Lovebirds – New in Paradise
One of the smallest and prettiest of parrots, this species had never been kept at Paradise Park but last July we had an email from Calvin Bradley, former Secretary of the Lovebird Society – would we be interested in taking a breeding colony which had been established in the 1990s?
The date was of interest as, in the past twenty years or so, many Lilian’s had been hybridised with other lovebirds aiming to create colour mutations.
Lilian’s Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), also known as the Nyasa Lovebird, is distributed across countries in South East Africa including Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Classified as ‘Near Threatened’ in the wild due to persecution by farmers and capture for the local and international bird trade, it is among the World Parrot Trust’s (based at Paradise Park) priority species in Africa.
Because of the genetic purity and increasing importance of this well-managed captive group, we made plans to take the birds at the Park. The move took place in March 2017, and the birds were housed in a tall aviary next to the resident group of Black-cheeked Lovebirds (Agapornis nigrigenis). It was interesting to see them side by side, very similar in shape with the Lilian’s perhaps a little more lightweight and each with their distinctive colouring.
Living up to their name, lovebirds are social and happy to live in groups with their nests close together. They are monogamous and pairs usually snuggle close together strengthening their lifelong bond.
After a period of transition when they got used to their new surroundings, nest boxes were added both inside the hut and out in the aviary to give them a choice of location. They quickly took to the ply boxes we made for them, packing them with leaves, grass and twigs to leave just a small space at the top.
The birds were regularly visiting their nests and then the Keepers found the first eggs. Three weeks later and chicks had hatched. Over the next weeks there were chicks in three nests, and then we were excited to see the first fledgling. The youngster spent a morning on the ground before climbing up low branches, soon joining the group when we could hardly distinguish it from the adults. We hope this will be start of many successful nests, and we will be happy to cooperate in breeding schemes for Lilian’s in future so we can share our birds and their genes.
At risk due to habitat loss and persecution
The World Parrot Trust’s Africa Programme has been focusing on Lilian’s Lovebirds as part of an initiative to protect these parrots in Africa’s Zambezi basin, an area which includes the closely-related Black-cheeked Lovebird. The work, which was launched in 2014, includes:
- Research to learn the current status of populations and causes of declines
- Identification of key breeding areas and other important sites for conservation
- Development of actions to address threats and protect areas of critical habitat
- Explore possibilities for reintroduction into areas from which they have disappeared
These initiatives are conducted in partnership with Dr. Tiwonge Gawa from the Museums of Malawi, researchers from The FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, BirdWatch Zambia and the University of Edinburgh. The work has highlighted the importance of areas of mature Mopane woodland for roosting and breeding, identified new distributional records as well as worrying range contractions, and highlighted the threat of expanding agriculture, charcoal production and timber production. In Malawi, where many Lilian’s Lovebirds were being killed by pesticide poisoning, vulnerable waterholes have been protected through improved surveillance which has included piloting the use of camera traps to deter poachers.