Lovebirds – Taxonomy (Species Overview)


Genus Lovebirds (Agapornis)

The wonderfully beautiful Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis p. pullarius) represented by an adult male bird.


As is the general rule here at, the taxonomic starting point is "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", when it comes to description of the many different parrot species and subspecies. The taxonomy from Howard and Moore is considered the absolutely best taxonomy in the world of birds, as it is maintained - and used - by the world's leading ornithologists, biologists, scientists, researchers, field observers, etc.

How many species of Lovebirds are there really?

Over time, I have been asked from time to time how many species of Lovebirds (genus Agapornis) there actually are, and to this I have to answer as a starting point, "it depends on...".

The answer depends on, among other things of what assumptions are made as a basis for such an answer; is it based on a purely scientific basis, or is it based on information from various authors of books about parrots, where the authors occasionally take certain liberties, which does not only apply in relation to Lovebirds. As an example of such "freedom" can be mentioned the so-called Bluebonnet Parakeets which in Joseph M. Forshaw's work, "Parrots of the World", 1st edition from 1973, (ISBN 0 7018 0024 0), have classified as belonging to the genus Red-rumped Parakeets (Psephotus), but which already were scientifically classified as an independent genus, Bluebonnets (Northiella), as a result of these birds having a different wing formula compared to the different Red-rumped Parakeets species. The late Dane, J. L. Albrecht-Møller, also classified Bluebonnet Parakeets under the monotypic Northiella genus in his magnificent work, "The Parrot Book", which was published in the period 1966 – 1973 (unfortunately this book, “Papegøjebogen”, only exists in Danish).

Since science continuously explores nature, including the affiliation of individual species to genera, etc., the answer to the question also depends on when you are asked, as the biological classification (taxonomy) changes over time. At the same time, new knowledge about genetic conditions (DNA) combined with new technological possibilities has opened up completely unknown horizons until a few years ago. This also applies in relation to Psittaciformes (the order of Parrots), where, for example, the various species of Red-shouldered Macaws in connection with recent research no longer belong to the genus Ara (as is also evident, for example, from Joseph M. Forshaw's work, "Parrots of the World"), but has been given its own genus called Diopsittaca, and thus today appears as an "intermediate group" between the genera Ara and Psittacara (a genus of South American parakeets).

As far as the genus Lovebirds (Agapornis) is concerned, for several years there has been talk of 6 species and a number of subspecies, since the species with white eye rings (personatus, fischeri, nigrigenis and lilianae) were previously considered as one species (personatus) with belonging to 3 subspecies. If you start from the current scientific biological taxonomy, then the correct answer is that there are 9 different species of Lovebirds, cf. "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". This publication already replaced the 16-volume work, "Check-list of Birds of the World", or simply known as "Peter's Check-list", which was edited by the American ornithologist, James Lee Peters, by a previous publication in 2003, etc. "Peter's Check-list" was completed in 1987, where approximately half of the volumes were more than 50 years old, and Peters himself had been dead for many years. "The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World" thus already from 2003 became the new "bible" for scientists, researchers, ornithologists, etc. all over the world. Here are all the world's bird species, including parrots, divided according to the latest, recognized taxonomy, which in the 2003 version included 364 parrot species in 85 genera within the order Parrots.


Taxonomy of the genus Lovebirds (Agapornis)

The genus Lovebird (Agapornis) - Selby, 1836 - thus - according to the current "The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World" - consists of the following 9 species, or more precisely 9 nominate subspecies with associated 5 subspecies:


A)  Species with visible sex difference (dimorphism):

1. Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus):

  • Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus canus) - J.F. Gmelin, 1788 - which is the nominate subspecies that comes from Madagascar with the exception of the southern part). The following subspecies is recognized:
  • Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus abletaneus) - Bangs, 1918 - which comes from the southern part of Madagascar (directly up to the range of the nominate subspecies). It differs from the nominate subspecies in being slightly larger and in that the green part of the plumage has a bluish tone and in that the male, instead of having pearl grey feathers on the head, has distinct bluish grey feathers.


2. Red-faced/Red-headed Lovebird (Agapornis pullarius):

  • Western Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis pullarius pullarius) - Linnaeus, 1758 - which is the nominate subspecies with a range from the southern part of Guinea to Sudan, the western part of Zaire and the northwestern part of Angola. The following subspecies is recognized:
  • Eastern Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis pullarius ugandae) - Neumann, 1908 - which comes from western Ethiopia to northwestern Tanzania and eastern Zaire. Differs from the nominate subspecies by having a slightly lighter blue colour on the upper back, and the upper back of the females is sometimes green with a blue tinge. Can only be separated from the nominate subspecies if you consider them directly opposite each other. The area of distribution enclosed by the area in which the nominate subspecies lives.


3. Black-winged Lovebird (Agapornis taranta) - Stanley, 1814) - which comes from Eritrea and Ethiopia.


B)  Species without visible sex difference (monomorphism):

4. Black-collared (Agapornis swindernianus):

  • 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. The 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 colour and have a larger - and more curved - beak.


5. Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis):

  • Namibia Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis) - Vieillot, 1817 - is the nominate subspecies, which comes from Namibia and the northwestern part of the Cape Province. The following subspecies is recognized:
  • Angola Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis catumbella) - B. P. Hall, 1952 - which comes from the southwestern part of Angola. It differs from the nominate form by having a deeper color pattern in the mask, but otherwise lighter than the nominate form.


And then to the 4 species with a white eye ring:


6. Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) - Reichenow, 1887 - which is widespread from Rwanda and Burundi to the north-western part of Tanzania.


7. Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) - Reichenow, 1887, that lives in northeastern and central Tanzania.


8. Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae) - Shelley, 1894 - living in southern Tanzania, northwestern Mozambique, southern Malawi, eastern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe.


9. Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) - W.L. Sclater, 1906 - which has a very small distribution area from southwestern Zambia to northwestern Zimbabwe.


As can be seen from the above, the leading scientific taxonomy regards the species with white eye rings as independent species. Fischeri, lilianae and nigrigenis have not been considered subspecies of personatus for a number of years. It is my personal opinion that, although the 4 species with white eye rings at first may look similar, personatus is most closely related to fischeri, and nigrigenis is most closely related to lilianae, which I base on my many years of observations of their anatomical and phenotypic - as well as behavioural - similarities.

As far as the Black-winged Lovebird is concerned, a subspecies has previously been mentioned, namely Agapornis taranta nana - O. Neumann, 1931 - or Lesser Black-winged Lovebird, but according to the current scientific taxonomy it is not recognized as a independent subspecies. This subspecies should have been characterized by being visibly smaller than the species - also in the extremities - at the same time that the plumage should have been significantly glossier. The distribution area is directly adjacent to the species' habitat.

Emin's Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus emini) is today considered by some authors to be part of the subspecies Agapornis swindernianus zenkeri, but not according to the current scientific taxonomy.

Several new books on the Lovebird genus (Agapornis) do not mention the subspecies, Angola Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis catumbella), even though it is the most recently discovered subspecies, but it is still recognized as an independent subspecies by the current scientific taxonomy. On page 77 of David Alderton's, "Lovebirds – Their Care and Breeding", the first edition from 1979 (ISBN 0 903264 39 0), you can also see a colour photo of this subspecies.

For some of the above-mentioned subspecies, the determination of species appears to have been made on a flimsy basis, and it is my personal opinion that this discipline can be associated with great uncertainties, as nature also exhibits variations within the individual species. Another problem is that, as far as a number of the subspecies are concerned, there is so little difference compared to the nominate subspecies that they have probably been mixed in bird flocks around the world.

Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) – moulted to adult plumage.

Some background knowledge on taxonomy

The biological classification (scientific taxonomy) is a systematic methodology for classifying all living creatures in a "tree structure". Modern systematics was founded by the Swedish biologist and physician, Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) and documented in the epoch-making publication, "Systema Naturae" (1st edition from 1735), where plants and animals are described. The system has the same fundamental meaning for biology as the periodic table (systematics for describing elements) has for chemistry. The system has been continuously expanded since then, and contains the following relevant categories in relation to the parrots:


  • Class.
  • Order.
  • Family (Subfamily).
  • Family.
  • Species (Subspecies).


The basis for the entire categorization is that every living being belongs to a species, which thus becomes the basic systematic unit. Species that are similar to each other belong to a genus, which in turn is grouped together in a higher category, etc. The concept of species is not unambiguous, and the biological concept of species can be difficult to apply in practice, as it is too imprecise since it places individuals that together can have fertile offspring within the same species, which the Agapornis species with white eye rings are able to, why i.a. Gottlieb Gaiser and Bodo Ochs in the book "Die Agapornis-Arten und ihre Mutationen" from 1995 (ISBN 3-9803274-1-8) consider fischeri, lilianae and nigrigenis as subspecies of personatus, which the two authors also think is supported by the fact that recessive colour mutations also pass through to the 1st hybrid generation. Over time, a number of other species concepts have been created, e.g. the Cladistic species concept, which is characterized by starting from evolutionary relationships between living creatures and emphasizes objective, quantitative analysis, rather than subjective decisions made by taxonomists.

The significant changes in taxonomic assessments are primarily due to field study books whose authors find differences that they judge to be of scientific value and which have been - or have not been - subjected to formal review by a taxonomist and/or close study by DNA. Such studies can be extremely confusing to most people and are complicated by the fact that such studies are based on mtDNA (samples taken from the mitochondrial part of the genome and which come exclusively from the maternal lineage). Studies using nuclear genes, which also involve the paternal genes, are becoming more widespread and tend to show somewhat different results. When evidence coming from both areas of the genome (both paternal and maternal sides) suggests that there is a common conclusion, they may become even more credible. However, there are also problems with sampling methods, sample sizes and even misidentification of units from which the samples are collected. This is described by researchers as being a bit of a nightmare. We can expect that it will be a few decades before the conclusions reached now will be fully documented and accepted, although there will likely be tentative recognition of species and their placement in classification. The latest knowledge and technology are thus constantly pushing the limits of man's knowledge of nature's other living beings.


Just as taxonomy changes over time, nomenclature (the scientific naming of species) also changes, but you must follow the rules (Code of Zoological Nomenclature) set out by the International Commission on Nomenclature (ICZN). The same commission has also set up a names committee, which keeps the official list of which species names (Latin and English) are valid. On a national level it can be mentioned that in relation to Denmark and Danish species names, there is a name group set up jointly by the Danish Bird Association, the Danish Ornithological Association, the Copenhagen Zoo and – not least – University of Copenhagen Zoological Museum. They publish the Danish name list, "Danish names of all birds", is thus marketed via these four stakeholders. The list of names is revised periodically. Internationally, name changes not only occur in relation to the scientific names (Latin), but also in relation to national naming. In England, Agapornis personatus has for many years been mostly known under the name, Masked Lovebird, but several years ago the less well-known name, Yellow-collared Lovebird, became the common scientific species name in English.

However, in relation to the articles on, the nomenclature in the published articles is based on another source than Howard & Moore, namely the publication "2023 Deutsche und Englische Namen der Papageien, Akademie für Vogelhaltung", published in 2023 by Arndt Verlag (Berlin 2023_03-2023-06-05), which contains the most updated species and subspecies names in English (and German) based on the most recently adopted principles for separate naming of e.g. the nominate subspecies of each species.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 25.12.2009 / 02.02.2024