Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri)

The Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) is a stunningly beautiful sight, and it is completely understandable that over the years it has become so widespread among aviculturists. Photo from the internet.

When reality surpasses imagination

Every once in a while, reality surpasses one's imagination, and this fantastically beautiful bird species is a unique example of that. However, the splendor of colour has also come at a very high price for the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), as its natural population has declined quite significantly over the past several years, as it has been highly sought after precisely because of its colours.

It was the German doctor and explorer, dr. Gustav Adolf Fischer, who on his last expedition in 1877 discovered this species in Ussure in the country that is now called Tanzania. It happened on the same trip where he also discovered the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus). Ten years later, in 1887, the species was described by the German ornithologist, Anton Reichenow, and he gave it the scientific species name "fischeri" named after Dr. Gustav Adolf Fischer. Reichenow worked at the Humboldt Museum (Berlin's Museum of Natural History) from 1874 to 1921, and he was an expert on African birds and, among other things, author of the work, "Die Vögel Afrikas" from 1905, which he took more than 5 years to write. The name "Fischer" also became its species name in several other languages, e.g. in English (Fischer's Lovebird) and in German (Fischer's Unzertrennlicher, but over the last many years it has mostly been known under the name Pfirsichköpfchen in Germany). Dr. Gustav Adolf Fischer’s name was also added to a number of other bird species, including another bird known among aviculturists, the Straw-tailed Whydah (Vidua fischeri), which was found in the Amboseli region, and which is characterized by the male having an impressively long tail during the breeding season.

The German explorer of East Africa, Dr. Gustav Adolf Fischer, managed in his rather short life to add his name a number of other beautiful bird species, including this species, which we also keep in human care, the Straw-tailed Whydah (Vidua fischeri), here a male. Photo from the internet.

Colour description

The late Dane, J. L. Albrecht-Møller, describes the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) as follows in the "Papegøjebogen" ("The Parrot Book", not published in English) from 1973:

"Male and female: Forehead deep orange-red, cheeks, chin, throat and fore-chest lighter and gradually passing into dark orange-yellow; crown and back of head dark orange-yellow, neck and nape lighter; back and wing coverts green; underside distinctly lighter green; lower back and upper tail coverts ultramarine blue; primaries blackish-brown with dark green and yellowish outer vane; underwing coverts green/blue.

The two middle feathers of the tail green with a small water-blue tip, the next 4 feathers with a slightly larger water-blue tip within which there is a pear-shaped black drawing on the inner vane, then a green border and finally a cloudy yellow-orange field, finished with a darker colour at the root of the feather, the yellow-orange colour can vary towards red-orange. Iris blackish brown, naked white eye ring; bill coral red, lightest towards base; cere ivory coloured; legs blue-grey, claws grey, lightest at the tip (in older birds the claws are yellow).

NB. For the species with white eye rings:

The inner vane of the primaries is pure black in the female, more grey-black in the male (the red colour of the tail feathers is usually also redder in the males than in the females).

Length 140 – 150 mm”.

The young of the Fischer's Lovebird generally have a duller plumage than the parents, especially in the area around the mask. The beak is also not so intensively red and has some dark stripes along the root of the beak, which disappear at the age of approximately 3 months. It begins the change of plumage to the adult plumage at the age of nearly 6 months.

São Tomé and Príncipe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese-speaking island state in the Gulf of Guinea off the west equatorial African coast, has issued a stamp featuring the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) without the species being naturally native here. Note that this state's postal service has made a huge mistake by calling the bird the scientific species name of the African Ringneck Parakeet (Psittacula krameri, whose scientific Latin species name has now been changed to Alexandrinus krameri).

Should the Fischer's Lovebird have a light or dark back of the head?

Some aviculturists, and some bird judges, are of the opinion that the Fischer's Lovebird must have a bright back of the head. If the bird does not have a bright back of the head, the judge will therefore drag down the judgment of such birds during exhibitions. However, it is completely wrong, as you are thus pursuing an ideal that has no basis in reality. A large number of scientific records about the colour description of the Fischer's Lovebird from nature show that the colour pattern exhibits great variations. You can also make sure of this if you see colour photos of the bird from its natural range in the wilds of Africa, especially when you see photos of a whole flock at a watering hole.

It is also supported by other literature about the Fischer's Lovebird e.g., Heinz Schwichtenberg writes in his book "Die Unzertrennlichen" from 1970 (Lizenz-Nr. 251-510/32/69) in a colour description of the wild Fischer's Lovebird that "the crown is brown olive, the neck (back of the head) is olive to olive yellow".

In the book "Die Agapornis-Arten und ihre Mutationen" from 1995 (ISBN 3-9803274-1-8) Gottlieb Gaiser and Bodo Ochs write the following about the colour of the back of the head of the wild Fischer's Lovebird: "... At the back, the mask is set against a distinctly darker shade that can vary from brownish orange to olive. Correspondingly, the neck and the back of the neck can appear lighter or darker....”. The authors even talk about two types, which they refer to as either the "less significant" variant (with a light back of the head) or the "contrasting" variant (with a dark back of the head), and both variants are depicted in the book with colour photos facing each other, so that you are able to compare them. The high-contrast variant has absolutely the most intensive colours, and it appears incredibly beautiful.

It is also my impression that there is a tendency for certain specimens of the Fischer's Lovebird to become darker and more intensive in colour the older they get.

A lovely little Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) family from the UK consisting of 4 young birds on the left and an adult bird. Note the beak colour of the adult bird, which is a deeper coral red than the beak of the young birds, which also has a dark border along the root of the beak. Photo from the internet.

In the wild

BirdLife International estimates the species' range to be approximately 206,000 km2, corresponding to barely 2% of Europe's total area. It is a very small range when you compare it to the range of one of the other Near Threatened Lovebird species, the Nyasa Lovebird, which is 539,000 km2.

It is described as an endemic species, as its main distribution area is the northern and central part of Tanzania, where it has historically been found in 14 localities (including 3 national parks). Records from Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya probably relate to wild birds and not wild populations. It is known for certain that a large number of Fischer's Lovebirds have been successfully introduced to the coastal areas around Dar es-Salaam (Tanzania's administrative capital) and in some areas of Kenya, where they have become naturalized. Unfortunately, large populations of the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) have also been introduced to the same areas around Dar es-Salaam and in Kenya, which has unfortunately created "natural" hybrids, cf. below.

The Fischer's Lovebird used to be very common, but since the 1970’s there has been a large decline in population, mainly caused by extensive trapping of wild birds for commercial purposes, but there are probably still large flocks around Ndutu and Serengeti National Parks.

In 2009, Birdlife International estimated the number of Fischer's Lovebirds remaining in the wild to be 290,000 - 1,002,000 specimens, but nowadays the organization no longer provides updated estimates of this number.

The range of the Fischer's Lovebird is north-west of the range of the Masked Lovebird, and the biotopes are very similar. It's about 64 km between the distribution areas of the Fischer's Lovebird and the Masked Lovebird, and they have - with certain exceptions, as BirdLife International points out, cf. later - remained separated as a result of the natural vegetation (shrub) and high terrain. It supports the theory that the 4 Lovebird species with white eye rings are closely related, but each evolved in isolation due to geographic barriers.

The Fischer's Lovebird's nutrition and behavior in the wild corresponds to what applies to the Masked Lovebird. Both species travel in large flocks and forage extensively on the ground, where they feed on grains and wild seeds, or near the ground, where they consume berries and fruits. The Fischer's Lovebird also takes Acacia seeds directly from the trees. The species is mostly seed-eating, and they do not shy away from invading cultivated land during the ripening season, and are often considered by the locals as a threat to cereal crops in cultivated areas, especially fields of millet and maize. It comes daily to waterholes and other types of surface water in larger or smaller flocks to drink.

As an old colonial power, Portugal has issued this stamp, in which the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) for unknown reasons also is included as a motif, even though Portugal had colonial possessions under different auspices.

The breeding season for the Fischer's Lovebird may begin earlier than for the Masked Lovebird, as the breeding season can already start in January. The nesting conditions are also very similar, and breeding colonies can be found both on the wooded savanna and in palm groves.

The Fischer's Lovebird lives in semi-arid forest areas with Acacia, Adansonia (the African type of the Baobab tree, also called the African Monkey Bread Tree), and Commiphora (which is a genus of flowering plants comprising 185 different trees and shrubs, which are characterized by having many and very large thorn), located at an altitude of 1,100 - 2,200 m. It is also found in forested grasslands cultivated with Adansonia and Palmyra palms (savannah).

In the Serengeti National Park, the Fischer's Lovebird is present in all types of forest areas. Areas with streams, where the forest is dominated by e.g. Ficus and Ziziphus (a genus of about 40 species of thorny shrubs and small trees), are an important part of the bird's habitat during the dry season. You often see photos of Fischer's Lovebirds from the wild, where they sit at the top of these trees, which are full of long thorns.

It has a fast and direct flight during which it screams. It is said that you can hear a flock of Fischer's Lovebirds well before you can see the birds.

It breeds in the period from January to April and in June and July. Most nests are located 2 - 15 meters above the ground in holes and crevices in dead trees or in dead branches of living trees, and sometimes the nests are also found in rocky areas.

Although Cuba is on the other side of the world and is not the natural home of Lovebirds, the country has issued this stamp with lifelike motifs of the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) and the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus).


In 2009, the Fischer's Lovebird was assessed by BirdLife International - the official "Red List" authority for birds on behalf of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) - to belong to the "Near Threatened" category, just like the Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae).

The species is thus categorized as "near threatened", as the population has experienced a rather rapid reduction in the population in its relatively limited distribution area as a result of capture for export, which has however stopped. Although legal trapping of this species has been stopped, it cannot be ruled out that trapping will resume, and any new evidence of a major decline in the population could qualify the Fischer's Lovebird for a higher threat category.

The Fischer's Lovebird was in 1987 - the 110th anniversary of its discovery (!) - the most traded wild bird species in the whole world. It was also the most popular wild-caught parrot species imported into the EU at the time; thus the species accounted for approximately 80 % of all parrot species exported from Tanzania.

According to BirdLife International, the Fischer's Lovebird has been crossed with the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) in the wild, but not within its own natural range. It further states: "There is overlap of ranges, but the Fischer's Lovebird appears to be a non-breeding visitor to the Masked Lovebird's range, so it is unlikely to pose a threat", yet action is proposed in this regard (cf. the section on nature protection measures).

Only over the past 25 years have there been populations of hybrids between Fischer's and Masked Lovebirds in Kenya, but as mentioned, this is due to the fact that both species have been introduced to the same areas of the country. Around Lake Naivasha in Kenya there is a population of "Fischer's Lovebirds", which are actually hybrids between the Fischer's and the Masked Lovebird.


Nature protection measures

A number of proposals have been put forward for the protection of the Fischer's Lovebird in the wild, which, among other things, includes:

  • Conducting surveys to obtain an updated estimate of population size.
  • Continuous monitoring of trends in the development of the population.
  • Prevent the resumption of trapping of birds for export.
  • Investigation of the extent of hybridization with the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) in the wild.

The Fischer's Lovebird is, like 7 other Lovebird species (genus Agapornis), listed on CITES, list II.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, neighbouring Tanzania, home of the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), has issued this stamp with this somewhat primitive motif of the species.

In human care

The Fischer's Lovebird is a good bird to start with if you want to keep Lovebirds. However, it is extremely regrettable that the bird is so cheap to acquire, as it helps to weaken interest in the species and contributes to careless handling of it. There is thus - apart from idealistic considerations - no incentive to develop quality birds. If we lose quality birds of the Fischer's Lovebird in human care, we will not be able to gain access to new ones, as the trade restrictions on this species will not be eased. One cannot therefore, as has previously happened in other European countries, rebuild a new stock in human care with imports from nature, as for example it happened in Great Britain in the aftermath of World War II.

In Denmark, it is so far not a problem to acquire pure species Fischer's Lovebirds of good quality (non-exhibition types), as they are bred in quite a few places. It is somewhat different in Great Britain; at the time of writing (January 2010) I have e.g. received inquiries via this website from British Lovebird enthusiasts about where on the European continent one can acquire species-pure Fischer's Lovebirds, which are also mutation-free. It has apparently again become a problem in Great Britain to acquire quality birds of this species, and a major reason for this must probably also be sought in the low price of the bird.

In the book, "Guide to Lovebirds and Parrotlets", 2nd edition, from 1967, the British Lovebird expert, E. N. T. Vane, writes that the Fischer's Lovebird is perhaps the hardiest species of the genus. During the Second World War, when Britain was on its knees and there was a shortage of basic food for humans, the shortage also affected bird feed. The Fischer's Lovebird here showed its formidable adaptability by surviving on the very limited food options that were once available. Often the feed consisted mainly of buckwheat, unrolled wheat, waste oats and some canary seed, on which it did remarkably well. Even so, only a small number of birds survived the war, and at the same time inbreeding had become a pronounced problem. This was rectified in the years after the war by massive imports of birds from the wild.

In human care, the Fischer's Lovebird is also today a robust species that is easy to care for, and it is also known as a breeding bird, regardless of whether it is a flock in an aviary or a single pair in a large cage. It also applies to this species that it must be a male and a female who sympathize with each other.

My experience is that if you keep the Fischer's Lovebird in a flock, it doesn't take long before there are skirmishes between the pairs, which either come into conflict with the other pairs or excess single birds, and this is regardless of how big the aviary is. You can of course do your part to counteract these conflicts, e.g. by frequently supplying the aviary with fresh natural branches and other activity opportunities as well as ample access to sleeping boxes. During the breeding season, it is important that there are approximately two nest boxes for each pair, and that there is a certain distance between the boxes and that the birds cannot sit on the roof of these. However, it is far from being as aggressive as the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis). My recommendation is that the Fischer's Lovebird should be kept in pairs and not in flocks, as it is simply too aggressive, and sooner or later it will end with broken toes and in some cases defective beaks. In addition, keeping it in a flock will often give some dubious breeding results as at the same time the adult birds will pursue fledglings from other pairs. All too often you see Fischer's Lovebirds with defective toes and bitten claws, which is certainly not a pretty sight.

The Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) belongs to the African continent, but that has not stopped the Asian country, Laos, from issuing a stamp with lifelike motifs of this species.

The sex of this - and the other species with white eye rings - can be ascertained with considerable certainty using the so-called “pelvic bone” test of the adult birds. The test involves carefully placing your index finger on the bird's two pelvic bones, and here you can feel that the female bird's bones are both elastic and that there is a large distance between the bones (especially after the first egg is laid). In males, the two bones appear firm and close together.

The Fischer's Lovebird is comfortable with both a horizontal and a vertical nest box. This species also builds a nest, and it is very similar to the nest built by the Masked Lovebird, but perhaps in some cases a little more finely built. It likes to use twigs from willow and birch as building material, which the female in particular processes in her beak and then flies to the nest with the material in her beak. In addition, the branches are preferably stripped of bark, and you must of course be very careful not to use natural branches from gardens or green areas that may have been sprayed with poison or exposed to pollution. Other types of nesting material are also used, e.g. gnawed millet cobs. Sometimes the female puts gnawed nesting material in the water bowl to "soak" it, as she uses wet nesting material to achieve higher humidity in the nest box, whereby the eggs hatch more easily. You should rinse such material when you change the drinking water and then put it back in the filled water bowl, as it stimulates the birds.

In continuation of up to several matings, the female typically lays 4 - 6 white eggs, in some cases more. The female incubates for 19 - 22 days (22 days measured from the 1st egg), most often intensively from the 2nd or 3rd egg, which means that the difference between the chicks’ development phases is reduced. It is said that over the years the average number of eggs laid per clutch for this species in human care increased. The young open their eyes at the age of approximately 10 days, and the first feathers are seen at the age of 14 days. They leave the nest at the age of nearly 5 – 6 weeks, and are fed in the days immediately following by both parent birds, but then only by the male, as the female often starts a new clutch. As a responsible breeder, you must limit yourself to no more than 2 clutches per breeding season, and if the female has started with the 2nd clutch, the parents can sometimes find themselves hunting the chicks from 1st clutch if you haven’t removed them yet. The chicks are independent at the age of almost 8 weeks. The chicks seem to be tolerated longer by the parents in a cage when they have learned to stay away from the nest box.

When keeping Lovebirds in aviaries (cages) next to each other, always ensure that there is double wire between them separated by an appropriate distance. The birds like to sit in the net opposite each other in their respective aviaries, and if they get hold of each other's toes, serious bite injuries soon occur.

The Fischer's Lovebird must of course not be kept together with other Lovebird species, as hybrids will quickly arise, which blurs the distinctiveness of the species. Nor can it be kept together with other bird species such as e.g. tropical birds, as these will be chased and likely to suffer severe bites to the legs and toes.

It is probably the noisiest Lovebird species after the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis), whose voice is somewhat more shrill after all. This must be taken into account if you live in a densely built-up area and have less tolerant neighbours.

Blue colour mutation of Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), behind a black-eyed white colour mutation, both of French origin. Photo from the internet.

Colour mutations

At the beginning of the 1970’s, the spread of colour mutations within Lovebirds among ordinary aviculturists in Denmark really took off. It started with the beautiful blue colour mutation of the Masked Lovebird, which by this time had been established with a viable population. In the previous years, pioneers within colour mutations had succeeded in building up such a population after having tried their hand at e.g. Japanese mutation birds of questionable quality, which had caused great annoyance and financial loss. Towards the end of the same decade, the spread of colour mutations within the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis) followed. For both of these species, it has since become a myriad of more or less pretty colour mutations. Subsequently, a large range of different colour mutations has also appeared in the Fischer's Lovebird. Together, these 3 Lovebird species have been dominant for a number of years, understood in the sense that they represent the most different colour mutations within the Lovebird genus.

As far as the Fischer's Lovebird is concerned, already before the Second World War in Great Britain, pied specimens appeared among young birds, but they were characterized by the fact that the plumage became wild-coloured at the first moult.

Heinz Schwichtenberg explains in the book, "Die Unzertrennlichen", the development of colour mutations in the Fischer's Lovebird. It thus appears that already in the 1930’s in Germany, a yellow colour mutation arose, which, however, perished again. In 1956, a single similar bird appeared in Zürich, and later several more appeared at a breeder in what was then West Germany, which existed at least until about 1970. Unlike the first yellow colour mutation in the Masked Lovebird, which was dilute (pale greenish-yellow bird with brownish mask), then the first yellow colour mutation of the Fischer's Lovebird was a pure pale yellow bird with a red mask and black eyes.

The first blue colour mutations of Fischer's Lovebird are said to have arisen in South Africa back in 1957 from wild-coloured birds with a special intensively coloured mask, which after a few generations of line breeding produced a total of 3 blue chicks. Two years later, in 1959, a blue bird was reported from California in the USA, which was also supposed to have arisen from wild-coloured birds.

In May 1966, in what was then East Germany, an article was published in a bird magazine, in which V. Humpl from what was then Czechoslovakia reports on the first blue colour mutation in Europe in the Fischer's Lovebird. It appears from the article that a blue bird had already been born from 2 wild-coloured birds in 1964 at a Czech breeder, but the young one already died the same winter. In the following breeding season, 2 blue chicks appeared in the first clutch from the same parent birds, and one more blue chick in the 2nd clutch. It is believed that these birds are the rootstock for the pure version of the blue colour mutation that we know today.

However, there is also a "black chapter" within colour mutation breeding, as irresponsible aviculturists regrettably also have "produced" the blue Fischer's Lovebird through transmutations, where they have had the blue colour mutation of the Masked Lovebird in the bloodline. These aviculturists have done something similar in relation to "making" other colour mutations in the Fischer's Lovebird. Unfortunately, this method is now all too well known in relation to the many colour mutations that have gradually been produced in the Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae) and in the Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis). Colour mutations created through transmutations are, in my opinion, completely worthless, as they are not pure species, even though they may appear that way at first glance. Therefore, a continued use of purebred wild-coloured birds with hereditary eggs for the colour mutation in question is the way forward for the serious and responsible breeders of such colour mutations.

For further information about colour mutations, refer to DAK (Dansk Agapornis Klub, or Danish Agapornis Club). This association specializes in colour mutations within Lovebirds (and Parrotlets).

The head of the Fischer's Lovebird can be very expressive, which is not least due to its featherless white eye rings. Photo from the internet.


Refer to the article on the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus).

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 29.01.2010 / 17.02.2024