Lovebirds a guide to Africa's Smallest Parrots



Lovebirds have, justifiably, for many years been popular aviary birds. In the last 20-30 years, their popularity has increased tremendously and today there are around 250 different mutations recorded - spread among six of the eight species that are generally available to bird breeders.

This article will deal with the general ornithological aspects of the nine species in the genus Agapomis. Eight of the species inhabit the African continent with the ninth found only in Madagascar.

I have followed the classification of the nine species and subspecies as listed in Parrots of the Worldhy Joseph M. Forshaw. Howard and Moore in A Complete Checklist of Birds of the World 1991 have also accepted this classification. The nine species are:

• A. roseicollis - Peach-faced Lovebird

• A. pullaria - Red-faced Lovebird

• A. taranta - Abyssinian Lovebird

• A. cana - Madagascar Lovebird

• A.fischeri - Fischer's Lovebird

• A. lilianae - Nyasa Lovebird

• A. persona/a - Masked Lovebird

• A. nigrigenis - Black-cheeked Lovebird

• A. sunnderniana - Black-collared Lovebird

The only species that has never been kept in captivity (outside of the Congo) is the Black-collared Lovebird. The other eight species have all been kept and bred by aviculturists around the world with varying degrees of success depending on the species.

The English name lovebird was probably bestowed because of the habit of two birds sitting side by side, while indulging in mutual preening, an act that may lead the uninitiated newcomer to believe that because two


lovebirds are preening each other, they are male and female. Not necessarily so! The two birds, or even a group sitting together may well be of the same sex.

The name lovebird could be thought to be a misnomer, because anyone who keeps and breeds lovebirds will know how spiteful they can he among themselves. It is therefore not a good idea to mix different species together.

General Ornithological Notes Lovebirds are small green, stocky, short-tailed parrots between 5" to 6.6" Cl3cm to 16.5 cm) in length - with one distinguishing feature - a sub-terminal black band on the very short, rounded tail. The colored barring on the lateral feathers above the black sub-terminal band is red, yellow, orange, or a combination of these colors. The color marking is best seen when the bird fans its tail when excited or displaying, or is either in flight after taking off, or


about to land with its tail spread. Three Groups

Eye-ringed. There are two welldefined groups in this genus. The first, the "eye-ring" group, consists of the four species - Masked, Fischer's, Black-cheeked, and Nyasa Lovebirds, all of whom are sexually monomerphic and impossible to sex visually. These four have a naked, broad white ring around the eye, which is a diagnostic feature - hence the name "eyering" group.

Sexually Dimorphic. The second group consists of three species that are sexually dimorphic Red-faced, Madagascar, and Abyssinian Lovebirds. The Red-faced and Abyssinian, have feathered rings around the eyes, hut the Madagascar does not. The difference in the sexes is dealt with under each individual species. Even though it is easy to sex this group, they have a reputation of being more difficult to

breed than the four sexually


monomorphic "eye-ring" species.

The Remaining Two Species. Of the remaining two species - the Peachfaced Lovebird is an intermediate species, while the Black-collared Lovebird is a little known, aberrant species.

The Black-collared Lovebird is only 5" Cl3cm) long and is the smallest of the lovebirds. It has apparently never been seen alive outside of the Congo. Very little is known about this species in the wild. They inhabit lowland evergreen forests but are easily overlooked because they blend in with the foliage when feeding in the treetops. Small flocks are generally seen and it is their soft twittering calls that often give away their presence. Their nest has yet to be described, but is either in arboreal termite mounds, or holes in trees. There are three different areas of distribution, The nominate race A. s. swinderniana is found in the forests of Liberia The subspecies A. s. zeneeri


occurs in Cameroon and Gabon eastwards to the Central African Republic and the Congo. The third subspecies A. s. emini is found from the central Congo through to western Uganda.

The only record of Black-collared Lovebirds being kept in captivity was recorded in Forshaw's Parrots of the World. Father Hutsebout - a Belgian missionary in the Congo - could only keep them alive on wild figs, which, if not available, resulted in their dying within three or four days. They would not accept any substitute foods, even though they are said to feed on millet occasionally in the wild.

It is therefore highly unlikely that the Black-collared Lovebird is ever to be seen in aviculture.




Forshaw, j. M. Australian Parrots (second [revised] edition) Lansdowne Editions, Melbourne, Australia: 1981

Howard, Richard & Moore, Alick. A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World (Second Edition) Academic Press, London: 1991

Van den Abeele, Dirk. Belgium lovebirds

BVA (Belgian Lovebird Society). Contactjournaal van de Belgische Vereniging Agaporniden, February and June 2000