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Black-cheeked Lovebird

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Is the Black-cheeked Lovebird right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Black faced Lovebird

Scientific name: Agapornis nigrigenis

The basics:
The Black-cheeked Lovebird is one of the lost species of the eye-ring lovebird group, over-collected for the pet trade yet not recognized by most pet owners or bird breeders because it was hybridized, probably both knowingly and unknowingly, with the larger, more striking Masked Lovebird.

The Black-cheeked Lovebird is nearly endemic to Zambia, with a vulnerable population of some 10,000 wild birds. This upland species ranges from 600 to 1,000 meters, and it is protected from accidental hybridizing with the Masked Lovebird in the wild by deep gorges or inhospitable forests. Alas, it enjoys no such geographic protections in captivity, where it was recklessly bred with the larger species for many years. If you are offered a Black-cheeked Lovebird as a pet, on the condition that you never breed the bird because it may be a hybrid, accept that the breeder is working to restore a healthy, natural gene pool and do not go back on your word.

As with other eye-ring lovebirds, the female Black-cheek is a gifted interior decorator who brings twigs and other items to a natural tree cavity, in order to create an intricate structure within the natural nest.

Appearance:
Although both are eye ring lovebird species, a true Black-cheeked Lovebird in its natural colors can be distinguished from the Masked Lovebird because it lacks the bold yellow collar seen in its larger cousin.

Weight:
40 grams (1.4 oz.)

Average size:
13 - 14 centimeters (5.1 - 5.5 in.)

Lifespan:
10 - 15 years

Behavior / temperament:
Since the Black-cheeked Lovebird was wrongly lumped in with the Masked Lovebird by so many hobbyists for so long, it's safe to assume that their personality will be much like that of their larger relative. Be prepared for territory issues. A pair must have its own territory, with no other birds or pets kept in the cage or even allowed to touch the cage. Even the most loving single pet is likely to take exception to anyone putting their hands near or in the cage. Therefore, stick-training the bird so that it can ride in and out of the cage in style is essential.

Expect that even the most delightful baby hand-fed Black-cheeked Lovebird will lose its tameness if you don't play with the bird every single day. A neglected lovebird can develop the typical behavior problems of any parrot, including biting, shrieking, or feather plucking.

Housing:
A single Black-cheeked Lovebird that you want to remain tame should have a powder-coated metal cage, perhaps 24”w by 18”d by 24” h with ½ “ bar spacing, but it shouldn't be too awkward or too big for you to place a stick in the cage so the bird can “step up” on request and ride out into the open. You don't want the bird to become cage-bound, because you need to take your pet out every single day and play with it in a neutral area such as a playgym or even on your person, for at least an hour. If it's a hassle to remove your pet from the cage, and you let it go, your pet will probably lose its tameness rather quickly. A smaller cage and more time together is better than a bigger cage with less time together if you want to preserve the sweetness of your lovebird.

If you are worried about egg-binding and excessive broody behavior in a female Black-cheeked Lovebird, you may have to withhold a roost box and access to nesting materials, including twigs. Try more puzzle and foraging toys, and fewer hiding places or tree branches.

If you have a pair of Black-cheeked Lovebirds, who are bonded to each other, then you should absolutely get or build the largest flight you can manage. They need to exercise, to play, and to fly, but they will prefer to do it with each other, on their own territory, so be very generous. If you cannot find a large flight with sufficiently small bar spacing, you may have to have something custom-made, but it will be worth it.

Diet:
Black-cheeked Lovebirds may not accept the rich diet beloved by many other pet parrots. While some experts advise that you choose a pelleted diet, the reality may be that your lovebirds never accept it, unless they were raised to eat pellets or crumbles from the very beginning. A more realistic diet, for many individuals, will be a high-quality small seed mix, along with an excellent chopped salad containing lots of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables.

Here's a trick: Soak or actually sprout the seeds to create green, healthy salad with more nutritional value than just the plain seed. You can also offer a mixed cooked legume, grains, and rice dish. Never offer chocolate or avocado to the Black-cheeked Lovebird, as these foods are toxic to all parrots.

Check with your breeder, pet store, or vet about vitamin supplements, especially if your Black-cheeked Lovebird is a picky eater. There are reports of females dying of egg-binding, a condition sometimes linked to a vitamin A deficiency. Grated carrot or cooked yam or sweet potato may be an important ingredient in your bird's food bowl. Calcium deficiency may be another cause. In order to use dietary calcium, lovebirds need to be exposed to natural sunlight or full spectrum lighting, or some alternate source of vitamin D3.

Written by Elaine Radford

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