Lilian’s lovebird (Agapornis lilianae)

Also known as: Nyasa lovebird
French: Inséparable de Lilian
GenusAgapornis (1)
SizeLength: 14 cm (2)
Weight28 -37 g (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The beautifully colourful plumage of this small parrot may be its downfall, as it faces the constant threat of capture for the cage-bird trade. Adult Lilian’s lovebirds have a largely green body, with an orangey-red forehead and throat, blending into salmon-pink on the crown, face and upper breast (4). The hooked bill, suited to feeding on seeds (5), is bright red, and its eyes are dark red to brown (4). The narrow, pointed wings enable the lovebird to fly with both speed and manoeuvrability (5), and their high-pitched, twittering call can be heard in flight or when perched on a tree. Young Lilian’s lovebirds are generally duller than adults, with a slight black wash on the cheeks and a black base to the bill (4).

Isolated populations of Lilian’s lovebirds occur in southern Tanzania, north-west Mozambique, Malawi, south-eastern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe (2) (6).

Lilian’s lovebirds are often found in woodlands of mopane trees (Colophospermum mopane), but also inhabit Acacia woodlands on flood plains, forest bordering rivers and lakes, and, in the north of the range, fig trees (2).

This brightly coloured lovebird has a gregarious nature and is usually observed in small groups, although sometimes up to 100 may gather (7). These large flocks only occur during winter, when the birds are not breeding (8). Lilian’s lovebirds feed primarily on grass seed, particularly millet and sorghum seeds, which is picked off the ground, or plucked from the ripening heads of plants (7). These small birds also tend to tear open the sheaths of maize cobs, to feed on the grains developing inside, causing considerable damage to the cereal plots in the process. Lilian’s lovebirds also require a regular supply of drinking water, and may visit water to drink four or five times a day in dry weather (7).

Lovebirds are monogamous (7), and get their name from the strong bond which forms between a male and female. Pairs of lovebirds spend much of their time close together, regularly preening each others feathers (5). Lilian’s lovebirds nest in colonies and either build roofed nests in crevices in mopane trees, or use an old nest of a white-billed buffalo weaver (2), although nests situated in the roofs of buildings have also been recorded (8). In Zambia, two breeding peaks have been observed for Lilian’s lovebird; January to March and June to July; while in Malawi it is thought to lay eggs in January and February. In captivity, Lilian’s lovebird has laid three to eight eggs at a time and incubates the eggs for around 22 days. The young chicks stay in the nest for around 44 days after hatching (2).

While in many parts of its range, Lilian’s lovebird is thought to still be common (2) (6), the total population has been significantly reduced by habitat loss and exploitation. A large section of the Zambezi Valley was recently flooded, destroying suitable habitat for the lovebird, and the construction of the Cahorra Bassa Dam in Mozambique may have had similar impacts (6). Like many other lovebirds, this stunning bird is captured, both legally and illegally, for the local and international cage-bird trade. In addition, the cereal-eating lovebird is considered a pest by farmers, and is persecuted as a result (4) (6).

Lilian’s lovebird is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade should be carefully monitored to ensure it is compatible with the species’ survival (3). This species has also been recorded from several protected areas, including Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe (9), and Liwonde National Park in Malawi (10). However, these areas can still be affected by dam construction and illegal poaching (9) (10), and thus stricter management may be required to prevent any further declines of the beautiful Lilian’s lovebird.

For further information on Lilian’s lovebird, other parrots and their conservation see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (14/05/08) by Professor Mike Perrin, Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation, School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. and

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)