Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus)

This is one of the Belgian wildlife photographer, Stéphane Bocca's, in total 5 sensational photos of the nominate subspecies, Kuhl's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis s. swindernianus), taken in the tropical rainforests of Ghana in 2009.

The unknown bird in human care

Much is said and written about the different Lovebird species (genus Agapornis), which have gained enormous popularity among aviculturists all over the world. However, this does not apply to the Black-collared Lovebird, which we - in our enlightened age - still know extremely little about. The little information that exists about the Black-collared Lovebird contributes to a certain mystery and great fascination, which is the reason why I have chosen to write a little about this particular species.


The 13 cm long Black-collared Lovebird was discovered in the wild as far back as 1820 (Kuhl) and later became known under the scientific name Agapornis swinderniana swinderniana. However, after a critical spelling review of scientific species names, the British Trust of Ornithology - on the basis of a grammatical reason since "Agapornis" is actually a masculinum noun - has chosen to change the scientific name to Agapornis swindernianus swindernianus, i.e. with a masculinum ending instead of a femininum ending. In the most recent biological taxonomy and nomenclature, the Black-collared Lovebird is now known under this new scientific name, which - together with similar changes to the names of other bird species - has given rise to great irritation in ornithological circles and, as an extension of this irritation, it is therefore proposed that it will not be accepted in the future to make grammatically justified changes to scientific names which have been in use for over 50 years.

Postage stamp from Liberia with motif of the nominate subspecies of Kuhl's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis s. swindernianus). Notice the pure yellow collar band below the black collar band.

One or two different subspecies?

According to the current biological taxonomy (see below), in addition to the nominate subspecies, two subspecies exist. However, certain authors of popular books on Lovebirds claim that only one subspecies is now recognized, namely Agapornis s. zenkeri, since Agapornis s. emini is considered to belong to this subspecies, but this is not in accordance with current scientific taxonomy.

According to "Howard & Moore's Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World", Vol. I, from spring 2013 as well as the latest version 4.1 (August 2018), "Errata and Corrigenda to Volume I", the species Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus) is divided into the following types:


  • Kuhl's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus swindernianus) - Kuhl, 1820 - which is the nominate subspecies that lives in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Following subspecies are recognized:
  • Zenker's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus zenkeri) – Reichenow, 1895 – originating from South East Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon to South West Central African Republic and Central Republic of the Congo. Differs i.a. from the nominate subspecies, in that the yellowish (brownish) neck band is instead orange-red and somewhat wider, in addition to which the beak is somewhat lighter horn-coloured.
  • Emin's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus emini) - Neumann, 1908 - which comes from Northern, Central and Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo including Western Uganda. It should be darker in color and have a larger - and more curved - beak.


The name, swindernianus, also comes from the German naturalist and zoologist, Heinrich Kuhl, who in 1820 (a year before his death at the age of 23 years) named the species after the Dutch professor Theodorus van Swinderen. The now two known subspecies live far from the nominate subspecies in the wild, which is also remarkable.

This is another of the Belgian wildlife photographer, Stéphane Bocca's, in total 5 sensational photos of the nominate subspecies, Kuhl's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis s. swindernianus), taken in the tropical rainforests of Ghana in 2009.

The Black Collared Lovebird dies in human care

Despite the fact that the Black-collared Lovebird has a very large distribution area in Africa (the western and central part of the continent near the Equator) it is the only Lovebird species that has never really been kept in human care, apart from a few exceptions. This species is said to have some very special requirements for food in the form of fresh figs, possibly even of a special type, and on top of that only the grains inside the fruit itself. There are thus only a few accounts of such birds kept in human care, and they have only could be kept alive for 3 - 4 days, as they did not want to take any other form of food, even though in some places you can read that the subspecies - in contrast to the nominate subspecies - have a different behaviour and sometimes leave the forest treetops to forage in millet and rice fields.


Gottlieb Gaiser and Bodo Ochs state in the book, "Die Agapornis-Arten und ihre Mutationen", that a Danish breeder in the 1980’s should have imported live Black-collared Lovebirds, which, however, did not survive the quarantine stay, which I have not been able to verify.


The Black-collared Lovebird is therefore still a mystery to Lovebird-interested aviculturists all over the world. It is thought-provoking, not least because the Lovebird genus (Agapornis) was established as a new genus by Selby already back in 1836 on the basis of a single dead specimen of precisely the Black-collared Lovebird.

Postage stamp from Uganda with a motif of the subspecies Zenker's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis s. zenkeri). Notice that on this subspecies the pure yellow collar band below the black collar band is replaced by an orange-red and somewhat wider collar band.

Lack of knowledge and images

For many years, aviculturists have been relegated to either (colour) drawings or photos of a very few and rather poor skinned (stuffed) specimens of the Black-collared Lovebird.


On the whole, the extent of both information about - and pictures of - the Black-collared Lovebird is extremely limited. According to professor emeritus Jon Fjeldså from the University of Copenhagen, the Natural History Museum, mentions that on page 154 of the book "Les Oiseaux du Zaire" (ISBN 90 209 06534), which was formally written by the former longtime dictator of Zaire - who died in 1997 - Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Bangi (it is unknown who actually is the author of the book), you can see a photo of a stuffed specimen of the Black-collared Lovebird.


You can also read about the Black-collared Lovebird in various handbooks, such as the "Handbook of Birds of the World", which gives a number of literature references about the species, see volume 4, page 410. According to Jon Fjeldså, the most important source is probably Chapin's "The Birds of Belgian Congo” (vol. 2), which has one page of text on the species, but still not much detail.

However, this much is known that the Black-collared Lovebird does not show dimorphism, i.e. that - like e.g. the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis) – there are no external, visible differences between the sexes. It is also known that the bird's juvenile plumage does not include the adult bird's black collar band, but in addition nothing is known about moulting towards adult plumage, nest conditions, eggs, etc. In general, this bird's way of life has not yet been mapped. According to professor Jon Fjeldså, the very limited knowledge is due to the fact that it is very difficult to conduct studies on birds that, like the Black-collared Lovebird, live exclusively in the treetops of tropical rainforests (jungle). It is significantly easier to study the other Agapornis species, which are predominantly found in open savanna environments. In addition, the almost eternal armed conflicts in the main distribution area in the DR Congo (formerly Zaire) are the reason that there are not many people who want to do ornithological fieldwork here.

The Natural History Museum in Copenhagen does not have skins nor stuffed specimens of the species, and is not aware of any stay of this species in human care. There have been several unsuccessful German expeditions which aimed to obtain further knowledge of the Black-collared Lovebird, but no photos have been produced for these expeditions.

At the same time, I have learned that a Danish “bird lover” should have seen a Black-collared Lovebird in the wild in March 2008 during a trip to Kakum National Park in Ghana, which took place after the same person had seen a stuffed specimen of the species at the Kenya National Museum in Nairobi. There is no information about a possible photo documentation in this connection.

This is a third of the Belgian wildlife photographer, Stéphane Bocca's, in total 5 sensational photos of the nominate subspecies, Kuhl's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis s. swindernianus), taken in the tropical rainforests of Ghana in 2009.

... finally, there is sensational news about the Black-collared Lovebird

The Black-collared Lovebird was categorized by BirdLife International in 2009 as a species which is not threatened with extinction (category "Least Concern").  This is not least related to the estimated enormous distribution area of 3,020,000 km2, to which are added factors such as biotope (dense forest area) and limited demographic development. The species is thus not threatened by human civilization, but, like 7 of the 8 other lovebird species, is listed on CITES list II (the only species that does not have this status is the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis).

Mankind have finally succeeded in taking photos of a living Kuhl's Black Collared Lovebird in the wild. Thus, the Belgian animal photographer Stéphane Bocca has taken a total of 5 photos of the nominate subspecies of the Kuhl's Black-collared Lovebird in the tropical rainforests of Ghana. The photos were published on April 26, 2009, and one of these photos is shown below. All 5 photos can be seen at The Internet Bird Collection. These are some absolutely fantastic photos of a live bird moving around in a treetop, and in one photo you can, among other things, see the bird spreads its tail feathers, which clearly shows the relationship with the other Agapornis species.

On the Internet site, The Internet Bird Collection, you can also see another sensational (unfortunately less clear) photo of the subspecies Zenker's Black-collared Lovebird taken in Uganda on April 6, 2007. This article also shows another photo of this subspecies taken in November 2022 in nature.

Almost 200 years had to pass from the time the Black-collared Lovebird was discovered in the wild until mankind succeeded in documenting its existence in the form of photos of living specimens. Let's hope that in the coming years we will gain even more knowledge about this still largely unknown bird species.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 23.12.2009 / 03.02.2024 



Here an almost brand-new photo (November 28, 2022) from the wild of probably the subspecies Zenker's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis s. zenkeri), taken by Gabriel Jamie, Monkoto village, Équateur, DR Congo. It is absolutely fantastic that it finally has been possible to get another photo from the wild of a live bird that belongs to one of the subspecies.