The Masked Lovebird is properly called the Yellow collared Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) and is a member of the lovebird division of the parrot family. They are native to north-eastern Tanzania in Africa and have been introduced to neighbouring Burundi ad Kenya. They were first found in the 1800s but importing of the birds for aviculture did not start until the 1920s.
The wild form of the bird is mainly green with upper parts darker than lower. Its head is black and has a bright red beak with white eye rings. The breast is yellow up to around the nape of the neck. They are typically 5.5incches or 14cm in length. Their lifespan is usually around 15 years.
The birds cannot be sexed visually, though an expert can usually sex them by feeling the pelvic bone that will be larger on the female than the male.
In captivity, a wonderful array of mutations have been produced including light, dark and olive green colours, mauve, sky blue and cobalt blue as well as pastel birds, lutinos and albinos. The blue mutation has naturally occurred in the wild populations also.
In comparison to some of their cousins, particularly the Peach faced Lovebird, the Masked is the less aggressive species and can live with other types of birds of a similar size. They can hybridize with other species of lovebirds so tend to be kept away from them but can happily live with birds such as red-rumped parrots, Kakarikis and Cockatiels.
If they are being kept in a cage indoors, they will need plenty of interaction with their humans as do not tolerate being solitary well. The other option is to make sure they have a mate who they can lavish some of their attention on. Taming a solitary bird is easier but this will also be more dependent on you so you need to balance up if you have the time to spend with the little bird. If they are not given the attention they need, this can lead to aggressive, screaming and behavioural problems. They can also be jealous of other birds and pets so caution is needed in allowing birds to socialise together.
It is worth noting that just because these are small parrots, this doesn’t equate to being quiet and a lovebird or two can produce a significant amount of noise. This is something to take into account when deciding if to buy one or more.
They will live indoors and outdoors but need a spacious cage to occupy or a good sized aviary. They are excellent fliers but prefer to climb everywhere like many parrot family species so a cage is better to be higher than it is wide to accommodate this preference. Both cages and aviaries will need to be made from very strong mesh or metal as these little birds have a prodigious chewing ability and can easily chew through wood. Plants aren’t needed around them either, unless you are aiming for them to chew them to pieces, as this is what they will do.
Natural perches are a good idea in cages because the birds can chew them and satisfy their natural use to do this. Different diameters are important for foot health and to keep them occupied. They also like toys, which again will be chewed. These birds are very good at escaping from their enclosures, so make sure you take all precautions to avoid this happening! They also love to shred up paper that can be put in their cage for this reason but when they are out, make sure you hide important documents or you may never recover them again.
Lovebirds in general can be susceptible to illness such as aspergillosis, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and bacterial infections so any sign of illness, always consult a vet at the earliest opportunity.
There are some good lovebird seed mixtures available that need to be supplemented with fruit, vegetables and weeds. They have a tendency to eat too much seed, which isn’t the nest option for their health so it is often down to their owner to put them on a ‘diet’ of sorts.
Grit should always be available to them along with fresh water.
One problem with their seed obsession can be vitamin A and calcium deficiencies as seeds are high in fat, and this can lead to obesity. One way to combat this is to make sure they get plenty of green leafy vegetables and those with something called beta carotene in, typically red or orange fruits and vegetables as this is a natural nutrient provider. Sprouted seed is another way, as by sprouting it, the larger amount of fat is consumed but the good benefits of the seed are still present.
It is not advisable to breed these birds before they are at least 12 months old but once a suitable pair have accepted each other, a nest box measuring 10 inches square by 12 inches high will be adequate. They use coarse materials around themselves to build the nest and have been known to chew up the wood of their enclosure to use as nesting. They will also appreciate willow branches, slivers of corn or maize husk and other nesting materials to shred up and add as they feel.
Three or four eggs are laid and incubated by the female for around 18-20 days. They fledge at 45 days and are fed by the parents for around another two weeks. After this, the parents may become aggressive towards the young as a threat to future broods and the young may need to be moved to other accommodation.
Lovebirds are busy little birds, full of activity and always climbing around and chewing. They can be noisy so may not be suitable for everyone but if you bond well with them, they make an affectionate and intelligent pet. If you choose to have a pair, then you can experience the ‘love’ that the lovebirds are known for; their affection behaviour towards each other.