddies have limited pet potential as most must be handled very frequently to retain their tameness.

Abyssinian Lovebird (Agapornis taranta)

The Abyssinian lovebird is found at higher elevations than the others (1500 - 3200m). it is frequently seen in the tops of junipers and is reported to feed on the berries. It is a large lovebird, averaging 50 grams. It is also called the Black-winged Lovebird as the males have black feathers on the underside of their wings. This is also true of male Madagascars and Red-faced Lovebirds, though. Sexes are easily identified as male Abyssinians have a red forehead and the females are all green.

Diets most frequently fed are small hookbill mixes together with a vegetable and fruit mix. A mineral block should be offered. Many feel it is important to breeding success to offer free choice sunflower seeds as well.

In the wild they are solitary nesters and should be given their own breeding set up. They may breed in regular budgie nestboxes but many breeders have had best success with the tunnel type nestbox. A small portion of spaghnum moss is soaked in water and after the excess water is squeezed out placed into the bottom of the nestbox. The female carries little to no nesting material into the box and will probably throw out anything you place in it as well. They are pad nesters and most will build a small nest with only a few feathers. The female tends to vocalize loudly during copulation and may alert you to any mating activity. Clutches average two to four eggs. Incubation lasts about 25 days and the young fledge at about 50 days. The young are colored as the female until the first molt. Some males may have a few red periorbital feathers at this stage, though.

Abyssinians tend to be quiet and are attractive. They make wonderful pets when handfed and may be capable of mimicking some whistles.

Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis pullaria)

The Red-faced is the last of the primitive species and is probably the least commonly bred lovebird in aviculture. They have the most extensive range of any of the lovebirds. The male has a brighter red head than the female and has black on the underside of his wings.