The Madagascar Lovebird, also known as the Grey-headed Lovebird, is the only lovebird species that does not originate from the African Continent. As the name suggests, these lovebirds are native to the island of Madagascar which is off the coast of Africa. Small numbers of them may also be found on surrounding islands and sightings of them have been recorded on the mainland of South Africa.
This species was first described by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. The Madagascar Lovebird is seen as a transitional form from the family of lovebirds to the family of hanging parrots. In their natural habitat, they live in open deciduous forests on the mountains along the coast. Although they live in groups they are not colonial animals, and in captivity they are best kept in pairs. In the wild they feed exclusively on seeds.
The Madagascar Lovebird is the smallest species of lovebird, typically weighing about 25 – 36 grams and having a average length of 13 -14cm including its tail. They are sexually dimorphic with distinct visual differences. Males can be easily identified by their grey upper body, while the female is all green. Males have a dark green back and wings. The head and chest is whitish or light grey and they have black markings on their tail. The females, on the other hand, lack the grey patch on the forehead. She is entirely green, with a dark green back and wings. She has a bright green rump and a paler green chest.
These little birds are strong fliers, and when their wings are open they are noticeably larger in relation to their bodies than those of A. roseicollis. They can reach high speeds quickly and effortlessly.
Madagascar Lovebirds have small beaks and prefer finch and canary seed over the sunflower mixes that other lovebirds relish. So a good seed mix along with some wild seed mix and egg food is a good combo. Fruit and greens are rarely eaten, although fresh cut grass is readily accepted. Cuttlebone and grit should be made available. These birds will enjoy daily baths although they seem to drink very little water, make sure fresh clean water is always provided in a shallow bowl.
Housing and Breeding
Like most lovebird species, the Madagascar Lovebird does not have any special needs in terms of housing. It can be kept in aviaries or cages. The only important factor is that your birds will need a frost-free night shelter that they can retreat to when temperatures drop.
Breeding this species isn’t the easiest task, and they seem to breed only whenever they feel they are ready to breed. A little experimentation is suggested with regards to housing and feeding in order to have success with this species. You can’t expect to put a pair together in an aviary and have them breeding after a few weeks. They are shy birds so it is best to keep them in pairs and not in mixed aviaries. A great benefit to success is to buy good quality captive bred breeding stock. This species is not common in captivity and it is important that healthy individuals are put into breeding programmes, as they do not do well as pets, and are a species more suited for the dedicated aviculturist.
As mentioned, they are nervous birds even when they are being hand-fed, and they are also easily frightened in an aviary. Different breeders use different nests. Some prefer the normal lovebird nest boxes with just some wood shavings in them. Others use deep nesting boxes for parakeets with coconut fibre as nesting material. The females will make a nest and lay the eggs on top of the nesting material. She will sit on the eggs for nineteen days. These birds are sensitive to stress and should be disturbed as little as possible. When checking the nest do so when the female is out of the nest, otherwise she can damage the eggs with her nails as she flies off in a panic. Young will fly from the nest at around 7 weeks of age but the parents will continue to feed them for a further two weeks. After that the young can be moved into separate aviaries. There are currently no known mutations of the Madagascar Lovebird in captivity.
In conclusion, these rare, beautiful little lovebirds make a lovely interesting addition to an aviary. It is important that you keep these lovebirds with the intention to breed as their numbers are decreasing both in captivity and in the wild. Try and place them in an aviary setup where there is little disturbance and once they settle down try and move them as little as possible. There are few breeders in South Africa that breed with this species, so if you are interested in acquiring this species it would be recommended that you get in contact with them and try and book in advance and get an unrelated pair. Young birds from lines which are basically domesticated will ensure you the best chance when it comes to breeding these birds. Also speak to other breeders and find out how they keep and feed their breeding birds and try to use similar methods in order to achieve the same results.