Caring for your pet lovebird
Quick facts: Life expectancy 7-15 years, Sexual maturity 6-12 months, Adult bodyweight 40-60g, Origin Africa, Sexual dimorphism? Males and females are alike in Peach-faced, Masked and Fischer’s lovebirds. Less common species including Madagascar, Abyssinian & Red-headed lovebirds are dimorphic.
Lovebirds are social and affectionate small parrots, and are known for being very active and playful. Although their name stems from their tendency to form strong, monogamous pair bonds, pet birds can be happily kept alone as long as they have frequent attention from their owners, plenty of space, good nutrition and a stimulating environment. Some lovebirds have intense personalities, and aggression between cage mates can occur.
There are nine species of lovebird, all of which are part of the Agapornis group. There are multiple colour mutations available within each species.
Housing Lovebirds make good aviary or pet birds, as long as they have lots of opportunity for social interactions and lots to do to keep them entertained! Cages should be as large as possible, and at a minimum should allow your lovebird to fully open his or her wings in all three dimensions, and preferably allow full flight. Rectangular cages are recommended. Cages with curved sides are not comfortable for parrots.
See our housing page for further details.
Cage equipment – perches, feed dishes, toys Lovebirds are known as the clowns of the bird world as they love to play, and have inquisitive natures so they need lots of toys to keep themselves entertained. Lack of stimulation can cause problems such as boredom, stress and psychological or behavioural issues, so toys should be regularly rotated. Chewable leather toys, newspaper and cardboard to rip and foraging toys are all very popular.
Bird Vet Melbourne recommends that your pet lovebird should have at least two perches of varying diameters in the cage. Natural wood perches are preferred to prevent foot problems and also for your bird to chew on for beak maintenance. Avoid sandpaper perches. Perches should be placed at opposite ends of the cage, allowing your lovebird to fly between them. Ideally place the widest perch in the highest position.
Food and water dishes should be made of stainless steel, and positioned to avoid contamination with droppings (i.e. not directly under perches). Hooded dishes should be avoided as they can make feeding difficult and may prevent bathing. Place feed and water dishes at opposite ends of the cage to encourage exercise.
Please see our page on how to set up a cage for your pet bird for more information.
All parrots kept indoors should be provided with artificial full spectrum light (UV-A & UV-B) or access to sunlight outdoors to allow normal vitamin D metabolism (and breeding behaviour). If placing your caged lovebird outside, ensure that the cage is secure, will not fall over, and is protected from predators.
Diet Feeding a balanced diet is very important to prevent health problems in birds. Avian vets at Bird Vet Melbourne recommend feeding your pet lovebird a mixture of the following every day:
Good quality bird pellets or crumble should be available at all times. These are formulated to contain low levels of fat and have an appropriate vitamin and mineral content. Suggested brands include Harrison’s, Pretty Bird, Vetafarm and Passwells. See our nutrition page for tips on getting your pet lovebird to eat pellets.
A range of fruits and vegetables should always be available and must be changed daily. Dark leafy green and red/yellow vegetables e.g. spinach, silverbeet, pak choi and other Asian greens, broccoli, green beans, carrots, sweetcorn, butternut pumpkin, capsicums. Soft fruits are often popular. Sprouting grasses and native tree flowers are both nutritional and entertaining.
Mixed seeds – no more than 1-2 teaspoons per day. Seeds are low in calcium and many essential vitamins and minerals, and high in fat and are not a good diet on their own.
Small amounts of human foods such as pasta, oats, toast and eggs can also be fed occasionally.
A cuttlefish bone or chalk perch is recommended to provide calcium.
Do not feed chocolate, avocado, alcohol or coffee to your pet lovebird as these are toxic and can be fatal.
Fresh water should always be available. Food and water should be changed daily.
Common Conditions (see links)
Psittacine beak and feather disease, caused by circovirus, can cause skin and feather issues and general failure to thrive.
Polyomavirus is a viral disease that may cause acute death in young birds, poor hatchability rates, feather deformities and weakness. See here for more information.
Female reproductive problems – problems laying eggs (dystocia/egg binding) or over production of eggs is commonly seen in female lovebirds. See here for more information.
Megabacteriosis (Avian Gastric Yeast infection) is seen with reasonable frequency in pet lovebirds. This is a yeast that lives in the stomach/intestines that can cause weight loss, food malabsorption and even sudden death.
Domestic violence. Inter-mate aggression is frequently seen between pairs of lovebirds, often with the female bullying the male. In serious cases this can cause injury and even death, but may be resolved by keeping the birds separately.
Polyfolliculosis, where multiple feathers emerge from one follicle, can be associated with itchiness and feather damaging behaviour in lovebirds. A viral infection may be involved.
Feather damaging behaviour – in particular directed at the delicate wing membranes – is common in lovebirds.
Epilepsy. Lovebirds can show seizures caused by epilepsy that may be controlled by medication.
Heavy metal toxicity and foreign body ingestion. Pet lovebirds are inquisitive and may chew at jewelry or other metallic objects which can be toxic. One lovebird brought to the clinic ate a small diamond out of an earring. Fortunately it was not toxic and eventually was passed in her droppings