The lovebird is a small parrot that has been kept in captivity in Europe since the 1700s. Their diminutive size, though it makes care easier than some of their larger relatives, might confuse a prospective owner about their true nature. Lovebirds are a large bird living in a small body - and they are not afraid to let anyone know it! While it has been a common practice to keep these birds in pairs, in some cases it is better to keep a lovebird alone. A hand-raised lovebird, when kept singly and handled daily, can be an interactive, friendly pet with incredible amounts of energy and personality.
There are 9 species of lovebirds in Africa, but only 3 are commonly seen in captivity - the peach-faced (Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis), the black-masked (Agapornis personata personata) and the Fischer's (Agapornis personata fischeri). This care sheet is a general overview for those three species and may be used for their proper care. These 3 species do have slightly different temperments, so it is up to those who are seeking these birds out to discover which species best suits them as a companion animal.
Lovebirds are active, playful parrots that need a large cage to accommodate all the toys and perches they will need to keep them busy. The larger the cage, the more comfortable it will be for the bird. The minimum size cage for a single lovebird should be 18" long by 18" wide by 18" tall. For a pair of lovebirds, a cage 24" long by 18" wide by 24" tall or larger would be more appropriate. A good cage should have horizontal bars on at least two sides, as hookbills love to climb. Horizontal bars help to make climbing easier. Bar spacing should be no more than 3/4" apart to prevent injury.
Most birds can be kept at room temperature. Be sure to place your bird and its cage off of the floor and away from drafty areas or hot places like open windows, air vents and doorways. Some birds may catch a cold if exposed to a draft while they are wet (after a bath), so it is best to keep a wet bird in a warm area (at least 70 degrees) until they are fully dry.
Your lovebird cage should have at least two or three perches of various sizes, shapes and textures so that its feet stay healthy and strong. Make sure the perches are thick enough for the bird to stand comfortably on them without losing its balance. The smallest perch a lovebird should be given is 1/2" in diameter. Choose perches made from a variety of materials such as wooden dowels, natural wood branches, bonded sand/concrete (for keeping their nails trimmed), and rope.
If your bird is housed in a quiet room, you may want to get a cover for your bird's cage to help it to sleep at night. If your bird lives in a more active room, it may be kept awake by even low volume sounds, and will not get the proper rest that it needs to stay healthy. Lovebirds should have between 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. If it is not possible to keep their room quiet for this amount of time, you may want to get a smaller cage for your bird to sleep in and place it in a quieter room. Using a sleep cage will give your bird a safe, quiet place to get a good night's sleep.
The natural diet of lovebirds consists of seeds, grain, berries, and other fruits. For a healthy, balanced diet, it is necessary to provide a variety of foods for your pet bird. Pellet foods and seed mixes can be fed as a daily base diet. We are currently feeding our birds Kaytee (tm) Rainbow Exact and Kaytee (tm) Forti-Diet. Pellets or seeds should not be fed exclusively, because it does not provide proper nutrition and will lead to health problems in the future.
It is very important to include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your bird's diet. Some healthy fruits include apples, grapes, berries, papaya, and mango. Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, zucchini, squash, cooked sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens (such as romaine, kale, chicory, dandelion leaves, and turnip or collard greens) make great lovebird food. Other healthy treat foods include cooked whole grains (like brown rice), whole grain pasta, multigrain breads, unsugared cereals or even small amounts of cooked eggs. When feeding fresh foods, be sure to remove anything uneaten after a few hours so that the food does not spoil, and to wash the dishes thoroughly before using them again.
Your lovebird can share many of the foods you eat - just try to keep their consumption of fried, greasy, sugary, and salty foods to a minimum. However, NEVER offer your bird alcohol, chocolate, or caffeinated beverages. These substances can kill your bird, even if given in very small amounts. Other foods to avoid are avocados, rhubarb, asparagus, onions, raw legumes (beans and peas), and dairy products.
Grooming & Hygiene
Birds like to bathe, but different birds prefer to bathe in different ways. Some like to bathe in a shallow dish, some like to be sprayed with a fine mist and still others like to get in the shower with their owner. Most lovebirds come from the equatorial regions of Africa and should be given the opportunity to bathe every day.
Clipping your bird's flight feathers is not necessary but usually helps in taming your bird. It also helps to prevent escape and injury. Birds like lovebirds cannot survive in the climate of most of the US and would not survive without a flock (a flock protects them from predators as there is safety in numbers). For this reason, please consider carefully before allowing a bird to remain flighted. Consult your avian vet to have the wings clipped by a qualified professional. Nails should be trimmed by a qualified person if they get too long, unhealthy, or hinder the bird's movements.
We recommend using warm water and a mild soap solution for the everyday cleaning your bird's cage (the tray and dishes should be cleaned every day). Once a week remove the bird from the cage and clean the cage, perches and toys. Use a diluted bleach solution to disinfect the cage. Rinse the cage thoroughly, then place the cage in the sun to air dry if possible. Be certain the cage and bowls are completely free of any bleach smell prior to placing your bird back in the enclosure as bleach is toxic to birds.
Replace toys and accessories that become worn or damaged, as they can injure your pet. Make sure you rotate toys when your bird becomes disinterested in them (or at least once a week) but remember never to place an unfamiliar toy in the cage without first introducing it to the bird in a neutral location. You may want to hang a new toy on a lamp near your bird's cage or on the outside of the cage for a few days until the bird gets used to it.
Mirrors should not be given to lovebirds due to the bird's tendency to bond with the 'bird in the mirror'. If a single bird is kept alone in its cage, a mirror will interfere with its training (or even provoke an aggressive response). If there are two lovebirds in a cage, they have no need for a mirror because they have each other to play with.
Behavior & Interaction
Contrary to popular myth and legend, lovebirds do not have to be kept in pairs to lead happy lives, nor will they die if they are parted from their mate (though most will certainly miss the company). They have the same kind of social structure as many other species of parrots - a pair will bond for life, remaining faithful to their mate until one member of the pair dies. In the event that their partner dies or becomes separated from them, they will usually bond with a new bird (provided there is one available that they like).
In captivity, lovebirds can either be kept in bonded pairs or as single birds. Many people choose to buy their lovebirds in pairs so that their preening and feeding behaviors can be observed. They do look very much 'in love' when they are sitting side by side! But since it is very difficult to sex these birds (males and females look the same and sex cannot be determined unless the bird has a blood test or lays an egg), it can be difficult to determine if you have a true male-female pair when the birds are purchased. If your goal is not breeding but rather just to enjoy the company of your birds, gender is not important - lovebirds will sometimes bond with the same gender if they have no mate of the opposite gender that appeals to them. Just be certain that your birds get along before your take them home - otherwise they may have to be separated at a later time. Lovebirds can be very aggressive and will kill another lovebird if they do not want it in THEIR cage! Also, bonded pairs must be housed separate from other lovebirds or similiar problems will occur.
Bonded pairs of lovebirds cannot be handled and will resist all efforts to be taken out of their cage. However, hand-raised lovebirds that are kept alone and handled daily will be more likely to bond with their human family than another bird. Baby lovebirds must be handled every day for the first 6 months to ensure that they will remain tame for the remainder of their lives. These birds will bond strongly to a human 'mate' just like any other hand-raised parrot and may even enjoy riding around in the owner's pocket for short periods of time. Lovebirds require several periods of play out of their cage each day (typically in increments of 30 minutes for each session) to keep them well-socialized.
It's important to note that these birds can become territorial of their cages when they reach sexual maturity, biting any object that comes into their 'nest area'. The best way to work around this natural tendency of lovebirds is to train them to “step up” onto a perch or toy. That way, they can be removed from their territory without inflicting a bite and can calm down for a few minutes before they are handled.
When taking your new bird home please remember that the surroundings in your home will be new to it and it may take some time for the bird to feel settled in the new environment. Speak softly and move very slowly whenever you are near the bird's cage. Do not try to handle the bird for at least the first few days as the bird needs time to adjust to the new home.
With a well balanced diet you should not need to give your bird vitamin supplements. Before adding supplements to your bird's diet you should consult with an avian veterinarian. When giving any supplements in the bird's water, make sure you clean and wash the water dish daily to remove any residue from the supplements.
We recommend taking your bird to the vet for regular checkups and purchasing a book about your new pet.
Always wash your hands before and after handling each animal. Germs that birds carry can be transmitted to humans (and vice versa), which in some cases can cause serious illness.
You should have toys in the cage to prevent boredom. Bored birds are known to have behaviour problems. Birds need to be active to maintain good health and to prevent them from getting overweight. Foraging toys are excellent because they stimulate the natural avian instinct to search for food. Toys should be changed regularly to keep your pet interested and if the toy becomes worn to prevent injury.
Birds can be scared to death. Frightening a bird can cause the bird enough stress to harm and possibly kill it. Move slowly and talk quietly to your bird until it is comfortable with you and its new home. It may be advisable to keep the bird in a separate room away from any other animals in the home until it gets used to the noises of its new environment. Predatory animals such as cats, dogs and ferrets should never have direct contact with your bird.
We recommend using a cuttle bone or mineral block for your bird. Many birds enjoy chewing on these items but only absorb a small amount of minerals from them. A cuttlebone or mineral block should never be used as a substitute for a proper, nutritious diet of pellets, seeds and fresh vegetables and fruits.
If you notice signs of illness it is very important to get to the vet promptly as most birds will hide illness until it is in an advanced stage. We recommend taking your bird to the vet BEFORE the bird ever becomes ill. Visiting your vet before the bird is ill will allow the vet to see your bird when it is healthy and help the vet create a routine preventive health care program for your new pet.
Signs of a Healthy Animal:
• Active, alert, and sociable
• Eats and drinks throughout the day
• Dry nostrils and bright, dry eyes
• Beak, legs, and feet appear normal
• Clean, dry vent
• Smooth, well groomed feathers
• Beak swelling or accumulations
• Fluffed, plucked, or soiled feathers especially around the vent
• Constant sitting on floor of cage
• Wheezing or coughing
• Runny or discolored stools
• Favoring one foot when not asleep-- it is normal for birds to sleep on one foot
• Eye or nasal discharge
• Red or swollen eyes
• Loss of appetite
If feeding fruits the stool may become runny for a while. Many birds cannot tolerate too much acid that is in many citrus fruits, therefore we recommend limiting the amount of citrus you feed to your bird. Any bird which has runny stools when it is not eating fresh foods should be seen by a veterinarian, as diarrhea is often one of the first symptoms of disease.
When changing the food your bird is given, do so gradually. A sudden change may upset your bird's digestive system, or the bird may refuse to eat the new food. We currently feed Kaytee(TM) seed and pellets along with many fresh fruits and vegetables to our birds.
Further Reading:Breeding Lovebirds in Captivity: an Introduction
Why Do Lovebirds, Canaries and Others Abandon Nests or Destroy Eggs?
Lovebird Breeding Problems: Cautions for Small Parrot Breeders