The Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird, Agapornis personata – Care in Captivity – Part 1

Masked LovebirdGeneral
Small size, a hearty constitution and fearless personality render the Masked Lovebird an excellent choice when venturing into parrot-keeping –  yet these Tanzanian natives are so engaging that they remain common in the collections of even very advanced aviculturists.  Please see The Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird, Agapornis personata – Natural History for information on Masked Lovebirds in the wild.

Cage and Physical Environment
As with all birds, the largest enclosure possible should be chosen, with a minimum size being 36” x 36” x 18” for a pair (or slightly smaller if the birds are exercised often – Blue Ribbon Series T-10 Cage).  The width between the bars should be no more than ¾ of an inch – frightened lovebirds may squeeze through wider bars that contain them when calm.

The cage should be provisioned with perches of various widths and materials, with the most-utilized perch being of a thickness that allows the birds’ feet to extend about three quarters of the way around.  A birdbath should be provided.

These little dynamos should be kept busy – they have an affinity for shredding bark and should be given lots of willow, fruit tree and other non-toxic branches.

Masked Lovebirds housed in an outdoor aviary will provide you with quite a treat – they never stop exploring (or destroying any plants they get hold of!) and interacting with what is going on outside the aviary.

Light, Heat and Humidity
Having evolved in a harsh environment, Masked Lovebirds are resilient as regards temperature.  On winter nights in their native Tanzania, temperatures regularly drop to 45 F, and sometimes lower.  Properly acclimated birds have been over-wintered outdoors in England (they are provided with a dry, frost-free shelter).  They are, however, sensitive to moisture, and will not thrive if allowed to become damp and chilled.

An average humidity of 60% or so is ideal, but drier is fine except in the case of breeding pairs (please see below).

Masked Lovebirds kept indoors should be provided with a full spectrum bulb, such as the Zoo Max Avian Sun UVB Bulb.

Despite their rather outsized beaks, the majority of the Masked Lovebird’s diet should be composed of a small seeds, such as canary and white and yellow millet, along with a bit of hemp and sunflower (Sunburst Medium Parrot Food) and a high quality pelleted food (Lafeber Daily Diet – Pellets).  They favor sprouting greens (Vitakraft Sprout Pot), a variety of fruits and some vegetables (individual preferences vary).  Cuttlebone and grit should always be available.

Image referenced from Wikipedia,, uploaded by Epoulin


The Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) in the Wild and Captivity – Part I, Natural History

Diamond DovesLike many bird fanciers, I was long drawn to the quiet beauty and calm demeanors of the various doves, but held back due to the large flight cages required by most, and the relative delicacy of the smaller species.  That is, until I discovered the Diamond Dove.  Barely larger than a canary, this tiny beauty is also quite hardy and long-lived, and is an ideal introduction to the group.

Physical Description
Diamond Doves tip the scales at a mere 1.5 ounces, and measure 7 to 7.5 inches in length. Their pleasing, subtly-colored plumage displays a surprisingly wide range of colors and shades.  The head, breast and neck are clad in blue-gray, while the back is light brown.  The tail is dark gray with black-tipped mid feathers and white-tipped outer feathers.  The brownish gray upper wing is flecked with black-circled white spots, which lend the “diamond” to its name.  The lower wing is chestnut in color and the abdomen is creamy white.  The orange-red eye is encircled by a fire-red ring.

Range and Habitat
The enormous range covers much of northern and central Australia, with flocks moving to the southern and eastern coasts during particularly dry years.  They are usually seen in pairs or small groups, but large flocks form during Australia’s winter.

Diamond Doves favor open habitats within flying distance of water – sparsely wooded areas, grasslands and desert fringes, but sometimes occur in parks and gardens as well.

Grass seeds of various types form the majority of the diet, with ants and other tiny insects being taken on occasion.

Males choose the nest site and court females by cooing with the beak held to the ground while spreading the tail feathers.  They may also feed potential mates, and often puff their feathers and strut before females in the manner of the Rock Dove (our ubiquitous “city pigeon”).  Paired birds exchange greeting calls and mutual light pecks about the head, and both contribute to the construction of the flimsy grass and stick nest.

A clutch consists of 2 eggs, laid 1 day apart.  Both parents incubate the eggs – the female by night and the male by day.  The eggs hatch in 12-15 days, and the young fledge in 12 days to 2 weeks (often longer in captivity).

In common with their relatives, Diamond Doves feed their young with “pigeon milk” – a thick liquid derived from the lining of the crop.  Other than flamingoes, pigeons and doves are the only birds known to utilize such a food.

Diamond Doves are classified within the order Columbiformes and are members of the order’s sole surviving family, Columbidae – the pigeons and doves.  The order also contains the infamous Dodo and the Solitaires, all of which are now extinct.

Approximately 320 species of pigeon-like birds are distributed on all continents except Antarctica.  Two species, the Rock Dove and the Collared Dove, occur within the Arctic Circle.  The genus to which the Diamond Dove belongs contains 4 other species, all of which are small, long-tailed birds of arid, open habitats in Australia and Indonesia.

At nearly 6 pounds in weight and 3 feet in length, New Guinea’s magnificent Victoria Crowned Pigeon, Goura victoria, is the world’s largest.  I have kept and bred these massive blue birds at the Bronx Zoo, and found them to be both calm and very intelligent.  If you have a chance to visit a zoo that houses Victoria Crowned Pigeons, please do – you will not soon forget the experience.  The Common Ground Dove, Columbina passerina, just barely wins out over the Diamond Dove as the smallest.  Measuring 6.7 inches long at weighing in at 1 ounce, it ranges from the southern USA to Brazil.

While a number of pigeons are specialized fruit-eaters, most feed upon seeds and grain.  Seeds are not cracked but rather swallowed whole and ground up with the help of stones and other grit in the muscular gizzard.  Unlike most birds, pigeons and doves drink by immersing their bills in water and sucking.

Next time we’ll take a look at keeping Diamond Doves as pets.

You can read more about the natural history of pigeons and doves at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia, Author M. Betley, under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Introducing a “Mini Toucan” – the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Collared AracariToucans have long enchanted bird keepers and “regular people” alike. Having kept several large species in zoos, I can attest that their bright colors and clownish appearances are matched by their behavior. I have seen them toss grapes to one another for no apparent reason (mated pairs and youngsters were not involved) and engage in “beak dueling” bouts with no signs of aggression at all. All were unfailingly curious about me, and soon fed readily from my hand.

Most toucans are too large for home aviaries, but at 12 inches in length, the Collared Aracari has become quite popular and is now bred regularly. It still needs a great deal of room, but keeping a pair is at least feasible for dedicated aviculturists.

Ranging from southern Mexico to northern Columbia and Venezuela, Collared Aracaris feed on an estimated 85-110 species of fruits and berries, as well as insects. Captives require a wide variety of fresh fruits on a daily basis. They should also receive a high quality softbill food such as Pretty Bird Softbill Select and large insects (try Zoo Med’s Can O’ Grasshoppers or Silkworms).

There is some evidence that Collared Aracaris are cooperative breeders – in Panama, up to 6 adults have been observed feeding the brood of 1 pair, and all banded together and chased after a marauding hawk.

Those of you with space and some experience might wish to consider these tropical beauties. I’ll write in detail about the care of small toucans and their relatives in future articles.

You can read more about Collared Aracaris at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia: Posted by MDF 2/4/2008

Common Ravens (Corvus corax) at Work – the World’s Smartest Birds?

Looking much like out-sized crows, to which they are related, Common Ravens are Common Ravenconsidered by many ornithologists (biologists who study birds) to be the most intelligent of the world’s 9,000+ bird species. People have apparently held this view from the earliest of times, as the folktales and legends of many races are filled with tales attributing great powers and cunning ways to these impressive birds.

We now have many indications of just how smart birds can be – a number use tools, and some have adjusted to changing conditions and have passed along their newly-acquired knowledge to other birds (more on that in future articles, but please write in if you’d like details). And, of course, parrot owners can fill volumes with tales of their birds’ learning abilities.

One of the most startling observations I’ve run across involved Ravens. One winter not long ago, people ice-fishing in northern Europe (I believe it was in Finland) began to find their hooks, devoid of bait and fish, lying on the ice near the hole that had been cut to allow access to the water below (fishing on an ice-covered lake during Finland’s winter is a cold business to say the least, so the lines were left untended while the fisherman wisely defrosted in nearby huts).

At first, neighboring fishermen were blamed, but some spying uncovered the real culprits. Ravens, apparently after watching people bait their hooks, learned to lift the lines with their beaks.

Keep in mind first that the birds had to associate the end of the line, now well below water, with food. The lines were quite long but, amazingly, the Ravens learned to stand on the slack each time it was laid down on the ice, so that it would not slide back into the water – and they figured this all out in the time that people were warming up and not watching!

The bait-thieves were likely helped in their efforts by the cooperative bond that develops between paired Ravens. Those observing the birds noted that one always kept watch while the other hauled up the line. As Ravens sometimes feed together, without posting a sentry, one is tempted to wonder – did they “know” to expect trouble?!

I once kept an injured Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus), relative of the Raven, for a time. The bird took all of 20 minutes to learn how to open the latch on his cage’s door. Once I secured the latch with a lock, he would check the lock (once only) by rattling it, and no longer bothered with the latch itself. When I purposely left the lock unfastened, he immediately flipped it off and then lifted the latch.

Parrot owners are always great resources when it comes to “smart bird” stories.

You can learn a great deal about Raven natural history at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia, uploaded by Franco Atirador in Feb. 2007, and using the GNU Free Documentation License.

The USA’s “Other” Parrot – the Thick Billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha

Many know the sad story Thick-Billed Parrotof the extinction of the USA’s only native breeding parrot, the Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis.  The last known specimen of this species died in 1918, in the Cincinnati Zoo.  However, a spectacular, pigeon-sized parrot once frequented the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico, gorging on pine cones before migrating south to breed.

Last observed in the USA around 1935, the Thick-Billed Parrot ranged from Mexico to Venezuela, but is now largely confined to the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in northern Mexico.  Brilliant green with a bright red forehead and wing curve, Thick-Billed Parrots dwell at elevations up to 11,500 feet above sea level, and often forage in snow-covered trees.

Pine tree seeds are their main food – so much so that breeding is timed to their availability – and it is for this resource that flocks of over 1,000 foraged for several months each year in our southwestern mountain ranges.  Journal entries of naturalists of the time reflect the shock experienced upon encountering a thousand large, gaudy “tropical-looking” parrots in the snows high in the mountains of Arizona.  Thick-Billed Parrots also rely heavily upon acorns, and take other seeds, fruits, vegetables and insects as well.

Now drastically reduced in numbers, Thick-Billed Parrots are the subject of a zoo-based Species Survival Plan – a cooperative breeding effort seeking to ensure their survival, and are kept in private aviculture as well.  NYC’s Queens Zoo has a nice group in a large, outdoor exhibit – their raucous calls and constant activity render them among the most popular of exhibits.

The USA, especially Florida, is now home to a number of introduced parrot species, many of which breed here (please see my article on Monk Parrots).

You can read about conservation efforts for wild Thick-Billed Parrots in Mexico at:

Image referenced from one taken by LTshears in Wikipedia Commons.

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