Black-cheeked Lovebird – theme species purity

A particular problem with what colour the upper rump of the Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) should have, causes headaches among serious breeders of this very popular Lovebird species.


A couple of aviculturists have contacted me to ask if I can elaborate on the issue concerning the colour of the upper rump (upper tail coverts) of the wild-coloured Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis), see separate article on this at At the same time, I have been invited to tell how I have handled the mentioned problem in relation to my own birds. In what follows, I will address both of these topics.

Years ago - in the 1970’s - I had this beautiful representative of the genus Lovebirds (Agapornis), and I was therefore very much looking forward to reacquiring this species. In contrast to what applies to the Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), where the best specimens have until recently only been seen abroad, through contacts in specialist circles I had received the good advice to concentrate on the Danish strains of the Black-cheeked Lovebird, if I were to be sure of getting purebred birds of the best quality. As you know, the presence of blue feathers on the upper rump of the Black-cheeked Lovebird is a clear sign of hybridization, and I would naturally avoid that by buying the best birds from the start.

Several years ago, I then bought a total of approximately 30 closed-ringed young birds from 3 different Danish breeders whom I had been recommended, and who are all known for having some of the country's best birds of this species; one of the breeders could state that his strain has not been under the genetic influence of birds coming from outside over a number of years. My joy over these birds was great, as they in all respects appeared to be completely pure species in their phenotype (plumage appearance).

The issue is noted

In connection with the purchase, I had gained complete information over the possible kinship of the young birds, as I had been informed by the sellers of the mutual relationships of the parent birds in order to subsequently avoid pairing closely related birds with each other. After a successful quarantine period, I was able to put all the birds together in a large aviary, where they were allowed to spend the winter. Time passed and one day in early spring I stood observing some of these birds in their outdoor aviary. I noticed that some of the birds seemed to have a bluish - or rather - turquoise tinge on their upper rump, but I did not immediately take note of this. A few days later I made the same observation. I then captured a number of the birds and examined them more closely. In the back of the mind was the knowledge that hybridization between the various Lovebird species in human care (not least those with white eye rings) has been known for years, to which is added that the situation has become more complex over recent years in line with the spread of the so-called transmutations.

My astonishment was therefore great when my investigation showed that it was not just a case of a turquoise tinge, as virtually all of the purchased birds had larger or smaller areas ("stains") with bluish - or rather - turquoise feathers on the upper rump. As all the birds in phenotype completely resembled pure Black-cheeked Lovebirds, I investigated in both scientific works and in the specialized literature on keeping Lovebirds as cage birds whether there was anything more detailed about this, which turned out not to be the case.

I therefore sought help from the natural sciences, namely from the Natural History Museum of Denmark - University of Copenhagen - from the internationally recognized professor emeritus, Jon Fjeldså, where I asked about this problem, cf. separate article on Black-cheeked Lovebird at www. At the time in question, I did not have professional digital photo equipment, which is why I used 4 randomly selected colour photos from the internet (see the original article on Black-cheeked Lovebird) to illustrate the problem to the Natural History Museum of Denmark - University of Copenhagen. One of these 4 photos was taken in daylight and shows the upper rump of a Black-cheeked Lovebird belonging to a foreign aviculturist, and when taking the remaining 3 photos, the photographers in question used flash light.

I then waited for feedback from the Natural History Museum of Denmark - University of Copenhagen - and it subsequently came in the form of a presumption that the turquoise feather areas are due to a change in the ultrastructure of the feathers that had occurred in human care, cf. above.

I just had to "chew" a little on this feedback, since it only was a matter of conjecture, but on the contrary, the museum's statement indicated a change in the ultrastructure of the feathers that had occurred in human care as a result of hybridization. As I have always attached great importance to all my birds being of the highest quality, I then made the difficult decision to get rid of the birds that showed clear signs of turquoise feather areas on the upper rump. It was then my intention that the remaining birds (if I could not acquire other birds without turquoise feather areas on the upper rump) should be used to selectively - over several generations - try to breed specimens with a pure green upper rump without turquoise feathers. However, the start has turned out to be much more difficult than I had hoped. When I had finished sorting the originally purchased, a total of approximately 30 closed-ringed birds from leading Danish breeding stocks, I was left with only 4 birds. In addition, there were 3 selected young birds, which were the offspring of the 30 birds. The other offspring were also discarded.


The characteristic of the remaining 7 birds was that, in contrast to the birds that were sorted out, they only showed very limited - or almost no - signs of turquoise feathers. However, these birds still had turquoise feathers, so when is a Black-cheeked Lovebird actually pure species - how big or how many turquoise feather areas can be tolerated on the upper rump? …. in my opinion: None!

Documentation for the problem

It is the remaining 7 birds that form the starting point for the following review of the problem, i.e. the specimens that have the fewest and smallest turquoise feather areas. The starting point for this review is a series of new colour photos that I have taken of some of the birds with my then newly purchased digital camera. These colour photos were taken on Sunday, October 17, 2009, and were taken under open skies at a time (around 3:45 PM) when the sun was hidden behind clouds. Some of these photos were taken in existing daylight (where the sun was hidden behind clouds) and other photos were taken in the same location but using flash. A selection of these photos can be seen below (the photos marked with a “B” were taken with flash). As can be seen from these photos, the turquoise feather areas on the birds’ upper rump are visible even in normal daylight, but become especially visible when the bird is exposed to flash (or direct sunlight).

The photos below are all taken from an oblique angle where it is clearer to observe the abnormality:

The recording of the above photos gave me a new opportunity to study the birds’ upper rump more closely. Here again I found that it is not a "general" or "evenly spread or distributed" turquoise sheen on the entire upper rump. These are distinct - larger or smaller - turquoise feather areas in various places on the upper rump. You can clearly see this when you stand with the individual bird in your hand, turn it, and here it becomes clear that the turquoise colour can come from different feather areas on the birds’ upper rump. It must also be emphasized again that the turquoise feather areas were significantly larger and/or more obvious on the many birds that I sorted out.

The presence of turquoise feather areas in different places on the upper rump of the Black-cheeked Lovebird seems completely wrong, as it is precisely different areas and not a clearly defined area or a general sheen. This is the reason why I have previously stated that there is still breeding work to be done on this species, if the stock of Black-cheeked Lovebirds is to be considered the best.

In various specialist literature, it is also stated that the upper rump (upper tail coverts) of the Black-cheeked Lovebird must have the same green colour as the bird's back. The funny thing is that I can't recall at any time seeing birds with turquoise feather areas or shades up the very back, neither in nature nor in colour photos.

The spread of the problem

In 2009 and 2010 I again visited a number of the autumn bird exhibitions in both Denmark and Europe, i.a. "BVA Masters 2010" in September 2010 in Belgium. Here I have again seen many wild-coloured Black-cheeked Lovebirds, which in terms of phenotype appear to be completely pure species, but where both a turquoise tinge appeared, just as on a large number of birds larger or smaller turquoise feather areas appeared in different places on the upper rump. These turquoise feather areas could even be seen when the birds were observed under ordinary ceiling lighting in the form of neon armatures.


It is quite thought-provoking that a very large number of specimens of this species in human care exhibit decidedly turquoise feather areas, and it is thus not an isolated Danish problem.

What do foreign countries say?

The question of the presence of both bluish and turquoise feather areas on the Black-cheeked Lovebird's upper rump is also being discussed in other European countries. Among serious German breeders, Black-cheeked Lovebirds that have just hints of bluish or turquoise feathering on the upper rump are considered hybrid birds.

In connection with my research, I have, among other things, been in dialogue with the well-known German nature photographer, etc., Eckhard Lietzow. As a professional nature photographer, he has over the years taken countless photos of the Black-cheeked Lovebird, partly photos taken of specimens in human care, partly photos taken of birds in the wild. With Eckhard Lietzow's personal permission, has been allowed to show a few examples of both parts, cf. below. In addition to being a fantastic nature photographer, Eckhard Lietzow is also knowledgeable about parrots, not least Lovebirds, and he is, among other things, co-author of several parrot books as well as author of a number of impressive articles about Lovebirds in German journals.

I presented Eckhard Lietzow with the above photos (photos 1 - 8) of my birds, and in this connection, he stated that he was of the opinion that no bluish or turquoise tones should appear on the upper rump when this area on the bird is observed in direct daylight.

According to Eckhard Lietzow, how the Black-cheeked Lovebird looks in a photo to a large extent depends on how the lighting is organized. After photographing countless Black-cheeked Lovebirds in human care, his conclusion is that among aviculturists there are still specimens which, under normal lighting conditions, do not show any bluish or turquoise tones on either the upper rump (upper tail coverts) or the back. As an example, below is a photo taken by Eckhard Lietzow showing a Black-cheeked Lovebird without any turquoise or bluish tones (this photo was taken with a macro lens using direct flash light):

Photo no. 9 - bird no. 5 (B):

Photo of the upper rump of a Black-cheeked Lovebird taken by the well-known German nature photographer Eckhard Lietzow with one of his professional digital cameras. The photo was taken with a macro lens and using flash, and here we see a completely green upper rump on a Black-cheeked Lovebird. Eckhard Lietzow is of the opinion that Black-cheeked Lovebirds in human care when viewed in moderate sunlight or in artificial lighting (flash) must be green and must not show any mere hint of feathers with bluish or turquoise tints.

The above-mentioned photo, which Eckhardt Lietzow has recorded for, documents that in human care there still exist Black-cheeked Lovebirds with a pure green upper bill, i.e. without any bluish or turquoise feather areas.

What does the Black-cheeked Lovebird look like in the wild?

As already mentioned, Eckhard Lietzow has also recorded a large number of colour photos of Black-cheeked Lovebirds in the wild, namely in its African homeland of Zambia. According to Eckhard Lietzow, you see a turquoise glow on the upper rump of the wild Black-cheeked Lovebirds under certain lighting conditions, cf. the photo below. Eckhard Lietzow stated that the turquoise tones that can be seen in certain situations on Black-cheeked Lovebirds probably best can be compared to the changes that can be seen especially in the visible plumage colours of the Peacock (Pavo cristatus). Through the different incidence angles of the light and the associated reflections, the Peacock's plumage colours change dramatically, which is especially true in relation to the male bird. However, the Black-cheeked Lovebirds, which are found in the wild according to Eckhard Lietzow do not have turquoise feather areas, but due to the strong sunlight that falls obliquely on the birds, turquoise-coloured effects - a turquoise glow - are actually formed on the upper rump (overhead covert feathers), even though these birds do not have turquoise feather areas.

Photo of wild-coloured Black-cheeked Lovebirds at a watering hole in Africa in its native Zambia, Africa, taken by the well-known German nature photographer Eckhard Lietzow. In the strong sunlight, some of the birds show a turquoise glow on the upper side of the tail. Eckhard Lietzow has marked the turquoise tinge on some of the birds with red arrows, but it is his opinion that there must be neither blue nor turquoise colours on the upper rump or on the back of this species. In nature, feathers with such colours were not to be seen on the birds. Eckhard Lietzow is of the opinion that a turquoise tinge can be seen in wild Black-cheeked Lovebirds under certain types of lighting, but the birds neither have blue nor turquoise feather areas.


In my opinion, in aviculturist circles, until now, people have not been sufficiently critical in relation to the colour of the upper rump of the wild-coloured Black-cheeked Lovebird, which perhaps - in addition to a lack of recognition - also can be due to the fact that many breeders today have so much focus on colour mutations. Thus, I am convinced that there are many owners of Black-cheeked Lovebirds who - if they examine the upper rump colour of their wild-coloured birds thoroughly - will find larger or smaller areas of turquoise feathers.

Based on the above statement from the Natural History Museum of Denmark - University of Copenhagen - as well as the statements from a capacity such as Eckhard Lietzow, it is also my own opinion that there must be no blue or turquoise feathers on the upper rump (upper tail coverts) and back of the Black-cheeked Lovebird. In nature, according to Eckhard Lietzow, these plumage colours are clearly not visible on the birds either, but even among wild specimens, under certain lighting conditions (seen from different angles in bright sunlight) a turquoise tinge can appear on the upper rump of the Black-cheeked Lovebirds.

There is a big difference between a "turquoise tinge" and definite "turquoise plumage areas" and the latter does not live up to the quality requirements that I set for my Black-cheeked Lovebirds. Therefore, over the coming time, I will continue to select individual birds - if possible, completely without these turquoise feather areas - alternatively with a very small turquoise feather area, so that through selective breeding I may eventually be able to breed birds with a completely green upper rump. In addition, I will of course continue my search for new Black-cheeked Lovebirds with pure green upper rump, but I am afraid that in our latitudes I will not be able to find stocks without turquoise plumage, but only single birds.

As is well known, the Black-cheeked Lovebird is by far the rarest Lovebird species in the wild, and it is therefore important that all serious aviculturists work together to maintain completely pure specimens in human care for the sake of the continued existence of the species.

If there are readers of this article who own adult Black-cheeked Lovebirds without turquoise feather areas, you are very welcome to contact me, as I am extremely interested in this issue.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 15.03.2010 / 19.02.2024