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Breeding Lovebirds in Captivity: an Introduction

Despite the “love” part of their name, these tiny parrots (9 species in the genus Agapornis) are actually quite feisty and downright aggressive towards one another at times.  Introducing new birds is not easy, but once a pair forms the birds will be quite devoted to each other, and may well produce eggs.  Small size suits lovebirds well to indoor breeding, and renders them a logical choice for aviculturists with limited space.

Some Cautions

Before embarking on lovebird breeding, please bear in mind that this undertaking is not without its risks.  You may wind up with birds that do not get along, and if you keep more than 1 pair you will likely need separate facilities for the breeders (except perhaps in an outdoor aviary).

Health concerns may also arise – females may become egg bound, or produce too many clutches.  Also, even friendly, long-term pets usually become quite protective of their nests, and will remain aggressive towards you throughout the breeding season.

Distinguishing the Sexes

Unfortunately, males and females of the most commonly kept lovebirds – the peach-faced, Fischer’s and masked – are nearly indistinguishable by eye.  You will need to watch their behavior closely, or submit samples for DNA or feather sexing to be sure.

Abyssinian, Madagascar and red-faced lovebirds are sexually dimorphic, but these species are only infrequently kept as pets in the USA.

The Nest

Wild lovebirds nest in tree hollows or appropriate (sometimes forcibly ejecting the owners!) the nests of swifts and various weavers.  In captivity a specially designed lovebird nest box  will suit them well.  The nest should be positioned as high within the cage as is possible.

Wood shavings  should cover the floor of the box to a depth of 2-3 inches.  This will simplify cleaning and prevent the splay-legged condition that is often seen in chicks raised on hard surfaces.

Wild lovebirds repeatedly carry fresh bark into their nests, a habit which may increase humidity.  Captive lovebirds will readily utilize moistened cypress for this purpose.  Lightly spraying the female lovebird when she is out of the nest will also help in this regard (do not spray within the box itself).  Commercial nesting material should also be available.

Peach-faced and several other lovebirds tuck nesting material within their feathers to transport it to the nest…don’t miss watching this unique behavior if you have the opportunity.

The Eggs and Chicks

Female lovebirds usually lay their first egg 7-10 days after copulation, with an additional egg being produced at intervals of 1-2 days thereafter.  A full clutch consists of 4-7 eggs, and most females do not begin incubating until several eggs have been laid.

Usually, the hen sits and is fed by the male.  Male masked lovebirds, however, often sit near the hen, but it is not clear if they are actually doing anything useful, in terms of incubation!

The eggs hatch in 20-27 days, and the chicks leave the nest after 35-50 days.  They are fed by their parents for an additional 2 weeks after fledging, by which time they are usually completely independent.


Additional Reading

Please see my article on the Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird for information on the care and natural history of this and other lovebird species. 

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by TheAlphaWolf

The Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird, Agapornis personata – Care in Captivity – Part 2

Masked LovebirdClick here to read the first part of this article.

Social Groups and Compatible Species
Wild lovebirds live colonially, and can be kept in groups if your cage or aviary is large enough.  Of course managing a group can be difficult, as squabbles will arise, and, perhaps due to some form of stress, certain individuals will pluck the young of others.  It is best to separate breeding lovebirds from the group.

These plucky birds can hold their own even when housed with much larger parrots, but care must always be taken in these circumstances.  But if you are set on mixing small and large parrots, Masked Lovebirds are a good choice.

Handling and Enrichment
Natural clowns, Masked Lovebirds have quite bold, inquisitive personalities, and are relatively fearless (please see The Masked Lovebird – Natural History).  They seem naturally pre-disposed to become trusting pets, but only if acquired at a young age.  Adults that have not been tamed are nearly impossible to handle.

Masked Lovebirds are capable of imitating words, but rarely do so.  Tame ones are so charming that this will not be noticed, and their constant antics will leave you wanting little more from a pet bird.  They are highly trainable and will readily use a variety of bird toys.

Pet Masked Lovebirds breed readily but the sexes are difficult to distinguish.  Paired birds preen each other incessantly, but same-sexed birds often form close bonds and may appear to be a mated pair.

Females are more sturdily built and a bit heavier (but only by a few grams) than males, and perch with their legs spread out a bit.  The female’s head is flatter and broader than that of the male (which is dome-shaped), but this varies among individuals and may only be apparent after you have observed a good number of birds.  The males’ pelvic bones (just above the vent) are close together, almost touching, while those of females in breeding condition are widely spaced.  Males often scratch their heads with their feet prior to mating.

Masked Lovebirds build bark and stick nests and will utilize nest boxes (20” x 10” x 10”) or hollow logs.  Females carry the nesting material, transporting it in their beaks (some related species carry bark wedged beneath their feathers).  Provide large amounts of willow and other fresh (from live, sap-bearing branches) bark to nesting birds, and continue to do so throughout the incubation and rearing periods.  Wild lovebirds use this to increase humidity in the nest (please see The Masked Lovebird – Natural History), and even if not necessary in captivity, doing so may be an important behavioral component in the nesting process.  It takes the pair (mainly the female) 4-7 days to complete the nest.

Females lay 3-6 eggs, the first 10 days after mating, and then 1 every other day thereafter.  Incubation lasts 21-23 days, and is carried out solely by the female (the male often sits near her – big help that is!) and the young fledge at day 41-45.  Breeding adults should be provided with extra greens, corn and bits of hard-boiled egg.


Information about Masked Lovebirds at the Honolulu Zoo is posted at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Masked_Lovebird_(Agapornis_personata)_pet_on_cage.png, uploaded by Epoulin

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