“ Animal Species: Birds „
*The picture on the product page is of my pair of Lovebirds, Angel and Spike*
As a nation we keep many members of the parrot family in homes, from the stupendously popular (and reasonably cheap) budgie to the large and intelligent amazons (that can cost over 1000GBP). Now I couldn't quite afford to buy one of the larger parrots and couldn't really provide one the kind of home it deserved (I have several other pets and some children), but when I researched Lovebirds, I was kind of taken by the idea that they had the intelligence and attitude of the larger parrots, only in a smaller package. Further research pointed me towards the Peach faced (aka rosy-faced) Lovebirds, as these were more common than other varieties, and all the literature I could find said they were easier to tame.
---A bit about Peachfaced Lovebirds---
Although Peachfaced Lovebirds originate from Africa any bird bought today is likely to have been hatched in captivity, as are it's ancestors for many generations. Size-wise they are approximately the same height as a budgie (at about 16cm) but are of a much heavier build and weigh in at about 40-60g. There are literally hundreds of different colour mutations, but the most common is a green body with a short brilliant blue tail and a peach coloured head. Both of my birds have the most common colouration, but they have different shades of peach on their heads, one is much redder than the other. One thing that is really noticeable about Lovebirds is how big their beaks are, for such a small bird, they have very large and strong beaks that actually look out of proportion with their bodies. Another thing that I've noticed about the birds is their personality, they may be small, but they don't let that get in their way, they can be very aggressive and I don't allow them to mix with any of my other birds (even the much larger cockatiels), they are also inquisitive and can be quite destructive. For such a small bird they can make any amazing amount of noise, my pair are almost constantly chattering to each other, and also have a high pitched, metallic trill that can travel throughout the whole house. Although Lovebirds can learn to imitate sounds and even a few words, they are not the most skilled at this and should NOT be bought for their talking ability. Lovebirds also have a relatively long lifespan and can live to over 20 years in captivity.
Before I even thought about buying any birds I spent time researching how they should be housed. There are many different types of cage available, but as with any pet the rule of thumb is the bigger the better, I bought the largest cage that I could both afford and fit in the available space. Personally I would recommend a cage with metal bars (mine is brass), rather than plastic coated as Lovebirds tend to bite on everything in the cage. Never buy a cage made of galvanised zinc, as the zinc is poisonous to the birds and tends to form droplets that they may eat. The cage should be placed in an draught-free area of the house where the birds will be in the middle of family life and I would try to ensure that the cage is NOT above your eye-level (the higher the bird's perch the higher up it is in the pecking order). I would also recommend that you buy a cage with a sliding sand tray, as this makes cleaning easier, although I didn't actually do this as my birds have daily flying time which I use to clean the cage. Just as important as the actual cage is ensuring that it is suitably furnished. I find that most cages come with unsuitable plastic perches, which I would immediately replace with some made of wood. Natural branches make the best perches, and if you have an apple tree in your garden then this would be ideal, just make sure you wash any branches before installing them in the cage. Sadly, I don't have any suitable trees in my garden, but I've found a shop that sells natural perches at a very reasonable price. You'll need at least two perches in the cage and they should be of different thickness so that the bird's feet are exercised. You'll also need to supply a cuttlebone and mineral block which are both appreciated by the birds, along with the standard of food and water containers.
As I've said before Lovebirds are very inquisitive birds, they are also constantly looking for things to explore. For this reason my pair have many toys in their cage, both hanging from the top and on the floor. When buying their toys, they should be sturdy enough to withstand powerful beaks and made of safe materials. Toys that are marketed for budgies are just not suitable as they will be destroyed very quickly. I personally find that the best toys are those made of wooden blocks hung on rope that attach to the cage bars with a metal fastening. My pair also like metal bells, or anything else that makes a lot of noise, along with a swing (also made of wood). As they are so intelligent I have more toys than will actually fit in the cage and swap them around on a weekly basis, and as they are so destructive all toys need to be checked daily to make sure that they're still safe. One thing they do that really shows just how intelligent they are, is they undo the catches on their toys, so these also need checking (and doing back up) daily.
As well as keeping them entertained in the cage, it's important to give the birds daily flying time (even if they're not actually doing that much flying). As they are so intelligent you need to take some time making sure their flying area is safe (both for them and from them). They will explore everything and can get into trouble if they're not watched constantly, I've caught my pair trying to get into the other bird's cages and hanging from the lampshades. They also bite on doorframes and of course they're not shy about leaving little presents around the room.
The bulk of a Lovebird's diet should come from either a seed or pellet mix. Now, in all the time I've owned my pair, I've never come across a mix that's specifically aimed at Lovebirds, so what you should be looking for is a good quality cockatiel mix. As my pair were already eating a seed mix when I bought them, this is what I continue to feed them along with a variety of other "people" foods. To supplement the seeds I prepare a cooked mix of wholegrain rice, pasta, hard-boiled egg (including the shell) and vegetables (it's best to cook this in bulk and then freeze in ice-cube trays) that they enjoy on a daily basis, along with a little fresh fruit (never give apple pips as they are poisonous). A few foods you should never give your birds include aubergine (eggplant), chocolate, coffee and alcohol. Along with the staple food-stuffs, Lovebirds enjoy many treats, including commercial seed bars. Along with plenty of food, it's important that the birds have a constant supply of fresh water, and you may find yourself having to change this several times a day as they enjoy throwing and dipping food in the water.
Along with food, water and entertainment Lovebirds require an amount of general care, some of which needs to be done daily. Their cage needs to be kept in a clean condition, especially as the can be very messy. It is, of course, easier to keep the base clean if you line it, and there are two methods of doing this. The first is to use commercial sandpaper, but although this is convenient it's not really the kindest thing on your bird's feet. Personally, I prefer to line the base with newspaper (black and white only, as some coloured inks are poisonous) and then sprinkle this with bird sand. This has several advantages, bird sand normally contains ground shell that supplements calcium levels, it cushions the bird's feet as they land and makes spot cleaning far easier. The actual cage needs a good clean out at least weekly, but normally more often, I generally find my cage needs cleaning approximately twice a week and I use a specialist cage disinfectant.
Lovebirds also appreciate a bath or shower every other day or so, I find this not only helps them keep their feathers in top condition, but is something they enjoy. Another thing that is needed is a cover for the cage, Lovebirds require approximately 12 hours of darkness each night. I found that even with the lights off, they still weren't getting the sleep they needed, and only a cover settled them for the night. A little word of warning, they might whine when they're first covered, mine did, and it sounded so sweet almost as if they were begging to be allowed to stay up late.
If they're kept in clean conditions and fed at least a reasonable diet, Lovebirds are very hardy and unlikely to get ill. Saying this, it's still a good idea to make contact with an avian vet (one that specialises in birds), before buying them, and to even take them for a well-bird check once you first bring them home. Once they've settled in there are a few signs that a Lovebird is not feeling as well as it could. A decrease in activity, fluffed feathers and watery stools are all warning signs as is a discharge from the eyes or nostrils. Being so small if they are going to become seriously ill, it's something that will happen very quickly, so it's important to get them seen by a vet as soon as you see any symptoms.
Along with serious illnesses, you should keep an eye on your bird's feet (over-long nails can be trimmed with claw clippers) and their beaks (over-grown beaks will need to be trimmed by a vet), although any problems with these can be prevented by ensuring that the birds have something to sharpen their beaks on (cuttlebone, wooden toys) and wooden perches to help keep their nails trimmed.
In my experience, Lovebirds are not the easiest bird to either tame or train. From what I've read, a single hand-reared bird is easier to tame, but as I have a pair of parent-reared I can only give you my experience with that situation, however the process is the same (if a lot slower). The first hurdle in taming your bird is to get it to trust you, for me this means I spent a lot of time, simply talking to the birds in a calm voice, along with offering them some millet spray. Once they started accepting the millet spray from my hand, I progressed to moving my hand closer to them, until they had to step on it to get the treat. Now this has taken me a couple of months, and I'm now working on teaching them to "step-up" onto my finger.
If you're thinking of buying a Lovebird in the hopes of teaching it to talk, then think again. Although it is possible for Lovebirds to learn to imitate words, it's not that common and their voices are very unclear. They are much better at imitating high-pitched sounds such as an alarm or ringing telephone, but they will only do this if they want to. The best plan of action is to spend some time talking and interacting with them each day and then it's a bonus if they do talk back.
---One Lovebird or Two?---
Although it's perfectly possible to keep a single Lovebird, and keep it as a companion bird where you are it's "flock", if you did this you would be missing out on the way two will interact with each other. I purposely decided on keeping a pair, as I felt that they would be far happy that way, and although my two have little scraps, watching one of them feeding the other, or the pair cuddled up on a perch together only reinforces the feeling that I made the right choice. If you do decide to keep a single Lovebird, then you please make sure you have enough time to spend with it.
---Buying A Lovebird---
If I've not put you off so far, maybe you'd like some advice on buying these little parrots. There are two routes you can take, a pet shop or breeder, personally I would recommend that you buy from a breeder, as you are then able to see the bird's parents and will have more information on the age of the bird. However, whichever route you choose, you should ensure that the premises are clean and that the birds appear to be in good health. Look for birds that appear sturdy with shiny feathers and no discharge from the eyes or nostrils, ask what food they've been given and make sure they've been weaned. The birds should also be active (believe me Lovebirds are very active) and naturally shy of strangers. One thing you're unlikely to be able to do, is choose which sex you will be getting, there is only one way of telling what sex a baby Peachface is, and that is by DNA testing. Once they are older there are signs that point to male or female, but even they aren't guaranteed. As far as prices go, I've found that they range from £30 upwards for a single bird, but don't forget you will need to buy all the necessary equipment that comes in at another £100 (at least).
---Lovebirds and Our Health---
I find watching the Lovebirds extremely therapeutic, and even on those days when I'm at my lowest, they can raise a smile. There is, however, a flip-side, they are birds and they do shed feathers, therefore if you suffer from asthma there is a chance that you will be allergic to them, and considering their long lifespan this is something you should consider before you even think of letting them into your home.
---Why the names Angel and Spike?---
As a big Buffy fan, most of my birds (and other pets) have Buffy themed names, but in this pairs case the names are perfect. They can go from being little angels, cuddling up together, feeding and preening each other to little monsters. Their darker side includes fighting, destroying their toys and throwing seed at me when they think I'm not paying them enough attention. But through it all they are just so entertaining.
Peachfaced Lovebirds are definitely little parrots with a big attitude, and as such I don't really see them as a first bird. It's tempting to think of them as an stepping stone to the bigger parrots, thinking that maybe they don't need as much care, whereas they need just as much stimulation as those larger birds. That's not to say that I don't recommend them, because I do, for all their naughtiness and noise, they are wonderful to both watch and interact with. They are far more active and intelligent than either budgies or cockatiels and I often find myself laughing at their antics. Just be prepared for the mess and disruption and they fabulous new friends.