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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

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


The Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird, Agapornis personata – Part I, Natural History

Lovebirds are among the smallest of the world’s parrots, and an excellent choice for those without the space for a large bird.  Although the Peach- Faced Lovebird was the first species to become widely available in this country, the colorful Masked Lovebird now rivals it in popularity.  Despite its very limited natural range (see below), this feisty African import is now familiar to aviculturists worldwide.

Physical Description
The Masked Lovebird appears to have been painted by an artist in love with contrasting colors.  The head is black-brown, bordered by a broad collar of bright yellow.  The throat and chest are yellow, with a red-orange tinge, and the rump is blue.  The balance of the body is rich green, and there is a black and red band along the edges of the outer tail feathers.  The eyes are ringed in white, and the bill, rather large for such a minute bird, is red in color.   A number of color mutations, including blue, have been produced in captivity.

The Masked Lovebird is, like all its relatives, a small bird and barely reaches 6 inches in length when fully grown.

Range and Habitat
The range is limited to a small inland plateau (3,600-5,600 feet above sea level) in northeastern Tanzania, East Africa. There are introduced populations in Tanzania’s capitol, Dar es Salaam, and in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Masked Lovebird is found in open habitats – grasslands dotted with trees such as Acacia and Baobab.  It apparently does not enter the heavily forested areas that border its range or the thick scrub that separates it from nearby populations of Fisher’s Lovebirds.  Flocks, ranging in size from 6-100 birds, forage over large areas and may attack crops.  Masked Lovebirds rarely roost in the open, preferring instead small crevices within baobab trees and similar locations.

Seeds of grasses and shrubs, sprouting plants, buds and some fruit.

Masked Lovebirds breed colonially, from March through August.  The female uses twigs and bark strips to construct a dome-shaped nest.  The nest is located within an enclosed space, such as a tree cavity or building crevice, or within the abandoned nest of another bird.  They have been recoded nesting below metal roof tiles fully exposed to the African sun, in spaces as narrow as 2.8 inches.  It is theorized that fresh bark strips are periodically added to the nest to increase the humidity in such situations.

Brooding is apparently carried out by the female only, but the male often sits next to her, within or close to the actual nest.  The 3-6 eggs hatch in 21-23 days, and the young birds fledge (leave the nest) after 41-45 days.

The small group of parrots known as “lovebirds” received their popular name from the near constant mutual grooming that is observed between pairs.  The name is, however, somewhat misleading – in my experience, these little birds are more than make up in courage what they lack in size.  They quite literally do not seem to grasp the concept of fear, and in a mixed species aviary regularly dominate much larger birds (they do, however, usually form close bonds with people).

I once cared for a flock of Fischer’s Lovebirds (A. fischeri) that was housed with several duikers (small antelope).  Despite being outweighed several-thousand fold, the lovebirds always fed from the duiker’s food bowls, choosing the most succulent greens for themselves.  On those rare occasions when the antelope attempted to roust them, the lovebirds stood their ground, screeching with indignation and refusing to budge.  They also seemed to delight in tormenting the meerkats (a small predator that could quite easily consume a lovebird) in a neighboring exhibit – I’m pretty sure they would have entered the meerkat exhibit given the chance!

The 9 lovebird species are all classified within the genus Agapornis, and readily hybridize in captivity.  All inhabit Africa, with 8 species living on the continent and 1 on Madagascar.  Lovebirds share a similar build – small and stocky – and have short, rounded tails and large beaks.

Several species, including the Peach-Faced Lovebird (A. roseicollis), transport bark and other nesting material by wedging it beneath the feathers of the rump and back.

Onto captive care next time.

An interesting article about Peach-Faced Lovebirds in the wild, with references to Masked Lovebirds and other species, is posted at:

Choosing a Pet Parrot – an overview of popular species

In recent years an ever increasing number of parrot species have been bred in captivity and made available to those of us who enjoy keeping these avian clowns. This wonderful turn of events has taken a good deal of pressure off wild parrot populations, but sometimes leaves the prospective parrot owner a bit bewildered when it comes to choosing a pet.

Choosing a species and an individual parrot is an important step, and is best undertaken after careful research and discussions with the specialists in our bird room. I will write detailed articles about the care of individual parrot species in the future. What I would like to do here is to give you a general idea of the personalities and needs of some popular species, to help in your initial planning.

Please bear in mind that individual parrots vary greatly in their personalities and reactions to different people and environments, and that they quite often break the “species mold”. Their past care – how and where they were kept and raised – and your own actions will also have a great influence on their suitability as pets.

Fischer’s Lovebird, Agapornis fischeri
The behavior of these spunky little fellows often belies the “love” part of their name. True, mated pairs are quite attentive to each other, but lovebirds in general are among the most fearless of birds and will not hesitate to take on adversaries many times their size.

Years ago I kept a flock of Fischer’s lovebirds along with a pair of grey duikers (small antelopes) in an exhibit the Bronx Zoo. The birds were the bane of the antelopes’ existence, and would only allow the much larger creatures to feed after the flock had eaten its fill. They would even crowd around the glass that separated them from the meerkat exhibit — screening at the normally bird-intimidating predators and just itching for a fight!

Adult lovebirds are almost impossible to tame, but when acquired as fledglings they make very responsive and intelligent pets. Although not known for their talking abilities, they make up for this with their clownish antics and sociability. Their small size (6 inches or so) renders them ideal choices for those with limited space.

Black-headed Caique, Pionites melanocechala
Although not as commonly available as some of the other birds on this list, this caique (correct pronunciation is “kah-ee-kay”, but you will often hear “cake”), is well worth searching for. Although somewhat less “dependent” upon company than other parents (often to the point of seeming “aloof”), this South American beauty often bonds closely with one person. They are fairly small (10 inches) and possess only moderate talking abilities. Colored green with a yellow and orange front and black head and beak, this bird is quite stunning to behold.

Spectacled Amazon, Amazona albifrons albifrons
Often overlooked because they are relatively common in the pet trade, spectacled Amazons have much to recommend them. They are, however, quite loud and given to an almost constant chattering, and this can be a bit much for some people. These tendencies, however, render them fairly good talkers and their outgoing personalities can be quite charming. Those that I have worked with have unfailingly become the center of attention, and were quite are undeterred by large groups and noisy surroundings. They reach about 11 inches in length, and so need a bit more room than the birds mentioned up to this point.

Yellow-naped Amazon, Amazona ocrocephala auropalliata
This Amazon is less brightly-colored than others of the group, but makes a wonderful pet for the right owner. I say “right owner” because they are quite large and active, and tend to defend themselves vigorously when threatened. That being said, yellow-napes are also extremely curious and engaging, and are among the most acrobatic and trainable of the Amazons. They reach 16 inches in length and are best acquired as hand- fed babies.


You can read more about important considerations in choosing a pet parrot at:http://www.windhovervet.com/choosing.htm

Parrots, Parakeets, Macaws, Cockatoos, Lories & Lorikeets – Interesting Facts and Figures – Part Two

Click here to view the first part of this article.

Most parrots lay their eggs within holes in trees, using little if any nesting material.

Lovebirds build true nests. Females wedge dried grasses and other nesting material into the feathers of their rumps for transport to the nest site.

Monk parrots build huge, communal stick nests. Escaped pets have established large colonies in NYC. At the Bronx Zoo I cared for a group that built a nest in their outdoor exhibit – their calls attracted free-living monk parrots, which added sticks to the exhibit roof, eventually forming an extension to the nest within the exhibit.

Golden-shouldered parrots (Australia) evacuate nests within terrestrial termite mounds, while New Guinea’s buff-faced pygmy parrot does the same in arboreal termite nests. It is assumed that the insects confer a degree of protection to nesting birds, although why they do not attack the parrots is unknown. The eggs may also benefit from the stable temperatures maintained within the mounds.

The Patagonian conure burrows into riverbanks and cliffs to a depth of 10 feet or more when nesting. Those I kept at the Bronx Zoo would not breed until provided with artificial burrows.

Ground parrots (Australia) nest in depressions below grass clumps.

Peach-faced loveLovebirdbirds (East Africa) nest colonially – often commandeering the intricately woven nests of weaver finches after driving out the rightful owners.

The rock parrot is surely the oddest of all when it comes to egg-laying. Its nests have only been found below rocks, just above the high tide mark along the South Australian coast.

Breeding and Courtship
Most parrots form monogamous pair bonds that may last a lifetime. New Zealand’s kakapo and kea, however, are polygamous.

The nocturnal kakapos are the only parrots to display in leks – females choose mates from groups of males which gather in one place to compete with loud, booming calls. In contrast to other parrots, male kakapos provide no care to the young.

Courting parrots utilize a behavior known as the “eye blaze”, in which the brightly colored iris expands in size.

Male and female parrots are often indistinguishable from one another. Male Australian king parrots, however, are scarlet in color while the females are bright green. Male and female eclectus parrots differ so much in appearance that they were long thought to be separate species – males are emerald green with scarlet flanks and under-wings, while females are crimson red with violet-blue bellies.

The IUCN Red Data Book lists 18 species of parrot as extinct, 32 as endangered, 17 as critically endangered and 82 as either vulnerable or threatened.

The spix macaw is likely extinct in the wild (although it survives in captivity) and the glaucous macaw has only been sighted twice in the 20th century. The flightless kakapo, threatened by introduced rats, cats and stoats, likely numbers less than 100 in its native New Zealand.

An article examining the relationship between natural and pet parrot behavior is posted at:http://www.realmacaw.com/pages/parrbehav.html

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