by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
In celebration of National Bird Day 2013, Barry Kent MacKay and Monica Engebretson — senior campaign associates for Born Free USA and lifelong bird enthusiasts — are taking turns in December and January to describe some of their favorite avian species. Below is the eighth installment, written by Monica.
For this week’s blog I have chosen two species from a genus that is extremely common in the exotic “pet” trade: Agapornis, better known as lovebirds. Specifically I want to write about two species who are near and dear to my heart: the Fischer’s lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) and the peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis), also known as the rosy-faced lovebird.
Because these species are so common in captivity and are small, I think people tend to forget that they are small parrots, that they exist in the wild and are the native species of other countries. Lovebirds are from Africa.
(Click image for larger version.)
The Fischer’s lovebird is native to northern Tanzania and the peach-faced to southwest Africa, including Namibia and Angola. Both are beautiful.
The Fischer's lovebird has a green back, chest and wings. Its neck is a golden yellow, and as it progresses upward it becomes a darker orange. The top of the head is olive green, and the beak is bright red. It has a white eye ring — a circle of bare skin around its eyes.
As the name suggests, the peach-faced lovebird has a peachy-pink forehead, face and throat, which contrast strikingly against its mostly green body and blue rump. The bill is beige-colored and there are no eye rings.
Before I get to why I said these species are near and dear to my heart, I want to share a fun natural history fact about them.
While most birds carry nest material in their bills or feet, peach-faced lovebirds tear raw-nesting materials into long strips and tuck them into their rump feathers, then fly to the nest with the strips in tow.
Other lovebirds, including the Fisher’s lovebird, carry nesting materials one strip at a time in their bill, which is more typical for birds — although some birds do carry nesting material with their feet.
(Click image for larger version.)
The difference in nest-building seems to be genetically determined rather than learned. While in captivity Fischer’s and peach-faced lovebirds can build nests — each carrying material in their own way — their offspring, hybrids, typically fail at nest building. Hybrids will tear strips and attempt to tuck strips into their rump feathers, but fail to do so correctly because they hold the strip in the middle (as they would if they were going to fly with it in their beak), but then try to tuck it in their rump feathers and do so incorrectly (in order to get a proper “tuck” the strip must be held at the end). As a result, the hybrid gives up or most of the strips do not reach the nest.
Now, back to why I chose to blog about these two this week. It was individuals from this species who first awakened my awareness about the plight of birds in captivity.
I received a Fischer’s lovebird as a gift on my 14th birthday. Within weeks of receiving this gift I realized how inappropriate a life in a cage was for this lively little bird who I had named Cupid. The guilt of keeping Cupid confined eventually led me to allow him to remain out of his cage all day to have free run of my bedroom — which required vigilant cleaning (as Cupid pooped everywhere) and sacrifice of certain bedroom items — birds like to chew and Cupid was also fond of shoving things off shelves, squawking in great delight and self-satisfaction when said items would hit the floor.
While in college, I began to consider that birds are flock animals and that Cupid would benefit from a companion. As a result I purchased a peach-faced lovebird from a breeder, not realizing at the time that I could have rescued a bird or that by purchasing from a breeder I was supporting the creation and trade in animals whose needs would most likely never be met in captivity. Live and learn.
I named the bird Kenya, a nod to a country of her native continent, and she and Cupid were fast friends and spent many years destroying my bedroom together. I provided the best care I could for them for the duration of their lives, but always aware that whatever I provided for them was substandard to the lives they were meant to live as wild birds in their native Africa.
My experience with them is reflected in the theme of National Bird Day and in the information provided on the website that encourages those who have birds to provide the best possible care while supporting the idea that birds are more beautiful wild.