Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus)

Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus). This is a breeding female of the type with a pure yellow colour on the throat.

The pearl among Lovebirds

The Lovebird genus (Agapornis) has gained widespread popularity among aviculturists over many decades - and rightly so; their beautiful, contrast-filled plumage, their lively and cheerful nature, the mutual affection between the "spouses" and their relatively easy willingness to breed, has been strong contributors to the fact that they are now among the most popular cage birds.

Of the various species, the Masked Lovebird is considered one of the most common, and as it was the Lovebird species with which I started, it will be appropriate to tell a little about this species. It is also known under the name Yellow-collared Lovebird, but in this article the updated English species name, Masked Lovebird (cf. "Deutsche und englische Namen der Papageien, Akademie für Vogelhaltung", Berlin 2023_03, Arndt Verlag) will be used, cf. the scientific species name "personatus" (= mask).


Colour description

In his work, "Parrots of the World", Joseph M. Forshaw describes the species as follows:

"Length: 145 mm. Adults general plumage green; forehead, lores, crown and anterior of cheeks brownish-black; remainder of head dusky olive; throat reddish-orange; upper breast and collar around neck yellow; upper tail-coverts pale blue; under wing-coverts greyish-blue and green; tail green, lateral feathers marked with orange-yellow and basally and subterminally barred with black; naked periophthalmic ring white; bill red; iris dark brown; legs grey.

Immatures duller than adults, particularly on head; small blackish markings on base of upper mandible”.

On the other hand, if you take the late Dane, J. L. Albrecht-Møller’s, "Papegøjebogen", (“The Parrot Book”, not published in English) from 1973 as a point of departure, the colour description of the species reads as follows:

"Male and female: Forehead, crown, and sides of head black; nape, back of neck black olive-greenish, including again a broad band, broadest over breast of a rich yellow colour; throat orange-red; lower part (especially in older birds) more blurred with orange tinge. Lower back and upper tail coverts light cobalt; the green tail feathers have a yellow-green tip, within this there is a black band on the 5 outermost tail feathers on each side of the tail that extends over the entire feather, although the outer vane is edged with green, towards the base there is then a yellow-brown field, the very close to the feather pouch is greyish black, the two middle tail feathers are completely green without a black band; secondaries are green with bluish-green inner vane; tip of primaries and inner vane black; the lower part of the outer vane dark green; underside light green; upper back and wing coverts dark green. Iris blackish brown, the skin of the featherless eye ring white, the cere white; bill coral red; legs blue-grey, claws grey. In the female, the black head colour is warmer sooty and the yellow collar is sometimes narrower. (English specialists require the yellow collar to be completely free of red).

Length: 145 – 162 mm”.

Masked Lovebird, here a male and a female.

As can be seen from the above colour descriptions of one and the same species, J. L. Albrecht-Møller's description is much more detailed.

Precisely the occurrence of the orange colour on the throat of the Masked Lovebird has previously been the subject of much discussion as to whether birds with such a colour are species pure. Thus, Denmark's greatest Lovebird expert of all time, the late Poul Frandsen, from Brønshøj near Copenhagen, already described this problem many years ago in an article in the magazine, "Nature & Home" (“Naturen og Hjemmet” from Selskabet for Stuekulturer), under the heading, "A precarious case", but as it i.a. appears from the above description of birds from nature, it is naturally occurring with the orange colour on the throat.

If you look at colour photos from nature of the Masked Lovebird, you will be able to see a large variance in the spread and intensity of the orange colour on the individual specimens, to which is added that many birds largely do not - or almost not - have the orange colour, but instead only have the pure yellow colour. I myself have seen flocks of wild-caught Masked Lovebirds that came directly from the wild in Tanzania to a Danish importer, and there was great variance, some birds had an orange tinge on the throat – PLEASE NOTE: I.E. A "TINGE" AND NOT A "THROAT SPOT" - while other birds were pure yellow in the same place. One thing that I also remember from these imports was that there were strikingly many Masked Lovebirds, which even had very serious beak injuries.

There is no immediately visible difference between the sexes. The sex can often - in the case of adult birds - be ascertained through the so-called "pelvic bone test", but the method is not 100 % certain, and today aviculturists also have Lovebirds sexed through a DNA test of feathers.

As regards special possibilities for distinguishing the sexes of this species, it can be mentioned that if you have several adult birds at your disposal, you will certainly be able to tell the female from the male by the fact that it is larger and more powerfully built, the head is relatively larger and more rounded, in addition the bill is wider above the base and the black mask is present in a more brownish tone, as stated by J. L. Albrecht-Møller, who also emphasizes that the female's yellow neck band is sometimes narrower than the male's. Furthermore, the female's naked eye ring appears wider and has the same width around the entire eye.

Stamp from the Masked Lovebird's own homeland, Tanzania. In addition, a number of other countries have published "coloured" stamps with motifs of the Masked Lovebird, without this bird being connected to the country in question, which i.a. applies to the Maldives and ...

In the wild

Habitat: Country endemic, with northeastern Tanzania from Lake Manyara south to the Iringa Highlands being its natural habitat; introduced to Dar es Salaam around 1928 and most recently to Nairobi, Kenya.

The species lives inland i.a. on high plains of up to 1,700 m. Its habitats are grasslands dominated by Acacias, and it lives in small flocks by riverbanks and is not usually seen in high forest, such as the Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus).

The Masked Lovebird breeds in colonies between March and August, and the nest is built in hollows in trees, mainly in the Baobab tree, and the nest material consists of twigs and strips of bark, etc., which are "timbered" together very firmly. The nest usually consists of two compartments, an antechamber, in which the male usually finds himself when he finally goes into the box, and a nest chamber for the female and the eggs/chicks.

This species has a large distribution area, which is estimated at approximately 226,000 km2. The population of Masked Lovebirds in the wild seems to be stable, however, without the fact that support can be sought in concrete figures.



The Masked Lovebird is not a threatened bird species in the context of nature conservation.

In 2004, it 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 "Least Concern" category.


Nature protection measures

None, except that the species is listed on CITES, list II.

... São Tomé and Príncipe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is a Portuguese-speaking island state in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of equatorial Africa. Here they have also chosen to issue a stamp with the Masked Lovebird without the species being naturally native here.

In human care

In human care, the Masked Lovebird is often kept in small colonies in aviaries due to their behaviour in the wild. This opens up the possibility that the individual birds themselves can find a mate, which of course results in better breeding pairs, as Lovebirds are distinctly sympathetic birds. Sooner or later, however, in such a flock, conflicts will arise that can affect the feet badly, which is why the birds after mating are best kept in pairs in aviaries or large cages, which also gives better breeding results. If the birds are still kept in flocks, each Lovebird species must be kept separately, as by keeping different species together you will soon be able to see hybrids in your offspring.

The Lovebirds are among the few parrot species that build an actual nest. In nest building, the male only rarely assists the female. In human care, large "budgerigar nest boxes", vertical or horizontal, are often used, of which the horizontal ones give the easiest opportunity to carry out regular nest box inspections, and when the nest box is at the same time easily accessible, the birds are minimally disturbed. Nest box inspections should be made a daily routine, as sporadic disturbances can be taken very seriously and have dire consequences for eggs and chicks. After a check where the parent birds have left the nest, you should make sure that they soon find themselves in the nest box again.

The preferred nesting material consists of natural branches (which must not have been exposed to poison spraying or pollution at all) from which strips of bark and twigs are gnawed and processed at the ends. Of other nesting material, e.g. include blades of grass, straw, gnawed millet cobs (stems) and lumps of peat litter. The nesting material is often "soaked" in the water bowl of the cage/aviary and must be placed in the bowl again after clean water has been provided (every day), as it stimulates the nest building, and the wet material also maintains the humidity for a period in the nest box. Remember to rinse the material thoroughly before putting it back into the clean drinking water.

One of my most beautiful and best breeding females of all time, which I had the opportunity to choose myself from a huge shipment of wild-caught Masked Lovebirds that had just (at the end of the 1960’s) arrived from Tanzania at an importer's quarantine station in Amager near Copenhagen (the poor image quality is due to the fact that it is a colour slide that has been digitized).

After several matings, eggs will appear, from 4 – 6, and the incubation period is about 3 weeks. The eggs are completely white and almost round. When the chicks come out of the eggs, they are covered in pale orange down. The beak is light brownish with a somewhat lighter beak tooth, which later, approximately 12 days later, falls off, and the appearance is now characterized by a greyish down coat. At the same time, the eyes are half open. The first feathers come on the wings, head and neck. During this period, the young are probably not fed by the male, but the latter feeds the female, who then feeds the chicks.

Once the breeding season has begun, the female is rarely seen, but occasionally she comes out to stretch her wings and bathe. You don't have to worry about her laying down on the eggs soaked, as she thus builds up sufficient humidity in the nest box for the eggs to hatch. During the incubation period itself, she also continues to build the nest, and during this time there must be no or perhaps very little material, as continued nest building can damage the eggs.

Otherwise, only the male is seen, most often foraging, otherwise resting at or near the nest box.

The chicks leave the nest at 6 - 7 weeks old, and you can then see that the entire plumage is darker and more murky in colour than that of the adults. The young birds are curious, but at the same time very shy, and their energy seems endless. After another while, the young are fed outside the nest box, now usually by the male alone, as the female is already quickly starting another clutch. You should not take more than 2 clutches annually, and preferably with an intermediate rest period if the cluch has been large. In addition, the birds should also be at least 1 year old before they are used in breeding, as they have also had their first moult and are fully developed.

When breeding, it is wise to avoid inbreeding and always ensure that new blood is added to your breeding material.

Outside the breeding season, the Masked Lovebird spends the time foraging and the pair preen each other's plumage. The birds should always have fresh natural branches (e.g. willow), and it is pure pleasure – as it provides you with many hours of fun - to see the birds eagerly crawling around in dense natural branches, where they gnaw branches and twigs apart.

Adult Masked Lovebird as they look in the wild with an orange tinge on the throat in the yellow collar. Photograph by Manuel García Ruiz, September 30, 2023, Caleta de Velez--Puerto, Málaga, Andalucía, Spain.

Colour mutations

A number of more or less known colour mutations (hereditary colour changes in the plumage) have arisen from this species, not least in recent decades. It is given that in time even more new types will emerge through systematic breeding and the whims of nature. The colour mutations need the same care and have the same maintenance requirements as the wild-coloured birds, and they will only be mentioned here in passing.

The first mutation to occur - and the most well-known today - is the blue one, of which one was already captured in 1927 in the wilds of Africa. The blue mutation occurs in different types (darkness factors). In the mid-1960’s, Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark had for several years a large and impressive population of the blue mutation in an aviary, which professional animal dealer Kragh in Kastrup near Copenhagen had imported to the Zoo.

Likewise, the yellow mutation is found in several types, from the almost yellow-green to the yellow with only a very small colour pattern to today's completely yellow birds with a reddish mask (Lutino).

The first white type was almost white-blue, but the late Poul Frandsen, Denmark's most skilled Lovebird expert, from Brønshøj near Copenhagen, succeeded in breeding a complete “chalk white” bird, and also the same type with a single black feather.

Wild-coloured birds with larger or smaller areas of yellow and/or white feathers have also been bred, but these are often non-hereditary modifications.

For further information about colour mutations in Lovebirds, you can refer to the Danish Agapornis Club's (Dansk Agapornis Klub) website.

Masked Lovebird. Pencil drawing by Jørgen Petersen from 1975.


The feed, which should be varied, can mainly consist of canary seed and white millet, Senegalese millet, black millet and different types of sun flower (for the latter types of seed, the quantity is increased when the birds live cold and in winter). A little safflower, hemp (ripe), buckwheat, oats (whole) are also given, and the birds are very happy with millet cobs.

Small-grained pellets are also taken by several birds.

A roughly equivalent seed mixture should also be given (remember to rinse this thoroughly under running clean drinking water) in the sprouted state, with grated carrot and crushed fennel added.

A ready-made or home-made egg feed mixture with added Vispumin or similar minerals can be given as top-up/supplementary feed.

Fruit and vegetables can include apples, pears, grapes, cherries, oranges, grapefruit, cucumbers and regular green salad.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 11.01.2010 / 21.02.2024