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Home » 2009 - Issue 2, Aviculture, Companion Parrots, Issue

Peach-faced Lovebirds

By Pauline James


The breeding season and what to expect

The breeding season usually begins with the male lovebird regurgitating to the female, on a regular basis. But it is the hen who is the dominant partner in the relationship, and it is often she who instigates this behaviour, by bobbing her head under his beak.

The pair will then become heavily involved in mutual preening.  The male may even go as far as meticulously pulling out a few feathers around the hen’s vent area - to allow easy access for mating, and to be sure of fertilising the eggs properly.

Mating takes place at any time of the day, usually on a favourite perch or on top of the nest-box.  The male will be seen strutting up and down the perch beside the female, in order to gain her attention.  This he does several times, before finally mounting her.  The hen will often remain locked in his grasp for as long as 20 minutes, and the pair will continue to mate, several times a day, over a period of 4-5 days.

There is no need to disturb the nest-box to see if or when an egg has been laid - this will be obvious if you closely observe the hen.  A day or two after the lovebirds are first seen mating, keep a watch on the hen’s lower abdomen just above the vent.  The day before she is due to lay, the bulge of an egg can be clearly seen low inside her.

The best time to move in to inspect the female closely is while she is busily stripping willow for her nest.  She will be concentrating single-mindedly on nest-building, and as long as she isn’t startled, won’t be too bothered by your presence.

Lovebird hens usually lay their eggs between dawn and lunchtime, and it is easy to confirm later in the day if the egg has been laid, by observing her flattened lower abdomen.  The vent will remain partially open and appear more prominent than usual, and muscular activity in the region will also be obvious.

In a day or two’s time another bulge will appear, and you can calculate the arrival of the second egg, and then the third, and so on.  Lovebirds generally lay their eggs every other day, although I have known the odd pair to produce eggs regularly every third day.  If a pair of lovebirds are producing 5-6 eggs in a clutch, it could therefore take the hen between 9-16 days to complete egg-laying.

Until the third egg is laid, the hen will spend most of her time actively nest building.  A Peach-faced hen will fill her rump up with nesting material and fly into the nest-box loaded up.  The males will generally strip the willow, and then drop each piece on the floor, taking no part in nesting activities.  Masked lovebirds of both sexes carry the nesting material to the box in their beaks - but the female builds the nest alone.

The hen usually begins full-time incubation on the arrival of the third egg.  This is nature’s way of ensuring that the eggs will all hatch within a few days of each other, giving the chicks a better chance of survival.  The first three eggs, if fertile, will hatch in close succession, and the remainder of the clutch will usually hatch at the rate at which the eggs were laid.

At this stage all nesting activity will suddenly come to a halt.  The hen will rarely be seen.  She will come out of the box only fleetingly, either to stretch her wings, defecate or perhaps to take a quick drink.  The male takes full responsibility for feeding her and will perch attentively outside the box, or sit inside next to her, in readiness to tend to her.

We can now calculate the approximate date when the first egg is due to hatch.  Day one, of the incubation period, begins on the arrival of the third egg, and not the first, as is sometimes thought - corresponding with when the hen begins full-time incubation.  The first egg generally hatches after 23 days, depending on the weather conditions.   In warmer weather the incubation period tends to be shorter, and in cooler weather the eggs take longer to hatch.

When the first egg hatches, the male will announce the fact by being extremely eager to feed.  He will be waiting for fresh food supplies to arrive in the morning and again in the evening, and will generally become much bolder in order to reach the rearing food as quickly as possible - sometimes even coming close to jumping on your hand.

The first food that he will consume at great pace first thing in the morning - when there are newly-hatched chicks in the nest - is the soft-egg mix, and he will feed on this until his crop is crammed full.

He will then wipe his beak clean on a perch, pause to take a beakful or two of water and then disappear into the nest-box to feed his family.  During the early stages, the male feeds the hen, who in turn feeds the youngsters.  After a little while, the male will return to the food pots, but this time to the seed, in order to satisfy the hen’s appetite.

At dusk, after all the other birds have gone to roost, a father will be seen still eating away until the very last minute.  He will fill his crop to almost bursting point, in his endeavour to satisfy his young family through the night.  At first light he will be back feeding again.  After the first five days, less eggfood is taken and greater quantities of soaked seed are consumed, along with fresh fruit and vegetables.

When 10 days have passed, the hen will suddenly be observed - for relatively long periods - out of the nest-box.  The chicks at this age are able to maintain their own body temperature and she no longer needs to incubate them full-time.  The hen will be seen feeding alongside the male and the pair will now take turns to feed the chicks.  The hen will also spend time replenishing the nest with fresh willow to keep it dry.

When all of these essential duties have been carried out, she will begin to relax and bathe.  Her feathers and skin will have become dusty and dirty after her long confinement in the nest-box, and she will enjoy spending time quietly preening, and freshening-up her feathers and hydrating her skin.

If none of this activity is observed at the calculated time, it is possible that the first egg or two are infertile.  If this is the case, then it could take up to 30 days for the third, and 31-32 days for the fourth eggs to hatch.  Do not be too eager to discard unhatched eggs.  I once had a hen who laid a clutch of three eggs, and the third egg hatched two weeks after the second.

Another pair of lovebirds in my aviaries produced two chicks, and when the youngsters were about two weeks old the adults suddenly started mating again and produced another two eggs, which duly hatched when the two older chicks were five weeks old.  This is a very unusual occurrence for lovebirds, but all the chicks were, miraculously, raised and weaned successfully.

Certainly the name of the game is patience.  Try not to interfere with the nest-box too much, and let the birds relax and enjoy the breeding season.  You can discover everything you want to know by just watching them.

Pauline James has been writing for the bird press in the UK, USA and Australia for the last 15 years.  Her special interests are lovebirds, cockatiels and parrots.  During the 1990s she collected all eight species of lovebirds kept in captivity, and enjoyed breeding most of the mutations that were available at that time.  She also kept a much loved mixed colony of cockatiels for many years too.

Much of Pauline’s recent leisure-time has been spent travelling, and she has enjoyed observing parrots and parrot-like birds in the wild, in India, Costa Rica, Kenya and Australia. She has now published her first book - Pauline James’s Compilation of Amazing, Hilarious and Poignant True Parrot Stories.’

This exceptional assortment of fully illustrated stories - including ‘African greys celebrate the full moon,’ ‘Brown-headed parrot grows a new beak,’ ‘A Dusky parrot’s amazing ingenuity,’ and ‘Macaws breeding at liberty in Surrey’ - is presented in a striking and colourful book that will entertain you from the first page to the last.

The book usually sells for  GBP£23.95 + p&p, but Pauline would like to offer it to readers of PI Press for the discounted price of GBP£19.95 including packaging and postage, within the UK, (GBP£4.95 extra - to cover the postage - for readers in Europe and GBP£6.95 for the rest of the world.)

Please send your order and cheque, made out directly to Pauline James at:  La Granja, Calle Malaga 42, El Burgo, Malaga 29420, Spain or email Pauline at: [email protected] - with the option of paying by credit card via Paypal.

Pauline James’s Compilation of Amazing, Hilarious and Poignant True Parrot Stories (Trafford Publishing) - £23.95 - ISBN 1-4251-5696-7
42 full-colour photos (32 black and white)
Superb laminated cover
131 pages - quality paper
10.75in x 8.25in

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