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Agapornis canus

This is a species of the sexual dimorphic group, in these species male and female birds show colour differences. It measures approximately 13 centimetres. The male bird has a typical pearl-grey head, neck and breast. Its body is green. The hen is almost completely grass-green. Apart from the grey areas all cocks posses black under wing coverts; in hens these are green. Of Agapornis canus a sub-species is recognised, namely A. c. ablectaneus. The male of A. c. ablectaneus has the grey areas somewhat darker with a violet suffusion. Both cock and hen are darker green than the nominate species. We doubt if any pure specimens of this sub-species exist in captivity. The Madagascar lovebird ranks amongst the smallest species of the genus and is considered a transitional form toward the genus Loriculis. Its feather structure differs slightly from that of other lovebird species. The barbs of the head and breast feathers have a cloudy zone that does not reflect blue light, but violet light instead.

Agapornis canus was first described in 1788. The sub-species was only discovered and described as late as 1918. A. c. canus is found all over the coastal areas of the Malagasy Republic, except for the arid south. There it is replaced by the subspecies ablectanea . It lives in open wooded areas near the coast. They are gregarious and feed on grass seeds exclusively. Although they live in large groups they can not be considered colony breeders. When the breeding season arrives the flights split up and individual pairs settle down to business. The birds nest in holes in trees. The hen uses pieces of leaves and grass as nesting material. This is transported between the feathers of the body, the breast and the rump.

In aviculture Madagascar generally are considered difficult to breed. Nevertheless some breeders continuously and successfully have offspring. There seem to be no fixed rules for breeding. I know several people who breed Madagascar and each has his own way of management. One person uses vertical budgerigar nest boxes, where a second one swears by the use of normal horizontal lovebird nest boxes. Some breeders supply branches as nesting material, others supply coconut fibre and still others give no material at all. There certainly is still is room for experiment.

Agapornis taranta

Sir Henry Stanley gave this species the scientific name Agapornis taranta. Discovered around 1814 in central and eastern Eritrea they live in mountainous country at a height of 1300 up to 2000 metres. It is quite accustomed to lower temperatures. The name taranta incidentally comes from a mountain-pass.

Abyssinian lovebirds are sexually dimorphic. Basically a green bird the cock's forehead, it's lores and a small ring of feathers around the eye are bright red. The under wing covert are black. The hen lacks these red and black areas. Both sexes have a red bill however. With a length of 16.5 cm the Abyssinian is the largest species of the lovebird tribe.

In the wild they congregate in small groups and rest in holes in trees. When breeding they split up into pairs. The hens make a shallow pad-like nest by using twigs and leaves. This material is brought into the nest cavity by transporting it between the body feathers. Rather curiously taranta hens lose (or pluck) part of their breast feathers just before laying. These feathers are integrated into the nest pad. No other lovebird species has this habit. Three to six white eggs are laid every other day. After an incubation period of some 25 days the youngsters will hatch. Their natal down is white, the second down is grey. When fledging at fifty days the chicks resemble the hen. The under wing coverts can be used at this early age to determine whether the fledgling is a cock or a hen. They are black in cocks and greenish in hens. Sometimes young cocks show a few red head feathers when leaving the nest but it takes about nine months before they are fully coloured.

They are reasonably free breeders in aviculture though not as prolific as Peach-faced, Fischer's or Masked lovebirds. Some pairs always raise offspring and other pairs never do under the same management. Give them a small aviary or large breeding cage per pair. This species can absolutely not be bred as a colony. Hens in breeding condition are very spiteful and will murder even large birds. Fresh willow branches can be given as nesting material, but not every bird uses this. Some hens are quite happy with a few pieces of decayed wood in the nest box where others use no material at all. Newly hatched young frequently die when only a few days old. No reason or solution has been found as yet. Abyssinians can (in Europe) be kept outside all year long, provided a draught- and frost free shelter is given. It should preferably be provided with a nest box as a roosting place.

Agapornis pullarius

This magnificent bird lives in equatorial and western equatorial Africa. They frequent the scarcely wooded savannah's in groups of twenty to thirty birds. They mainly feed on the abundant grass seeds. On these savannah's one also finds their breeding places. The Red-faced (Agapornis pullarius), unlike the other lovebirds, breed in termite mounds. It selects the nest of an arboreal ant as a nesting site, much less frequently a termite hill on the ground is used. The hens excavate a tunnel with a small nesting chamber at the end. Eggs are laid every other day. Strangely enough the termites leave the birds in peace. This is probably due to the fact that the Red-faced only uses an uninhabited part of the ant-hill. Some sources state that A. pullarius also consume ant eggs. This does not seem very likely seeing the usually extremely aggressive nature of termites. The inside temperature of an ant-hill remains practically constant. The hen therefore can leave the nest for extended periods during incubation. The young hatch after twenty-three days. They have no natal down. The first down only appears after a few days. It is not know for sure how many rounds are laid. This normally depends on the circumstances. In the wild we observe birds breeding when everything is favourable: sufficient food, good nesting facilities, ideal temperatures, sufficient daylight. We think that only rarely more than two rounds will be raised.

Next to the nominate race the sub-species A. p. ugandae exists. As the name suggests it is mainly found in Uganda. It's rump is a paler blue compared to the main race.Personally I have some doubts with this subspecies.

The Red-faced measures about 15 centimetres. In a full-grown cock the face and the crown are deep orange-red. It's main body colour is bright green, more yellowish green in front and beneath. There is a small ring of minute bluish-white feathers around the eye. The bends of the wings and the under wing covert are black. The rump is blue. The green tail shows a red and black sub-terminal band, the tip is green again. The bill is red, the feet are grey and the claws are black. Hens have a much paler orange on the head. They also lack the black under wing covert, which are green.

Agapornis swindernianus

Nor the main species nor it's two sub-races have been imported alive into Europe. This is for a large part due to their special feeding habits and secondly because they live over the canopy of the African tropical rain forests. They can not be kept alive and are difficult to catch. An almost legendary story about a Father Hutsebout exists. He was one of the few people who managed to keep these birds alive (in Africa) but only when daily fresh wild figs were given. Without those they died in a few days. Most European museums show skins of these birds.

For the sake of completeness only a description of the three species is given.

Agapornis swindernianus swindernianusor Swinderns Black-collared lovebird.

Sexes alike. Body colour green, lighter green on cheeks and under parts. A narrow black and yellow collar on the nape merges into the green of the back. The rump is brilliant blue. The primaries are blackish, the under wing coverts are green. The tail is green with a red lateral band towards the base, the tip of the tail is green again. The bill is grey-black. The feet are grey and the claws are black. Total length thirteen centimetres.

A. s. zenkeri, the Zenker's or Cameroon Black-collared lovebird.

The yellow part of the collar is orange in this sub-race. It also is brighter green and slightly larger in size.

A. s. emini or Emins Black-collared lovebird.

As Zenker's Black-collared lovebird but a less extensive collar. Also possesses a strongly curved bill.

Agapornis Roseicollis

Agapornis roseicollis and Swinderns lovebirds are considered intermediate forms between the sexual dimorphic group and the white eye-ringed group. Agapornis roseicollis show no sexual dimorphism. Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis was already discovered in 1793. It was considered a Red-faced subspecies at first but recognised as an independent race in 1817. Now a Peach-faced sub-species is known: A. r. catumbella. It lives in Angola and was described in the 1950's. I also have some doubts with that subspecies.The Peach-faced lovebird is 15 centimetres long. It's main colour is green. The face,as the name implies is peach coloured, though slightly darker on the crown and paler under the bill. The rump is blue. The bill is horn coloured, the feet are grey and the claws are dark grey to black.

An inhabitant of the south-western part of Africa it lives in flights of twenty to thirty birds. They often breed in the nests of weaver birds. They chase off the rightful occupants and invade the nest. Having done so the hen does not carry nesting material into the cavity. When nesting in trees or under a roof the hen will stick small pieces of leaves or bark under her rump feathers and transport them to the nest this way. She turns these pieces into a pad-like nest.

In aviculture peach-faced breed freely which has made them into the most widely kept and almost domesticated lovebird. Shortly after hatching young wild coloured Peach-faced show orange down. This soon is replaced by a second layer of whitish down and only thereafter the first (pin) feathers appear. They fledge after six to seven weeks and resemble their parents. All colours are paler however and they show a dark spot on the bill. After the juvenile moult they can no longer be distinguished from their elders.

As in all domesticated or near domesticated animals a large number of colour mutations has appeared. For all lovebirds BVA uses colour names based on feather structure and on the variations of the pigments present in those feathers. The wild form is taken as the point of departure and is called a green (Not only in Peach-faced, but in all species of lovebirds and other parrot-like birds).

Lately on the European exhibition benches the NEW Peach-faced made its appearance. It's face is bright red and the bill almost colourless. In size they approach seventeen centimetres. Special sized rings have to be used . The classical dimension of 4.5 millimetres (inside diameter) is too small and one has to use a 5 millimetre ring instead. Incidentally: continental breeders close-ring all their birds ranging from macaws to humming birds. If you want to show it at an exhibition as an Owner Bred bird this is compulsory.

When the NEW Peach-faced was shown for the first time the usual discussions and rumours started to spread. To cite but a few: The birds were so big because they were fed some secret potion. Not true. They were given hormones. Again not true, They were crossed with the sub-species catumbella. The truth is really simple; these Peach-faced were a result of the myostatine gene.

Agapornis personatus

Agapornis personatus was discovered in 1877 in north-east Tanzania. Its territory lies only some sixty kilometres south east of the range of the Fischer's lovebird, its closest relative. Natural barriers prevent the interbreeding of the two populations. Their habitat is lightly wooded savannah again, baobab trees providing the nest cavities. As in all lovebird species white eggs are laid every other day until the clutch is complete. The light green (or wild form) Masked lovebird has a deep black head. A yellow collar extends from the hind neck to the breast. Wings and back are green. So are the under parts although lighter in colour. The bend of the wing is yellow, the rump dark blue on a greenish base. The bill is deep coral red, the cere and the bare skin round the eye are white. The feet are grey and the claws are black.

Agapornis fischeri

Agapornis fischeri was discovered by the explorer Dr. Fischer in northern Tanzania around 1877. Small flocks of these birds are found in an area south of Lake Victoria. An inland plateau between 1200 and 1800 metres altitude with deciduous woodland and bush forms their natural habitat. They mainly feed on grass seed and acacia seeds although they also visit the local crops of millet and maize. After the Peach-faced the Fisher's may be considered number two in the lovebird popularity poll.

Fischer's lovebirds measure fifteen centimetres. The fore-head is orange-red. From the top of the head down to the back this becomes more suffused with olive-green. The main body colour is green. A bare eye ring is found around the eyes. The bill is coral red, the feet are grey and the claws dark grey to black. This bird's rump should be a clear violet. Any greyish tinge in this violet rump indicates earlier hybridisation with Masked or Black-cheeked lovebirds. In present day exhibition Fischer's selection has taken place towards more red on the head, the olive green parts are nearly suppressed completely.

Young birds are a duller version of their parents. They may temporarily show some dark suffusion in the red but that usually disappears after the juvenile moult. Birds over a year old still showing black can be written off as hybrids.

Before starting to breed mutations (or any lovebird at that) it always is a good idea to visit several breeders who specialise in your chosen colour and/or species. You can learn a lot by comparing management, housing, equipment and so on. A visit to only one breeder does not suffice. Try to memorise the standard of excellence of your Society before you buy your first bird. Alternatively bring along an experienced fancier and listen to his advice.

Agapornis lilianae

This beautiful lovebird was first described in 1864. They then were thought to be a Peach-faced sub-species. In 1894 only they were classified by Shelley as a distinct species. He named them Agapornis lilianae in favour of Miss Lilian Sclater, the sister of W.L. Sclater, a famous ornithologist.Imported into Europe in 1926 breeding successes followed almost immediately.

They originate from southern Tanzania, northern Zimbabwe and the eastern part of Zambia. Sometimes colonies of over a hundred birds are found, always close to water. It can be very hot in their territory. Apart from that they love to bathe. Locally distributed in their native countries they are found in large numbers in one valley and not at all in the next.

The Nyasa measures 12 to 13 centimetres. It's body is green, the head a bright red-orange head. The back of the head is yellowish-green. The tail is green with an orange-black band near the green tip. The bill is bright red at the tip changing into pinkish-white at the base. Cere and eye ring of bare white skin. Feet grey, claws black.

Some geniuses have found a way to improve this lovebird. By hybridising with Fischer's they claim to make them more resistant to stress and disease. But a strong hybrid still remains a hybrid. The existing stock of pure Nyasa lovebirds is very small. No breeding experiments should be tried with this species.

Signs of impurity are almost similar to those of impure Black-cheeked:
  1. The typical elegant type is quite different from the Masked and Fischer's lovebird.
  2. The bill is much smaller and more curved then in Masked and Fischer's.
  3. The bill is coral red at the tip and fades into a pinkish-white at it's base. Hybrids have all red bills
  4. The rump must have the same colour as the back. Any blue or violet feather means it has been hybridised with Masked or Fischer's along the line. A dark green rump indicates Black-cheeked ancestry.
  5. Nyasas are significantly smaller in body size than Masked or Fischer's.
  6. Adult birds showing black in the face are suspect. Newly fledged pure bred Nyasas sometimes show some dark suffusion on the lores but that disappears after moulting.

Agapornis nigrigenis

The Black-cheeked lovebird or Agapornis nigrigenis comes from Zambia. It was discovered as late as 1904 by Dr. Kirkman near the Muguazi river. The first imports took place in 1908. Agapornis nigrigenis has a warm brownish-black head, the front and cheeks being the darkest. On the lower throat and upper breast a salmon coloured bib is found. The main body colour is green again. The rump also is green.

The bill fades from bright red at the tip to a pinkish white at it's base. Cere and ring around the eye of bare white skin. The feet are grey, the claws are black. At 13,5 centimetres it is one of the smaller species. They have been imported in quantity in the twenties and thirties. Little importance was given then to found free-breeding strains. Nowadays they have become scarce in England and the USA. On the European continent they still can be found easily. Here even colour mutations have appeared.

Agapornis nigrigenis have become Africa's most threatened parrot species. There habitat nowadays encompasses some 2.500 square kilometres. Research in 1974 showed that Black-cheeked lovebirds mainly are found in the wooded areas around the Zambesi river. These woods are only a few meters wide and then change into dry savannah. There they search for food: grass seeds, berries and fruits. They use the gallery-woods for protection. Holes in trees provide nesting cavities and the river itself gives them an opportunity to bath.

Although mass exportation usually is blamed for their decline expanding agriculture also must have taken its toll. Woods are cut down and farmers grow less millet. Birds are locally chased to protect the crops or are caught for illegal export and even for food. Finally it is quite possible that some viral or other disease caused the wild population to decline. The Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation recently has started a project to protect the Black-cheeked lovebird on the wild side.

Colour mutations are largely to blame for the impurity of many Black-cheeked. When the blue variety appeared a few years ago it was very expensive. Many breeders tried to make some money quickly and took a shortcut by crossing Black-cheeked with blue Masked lovebirds. A few signs of impurity are listed below:

  1. The rump must show the same colour as the back. Any bluish feather there indicates hybridisation.
  2. Too reddish a facial mask indicates an earlier cross with either Fischer's or Nyasa lovebirds.
  3. Too black a mask points to the Masked.
  4. Finally both Black-cheeked and Nyasa differ in type from the other two eye ring species. They are much smaller and have a more upright posture.
  5. It should be remembered that this is a threatened species and that is highly necessary to maintain a viable stock of pure Black-cheeked lovebirds.
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