The group of small African parrots known as lovebirds consists of the nine species in the genus Agapornis:
The Grey-headed Lovebird (A. canus) is native to Madagascar, but has been introduced to the Comoro Islands, Réunion, Rodrigues, and the Seychelles. These birds are generally encountered in flocks of 5 to 30 or more individuals, in flight or feeding (mainly on grass seeds) on the ground. They are generally common in Madagascar (at least in more open country in coastal regions) and in the Comoros, but are present in only small numbers in Réunion and Rodrigues and have a limited distribution in the Seychelles. There are many Grey-headed Lovebirds in captivity as well.
The Red-faced (or Red-headed) Lovebird (A. pullarius) has a geographic distribution that overlaps with that of the Black-collared Lovebird over much of central Africa, with Fischer's Lovebird in the area around southern Lake Victoria, and with the Black-winged Lovebird in southwestern Ethiopia and its range approaches the range of Peach-faced Lovebird in the Cuanza River region of Angola. It is distinguished from these and other lovebirds by the combination of green upper breast with red (or orange) crown, face, and throat. This species has a broad but patchy distribution across West and Central Africa, inhabiting moist lowland savanna, riverine woodland and scrub, and also more open habitats, including abandoned plantations, cultivated land, and pasture. It is generally found below 1500 m (but up to 2000 m in Uganda). Flocks contain up to 30 birds (usually fewer) but these break into pairs for breeding. Flocks roam widely to find food (mainly grass seeds), but return to a communal roost. In captivity, these lovebirds often sleep hanging upside down. Red-faced Lovebirds nest in tree cavities (usually ones excavated by a woodpecker), in holes dug in the side of an arboreal ant or termite nest, or occasionally in terrestrial termite mounds. Significant numbers of Red-faced Lovebirds are trapped for sale as cagebirds.
The Black-winged Lovebird (A. taranta) is endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia, where it may be common in montane forests (it is relatively uncommon in lower altitude savanna). These birds are usually observed in small flocks of 8 to 20 at the tops of taller trees. They roost communally in tree cavities (often an old woodpecker or barbet nest). They feed largely on tree fruits, including Ficus figs and juniper berries. Large numbers are captured for the cagebird trade and many are in captivity outside their range. In captivity, these lovebirds occasionally rest upside down. Captive females have been observed carrying nesting material tucked into almost any part of their plumage. This is the only lovebird known to use its own feathers in nest construction.
The Black-collared Lovebird (A. swindernianus) occurs in two to four disjunct populations in West and Central Africa, where it inhabits lowland evergreen rainforest, both primary and secondary, usually below 700 m but reported up to 1800 m in Uganda. Other than female Grey-headed Lovebirds, Black-collared Lovebirds are the only lovebirds with green heads. The Red-faced Lovebird, which has a partially overlapping range, has a red bill (not blackish as in the Black-collared Lovebird) and no collar. Black-collared Lovebirds are generally encountered in small flocks flying swiftly over the forest canopy. They are quite shy and rarely encountered near ground level. They appear to feed largely on Ficus fig seeds, but also take other seeds and small fruits, as well as adult and larval insects.
The Peach-faced (or Rosy-faced) Lovebird (A. roseicollis) is found in southwestern Africa in dry, wooded country up to 1500 m. Like many lovebirds, Peach-faced Lovebirds are typically seen in small, fast-flying flocks. The diet consists mainly of seeds, sometimes taken from the ground. Peach-faced Lovebirds are very dependent on water. Capture for the cagebird trade has seriously impacted populations in southern Angola.
The Fischer's Lovebird (A. fischeri) is virtually restricted to Tanzania south and east of Lake Victoria, with its range centered on the Serengeti. This species is found in wooded grasslands as well as (especially in the western part of its range) more open grasslands and cultivated areas. Fischer's Lovebirds feed largely on seeds. They drink every day and are often found near water. This species breeds colonially. Feral populations are present in Mombasa, Kenya, and elsewhere where they apparently hybridize with Yellow-collared Lovebirds. The Fischer's Lovebird is distinguished from the Red-faced Lovebird (with which it co-occurs on islands in the south of Lake Victoria) by its golden brown collar, golden breast, and white eyering; it is distinguished from the Yellow-collared Lovebird (with which it overlaps narrowly at the southeastern margins of its range) by having an orange rather than yellow breast. Although Fischer's X Yellow-collared Lovebirds can be found in feral populations, these are not known from areas where the two species naturally occur together. In captivity (where any lovebirds may be seen!), the Fischer's combination of brown crown and nape, orange-red face, and blue rump distinguishes it. The Fischer's Lovebird is sometimes considered conspecific with (i.e., belonging to the same species as) the Yellow-collared Lovebird (and sometimes with the Black-cheeked and Nyasa Lovebirds as well). Fischer's Lovebirds are generally encountered in small flocks, often near water, and are usually quite tame and approachable. Although still quite common in some areas, and with large numbers in captivity outside its range, native populations may be endangered by the cagebird trade.
The Yellow-collared Lovebird (A. personatus) is native to the plateau in eastern and southern Tanzania. This species is easily distinguished by its blackish brown mask and bold lemon-yellow breast, which extends around the sides of the neck and nape to form a striking yellow collar. The Yellow-collared Lovebird is sometimes considered conspecific with (i.e., belonging to the same species as) Fischer's Lovebird (and sometimes with the Black-cheeked and Nyasa Lovebirds as well). This species is typically found in small flocks in well-wooded bushland and acacia thorn scrub, especially with scattered baobab trees, at 1100 to 1800 m.
The Nyasa Lovebird (A. lilianae) is found in several disjunct populations in southeastern Africa. Nyasa Lovebirds can be distinguished from all other lovebirds by the combination of orange-red face and throat and green rump and uppertail coverts. The similar Black-cheeked Lovebird has a dark hood. Nyasa Lovebirds are highly gregarious and generally encountered in noisy flocks of 20 to 100 or more birds. Non-breeders form communal roosts in tree hollows where 4 to 20 birds sleep clinging to the walls. Food consists mainly of grass seeds collected both directly from the plants and from the ground. Nyasa Lovebirds visit water often. Breeding is colonial. The Nyasa Lovebird is sometimes treated as conspecific with the Black-cheeked Lovebird and occasionally even with the Fischer's and Yellow-collared Lovebirds.
The Black-cheeked Lovebird (A. nigrigenis) is found in southern Zambia and, formerly, extreme northern Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls. The Black-cheeked Lovebird is sometimes treated as conspecific with the Nyasa Lovebird (from which it is separated by 100 to 150 km of unsuitable habitat) and occasionally even with the Fischer's and Yellow-collared Lovebirds.This species is found in specific types of medium-altitude deciduous woodlands, usually close to a reliable water source for daily drinking. Due in part to its extremely restricted range (perhaps only 6000 square km), this species is considered to be endangered.
(Collar 1997 and references therein; Juniper and Parr 1998 and references therein)
- Collar, N.J. 1997. Genus Agapornis. Pp. 409-411 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J., eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Juniper, T. and M. Parr. 1998. Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
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