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Agapornis lilianae – Nyasa Lovebird. By Norris Dryden

Nyasa Lovebird

These beautiful lovebirds were discovered as early as 1864. At first it was thought that they are part of the roseicollis (peach face) family, but in 1894 Shelley classified them as separate specie. He named them after Lilian Slater, the sister of a well known famous ornithologist W.L. Slater. Lilianae are part of the genus Agapornis which consist of nine different species.

These nine species are sub-divided into three different groups, namely

1. Sexually dimorphic group – differences in appearance between males and females (canus, taranta, pullarius)

2. Transitional group (swindernianus, roseicollis)

3. Personatus – White eye ring group (personatus, fischeri, nigrigenis, lilianae). Lovebirds are not very big which means that they can be kept indoors or outdoors. Because they can be easily kept there is also the negative side to the story. Sometimes people would buy one or two birds without taking the responsibility of keeping birds into consideration. We must always remember that birds are living creatures, which needs daily care and attention. The further negative impact that such a keeper might cause is the creation of hybrids. Because of the vast amount of color mutations in the different species some species are sometimes allowed to cross-breed, without the owner realizing what he is doing. With the establishment of a Lovebird Club in South Africa in 2008 it is hoped that the club and its members will strive to eradicate this phenomena and educate and enrich people in keeping the species as pure as possible.

Lilianae live in Southern Tanzania, Northern Zimbabwe and Eastern Zambia. They tend to live close to rivers, as they like to bathe a few times a day. They live in colonies with sometimes more than a hundred individuals and feed mainly on grass-seeds and fruit. Very little is known about their breeding behaviour in the wild.

Lilianae are not commonly found in captivity in South African aviaries. Why is very difficult to answer. A lot of myths surround these birds. One commonly heard is that they carry a throat mite (Acarina) that is only neutralized through the diet they consume in nature. Once kept in captivity they can no longer consume their natural diet which results in them dying off one by one. No scientific proof can be found to verify or dispute this myth. The famous World of Birds, located in Hout Bay in the Western Cape had a colony of lilianae, which died out within a period of three years – reason unknown. Another reason and one which makes logical sense is the fact that lilianae has not been regularly imported to South Africa over the last couple of years. This has had the result that most lilianae found in South Africa today are somehow related to one another. Inbreeding has occurred to such an extent that not many males found are fertile. Over the past few years the author has had contact with many people who kept lilianae only to find that after some time the keeper had given up on them, because some had died off for no specific reason and also because they would not reproduce. No one was willing to fight this battle and save these birds from extinction in our aviaries. Some keepers are even feeding these birds and other lovebird species cannabis (dagga) in order to increase productivity. The moral question asked by many is where does bird keeping stop and greed begin. If cannabis contains medicinal value then it could still be justified. Have we given a moment thought as to what it might do to the birds?

This scenario has now fortunately changed because of mainly two reasons. Wild caught lilianae have once again, in small numbers, been brought into the country and new blood lines and colour mutations have also, in very small numbers, been imported from Europe. This has created and led to a new interest in the keeping and breeding of lilianae.

The lilianae is ± 13centimeters long. Its mask is orange-red, fading into a slightly darker colour on the bib. The mask changes into olive-yellow on the back of the head, and further into green. The tail feathers are light green with an orange-yellow spot in the centre and a black spot below it. The rump is green and there should be NO bluish or violet marking. This would clearly indicate that hybridization has taken place. Hybridization was seen by some breeders in the past as a possible solution to get lilianae to produce fertile eggs. They would cross green fischeri with lilianae which resulted in some lilianae of today still displaying the bluish or violet marking on the rump. The beak is red, changing to horn-coloured with a bluish tinge at the base. The eyes are light brown, usually with a lighter iris and a white eye ring. The feet are grey, the nails darker. The lilianae has a very proud posture.

There are only three recognized colour mutations found in the lilianae. The non sex-linked ino (commonly known as the Lutino), the dilute and the wild form (green). The other colour mutations, as in most other lovebird species, have been created through hybridizing. A process not understood correctly by many breeders and keepers of birds. The general idea behind hybridizing (transmutation) is the transfer of the colour (mutation) gene from one specie to another. Only the colour gene and nothing more. It is important to remember that all nine species differ in size, shape, appearance and characteristics. The last thing you want to achieve is to transfer size, appearance, shape or characteristics from one specie to the other. The result of transmutation being applied incorrectly can be very easily identified in the blue and violet series fischer lovebird, which has been transmutated from the personatus specie. The face of some fischer lovebirds displaying black/grey markings similar to the mask of a personatus lovebird. The face of a blue line (blue, cobalt and mauve) and violet fischer lovebird should not display any black/grey markings as it should be pure white. Poor transmutation has the nasty habit of reappearing in every second or third generation. This poor quality, sub-standard birds should not be included in a breeding program. They are however sold to novices and beginners by unscrupulous breeders who have no sense of integrity and to whom making a profit means more than educating breeders and keepers of these lovely creatures.

The first pure autosomal recessive lutino lilianae was bred by Mr Prendergast in Adelaide, Australia in 1936. These birds are very weak and just to get a new born baby pass the first 48hour period is in itelf an achievement. The lutino we see today in the fischeri and personatus is the result of transmutation from the lilianae specie.

Lutino Nyasa Lovebird

Lutino Nyasa Lovebird – Photo by Agaporniden Kwekerij Simons


Dilute Nyasa Lovebird

Dilute Nyasa Lovebird – Photo by Agaporniden Kwekerij Simons

Breeding lilianae poses no more difficult challenges than most other lovebird species.

The author prefers supplying L-shape nest boxes to this species as a nest similar to a finch nest is constructed on the inside of the box. Both the male and female take part in construction of the nest. The nest is built with a small tunnel running from the entrance down to a cavity formed at the bottom of the nest box, where the eggs will later be laid.

Lilianae can be kept and bred in cages, suspended aviaries or in a colony set up. Care is to be taken not to overcrowd the colony which might result in fighting and injury to one another. Females are very territorial and like their privacy.

Nyasa Lovebird

Photo by Agaporniden Kwekerij Simons

Lovebirds as already mentioned differ in size, appearance, built and characteristics. It is thus recommended to never keep lovebirds of different species together in one aviary.

Although they might tolerate one another for a while, they will become aggressive during the breeding season, resulting in fighting and possible fatalities. The author, having kept and bred eight different species of lovebirds for the past 12 years, has had the unpleasant experience of witnessing a female killing a female of a different specie during the breeding season. Is it worth the risk? Certainly not!

Feeding consist of a balanced dry seed mixture as well as a soft food mixture containing grated carrot, apple, broccoli, spinach and yellow mielies. Clean fresh water is supplied daily. Establishing a breeding colony of Nyasas’ takes time and a little more patience than with the other lovebird species. The end result is all worth it though.

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