Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae) - Lutino colour mutation

"The Flying Jewel"

Within the genus Lovebirds (Agapornis), I mainly work with wild-coloured (also called "normal-coloured" or "green") birds, as I believe that it is important to work purposefully to maintain vital, species pure wild-coloured specimens in human care. This must not least be seen in the light of import restrictions etc., which - fortunately - no longer allow free access to wild-caught birds from the nature. I have therefore previously – and only exceptionally - worked with few colour mutations, as the breeding of colour mutations in my opinion over the past many years, unfortunately has turned into a "menagerie", where non-expert - or even worse - non-serious aviculturists completely uncritically have undermined the future of non-mutation wild-coloured Lovebirds. They have helped to create weak birds or even to mix different species with each other (transmutations) in the pursuit of quickly creating more or new colour mutations. I strongly distance myself from both parts. However, there are some few primary colour mutations (in the sense of naturally occurring) that are so beautiful that it is difficult to resist working with them. This applies not least to the Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), which I consider to be a "flying jewel".

Color description

The Lutino Nyasa Lovebird is an incredibly beautiful bird, the plumage being mainly bright canary yellow, which also applies to the upper rump. The primaries are white. The red face mask is maintained by this mutation in distribution and colour intensity, i.e. that it goes from the middle of the crown, around behind the eyes to become narrow at the neck and then - right at the beak - to widen again in the shape of a final "bib" (see also article about the wild-coloured Nyasa Lovebird). The tail feathers have also retained the red areas in the middle. The bill remains coral red going towards white at the base of the bill. The feet and claws are flesh-coloured and the eyes bright red, which is also due to the bird's lack of eumelanin (the dark pigment), which also acts as a protection against sunlight.

The Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird is incredibly beautiful. Here a young male (on the right) together with a split bird (Green/Lutino). Notice the posture of this species, which differs from e.g. Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) by being more upright during normal sitting position.

A bit of history

The Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird was originally the only naturally occurring Lutino among the group of Lovebird species with white eye rings, i.e. Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus), Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) and Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis). The Lutino colour mutation of these species - personatus, fischeri and nigrigenis - are thus not species pure in origin, as they originate from the Nyasa Lovebird, which has been crossed to create this colour mutation among these 3 species.

The Lutino Nyasa Lovebird already originated in Australia back in 1930 (in some publications the year is given as 1933 or 1936) at Prendergast in Adelaide. Prendergast bred 2 Lutino chicks from a wild-coloured parent pair. Since then, the Lutino Nyasa Lovebird also appeared among other Australian aviculturists. 7 - 8 specimens of these birds were exported to Great Britain in 1937, but it was not an immediate success, possibly because there was an excess of females, and probably because it was not known how this colour mutation is inherited. In another publication it is i.a. stated that 3 of these Lutino females were unable to lay eggs, but breeding was actually successful with the other birds at the well-known Lovebird book author, E. N. T. Vane (who acquired the birds from Prendergast in 1938,) and at Keston Bird Park and at Lord Tavistock ("the Duke of Bedford"). The first years E. N. T. Vane worked with the Lutino colour mutation presented great challenges and several birds died. The Lutino birds almost completely disappeared during the Second World War, but immediately after the war E. N. T. Vane managed to obtain a male Lutino from Lord Tavistock, so he was able to revitalize his breeding stock. E. N. T. Vane learned that this colour mutation was not sex-linked recessive, but "common" recessive, and with this new knowledge he succeeded in re-establishing a strain and was successful in breeding the Lutino colour mutation for several years until his death in 1961. There are conjectures that it was possibly some of E. N. T. Vane's birds that reached Denmark with one of the greatest luminaries of Danish aviculture, the late Walther Langberg, from Vanløse (Copenhagen). Walther Langberg was successful in breeding the Lutino colour mutation until 1971, where his birds succumbed to an infectious disease.

In 1940 Mrs. Reed from El Monte in California, USA, bred the Lutino Nyasa Lovebird, but the further fate of this bird is uncertain. In 1950 a number of Lutinos appeared again, this time with the Rudkins family in California, where both the father and son in the family had an interest in these birds, and bred many Lutino birds from wild-coloured Nyasa Lovebirds. In the same year, David West of Montebello, also California, also bred a Lutino bird, and he made some remarkable observations in this connection. E.g. he noted slower growth in this colour mutation than in the wild-coloured chicks in the same clutch, and he learned that Lutino birds were more sensitive to sunlight than the wild-coloured birds in general.

It appears from publications from the 1960’s that the Lutino colour mutation arose in many different places, e.g. again in California. In 1968, a pet dealer from the then Federal Republic of West Germany imported a Lutino bird from Australia. Another who was successful in breeding the Lutino colour mutation in the 1970’s was the well-known Dutch breeder, Wassenar, who also in other contexts was a front runner among aviculturists. During the 1970’s, the Lutino Nyasa Lovebird was also imported from South Africa to Europe, and as far as I have been able to trace, it firstly resulted in split birds.

The well-known author of many books on cage birds, and former director of Helsinki Zoo, Finland, Curt af Enehjelm, reports that in the 1970’s there were still some strains of this colour mutation in Australia.

Today, a large proportion of the Lutino birds coming from Germany seem to originate from the Netherlands, which also exports this colour mutation to countries in South America and southern Africa.

Here you can see a newly fledged (late summer 2011) young of the Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird. It has - as an exception for me - fallen after two Lutino birds from two different foreign breeders. After nearly two years, it had not been possible to pair these birds either with wild-coloured (Green) birds or with split birds (Green/Lutino), which is what I always strive for. After the first moulting, the face mask becomes more intensively coloured and at the same time more sharply defined.

Is the Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird species pure?

In some trade journals and on certain internet sites about Lovebirds, you can read that some aviculturists are of the opinion that the Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird that we have in Europe today not is 100 % species pure, but instead is the result of a transmutation process over several generations. According to the postulate of these people, the Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird should have died out and then "resurrected" in Europe on the basis of crossing with the more robust Lutino colour mutation of - probably - Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), so that by repeated back pairings on the Nyasa Lovebird, the original Lutino Nyasa Lovebird was recreated.

However, I lack facts to support these people's postulate, which is why I consider it more of an urban legend. I am surprised that such an unsubstantiated claim is made, since the Lutino Nyasa Lovebird has arisen over the years in many different places as listed above, and Europe is still a mighty continent made up of many countries, not least the UK, which has been a leading country in the breeding of this colour mutation.

From my point of view, it is thus the Lutino colour mutations of personatus, fischeri and nigrigenis that are transmutations and not the Nyasa Lovebird as some people state without documentation. It is a strange fact that many people worry about the species purity of the Nyasa Lovebird, but almost never talk about e.g. a transmutation of the Lutino Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), but this may be because there are considerably more breeders of the Fischer's Lovebird than of the Nyasa Lovebird. If a hybrid bird of Lutino Nyasa Lovebird and Fischer's Lovebird is used to breed Nyasa Lovebird again, then of course these birds are no longer species pure, even if after several generations of mating with Nyasa Lovebirds, even though they may look like this at first sight. Therefore, you must of course take care when buying this kind of bird.

I have previously acquired this lovely colour mutation and split birds around Europe from aviculturists who work seriously and focused on the Nyasa Lovebird. Genetically I can't - of course - be 100 % sure, but visually I can't find any indications that simply suggest that these Lutino birds are not species pure. I have therefore also bought my birds with Lutino genes from leading, serious European breeders who have specialized exclusively or mainly in targeted breeding of species pure wild-coloured Nyasa Lovebirds for many years. At the same time, I have inspected the parent birds, which each time have both been split birds (Green/Lutino x Green/Lutino), so that as far as possible, I get the most vital birds, and have the greatest possible certainty that the birds are visually species pure. Some of these strains go back more than 15 years, where there have certainly been no transmutations during the breeding work.

Also, in relation to the Lutino Nyasa Lovebird, a reference has been established for how such birds should look, which describes that the shape and distribution of the mask must follow that of the wild-coloured specimens. In addition, there must be no white feathers - or even hints of them - on the bird's upper rump (upper tail coverts), as this means that the bird is not species pure (blue feathers turn into white feathers in Lutino birds, and as you know, species pure Nyasa Lovebirds have green rump), therefore this area must also be yellow on Lutino birds.

Here you can see two newly fledged (late summer 2011) chicks from another Nyasa Lovebird pair, where both parent birds are unrelated, super nice split birds from a German breeder. On the left is the Lutino colour mutation and on the right a split bird (Green/Lutino), There must be no white feathers – or even hints of them - on the upper rump (upper tail coverts) of the Lutino colour mutation of the Nyasa Lovebird, as this would correspond to, that the wild-coloured bird had blue feathers, which means that the bird is not species pure (e.g. compared to Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri)). At the same time, the primaries of the Lutino colour mutation are completely white.

There are also secondary species characteristics for the species as a whole, such as e.g. that the Nyasa Lovebird must have a short head (i.e. a flat or rather a small back head). Why the Nyasa Lovebird, as the only one of the Lovebird species with white eye rings, should have a short (flat) head seems to be nonsense. If you study photos from the nature of wild-living Nyasa Lovebirds, you cannot find evidence for this postulate, as both males and – not least females – in the wild have a fairly large back of the head. I have also seen Nyasa Lovebirds in Denmark with a short (flat) head, which looks completely wrong, and to me, these birds are rather the result of non-targeted breeding work combined with a lack of focus on avoiding inbreeding.

In order to be completely sure whether a bird is 100 % species pure, you can use genetic species identification via DNA-based determination codes (genetic "barcodes"). Most people know the difference between a rhinoceros and a giraffe, but distinguishing between the five known species of rhinoceros will already cause problems for many, and when it comes to different types of grass, insects, bacteria, etc., most people have given up because it is a task for specialists and scientists. This also makes it difficult to describe new species, as you can only know if a species is unknown if you simultaneously know all the previously described species of a similar type. Today, we know that approximately 1.7 million species of organisms exist, but science estimates that there may be up to approximately 10 million. Species identification and species knowledge are fundamental to biological research, which is why researchers worldwide are working to improve the possibilities for species identification. They have begun to create a giant catalog (data base) that includes all organisms from the smallest bacteria to blue whales, and where each individual species is represented with its own genetic identification code. The code is based on the base order of a particular genetic system, which is found in all organisms, but which varies sufficiently from species to species to distinguish between the species. Birds are some of the world's best-studied organisms, and sparrows etc. (Passeriformes) make up approximately 58 % of all bird species. It has therefore been decided to start the DNA catalog of the world's organisms with the birds, where the methods are tested and possibly improved. Until 2010, identification codes have been found for 1,265 (13 %) of all known bird species, so there is still a lot of work to be done. Among Passerines alone, DNA identification codes from over 5,000 species are missing, and at some point, in the future, the genetic "barcode" of the Nyasa Lovebird will also be documented, after which it can be determined with certainty whether a given bird is 100 % species pure.

Here another just fledged (late summer 2011) Lutino colour mutation of Nyasa Lovebird, which has also fallen after a couple of unrelated split birds purchased from a leading German breeder who specializes in species pure Nyasa Lovebirds. Already in the juvenile plumage, the face mask appears species-typical, and the colour intensity of this indicates that it is a male bird.


The lutino Nyasa Lovebird is - as with other colour mutations - not an expression of an independent species, but is the result of a change in the genetic inheritance of the wild-coloured Nyasa Lovebird. This genetic change results in a different phenotype (the appearance of the plumage) which differs from the appearance of the wild-coloured one by being mainly yellow instead of – as in nature – being mainly green, and the change is also hereditary.

The Lutino Nyasa Lovebird is a so-called autosomal recessive mutation (NSL – Non Sex-Linked ino), i.e. that it does not have sex-linked inheritance, as is known from the much more widespread Lutino Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis r. roseicollis), which inherits Lutino recessively sex-linked (SL ino – Sex-Linked ino). The Lutino Peach-faced Lovebird is thus inherited through the sex chromosome (the X chromosome), which means that there are no female birds split for Lutino (i.e. wild-coloured birds with hidden heredity) when we talk about Lutino Peach-faced Lovebird, as female birds have only one X chromosome.

The inheritance for the Lutino Nyasa Lovebird thus applies to ordinary recessive inheritance, as according to "Mendel's laws" statistically give the following results:

Targeted breeding work with a focus on quality

The prerequisite for high-quality mutation birds is that you have high-quality wild-coloured birds at your disposal. Therefore, I work with two strains within the Nyasa Lovebird, partly a completely "mutation-free" wild-coloured strain, partly a strain that contains the Lutino gene. The "mutation-free" strain is used as a reference basis for the wild-coloured bird, and the strain with the Lutino gene is supplemented with birds from the "mutation-free" strain as needed.

Nowadays, more aviculturists want "mutation-free" birds, as people - rightly - fear whether birds with mutation genes are 100 % species pure. The use of wild-coloured birds for colour mutation breeding - including split birds - has unfortunately receded into the background these days, so it can be difficult to know with certainty what lies behind a mutation bird. It is therefore associated with a certain risk to buy a mutation bird such as a Lutino, as one cannot be absolutely sure whether the bird in question is species pure. Therefore, this kind of bird should only be bought from serious breeders who


  • has a record of being a serious, knowing breeder,
  • has specialized in a single or a few primary colour mutations of the same species,
  • can present species-typical parent birds,
  • carefully keeps a studbook of the breeding material (so that inbreeding is avoided),
  • has a long-term goal for colour mutation breeding based on wild-coloured birds and split birds.

The probability of acquiring completely species pure birds is significantly greater if you acquire split birds and use the original species description for Nyasa Lovebird as a reference basis. In this connection, I have come across reports of aviculturists who regard perfectly looking split birds as not species pure per definition, which is obviously a glaring misunderstanding.

This kind of attitude among aviculturists arises not least because many breeders are far too uncritical in relation to their breeding material and pair vulnerable colour mutations - even across species - with each other in order to “produce” new colours as quickly as possible. It even happens without regard to the birds' vitality, size, etc. Unfortunately, you see certain aviculturists who, instead of putting down weak and small birds, try to sell them on various internet sites, which is deeply reprehensible.

For my own part, I use the same principles to work with colour mutations as the highly esteemed Danish aviculturist, Poul Frandsen, from Brønshøj (Copenhagen) did. He became known for high quality colour mutation birds in the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus). Poul Frandsen - if possible - always had wild-coloured birds during the breeding work with colour mutations, and yet he continually found himself having to put down not an inconsiderable number of chicks/young birds that did not meet his strict quality requirements. That made his breeding material unique. It may seem cynical, but he had previously over many years bitterly experienced what it means if you don't set high quality standards, e.g. after “experimenting” with colour mutations of Japanese origin, which were the ones that were available in the 1960’s.

Here one of my species pure Nyasa Lovebird Lutino colour mutation breeding females, which after approximately two years of trying succeeded in producing chicks in the summer of 2011.

Experiences versus the future

Until a few years ago, it was always said that the wild-coloured Nyasa Lovebird was rather delicate and not least sensitive to cold, and that the Lutinocolour mutation was even more vulnerable. Where the wild-coloured Nyasa Lovebird today appears as robust as you have never experienced before - after many years of acclimatization at our latitudes in northern Europe - the vulnerability has unfortunately followed the Lutino colour mutation, at least in some areas. Lutino birds are unfortunately characterized by a high mortality rate among the chicks and young specimens and by the birds' sensitivity to sunlight, which means that it must have very good opportunities to seek shade in an outdoor aviary.

When working with colour mutations of this caliber, it is important not to pair Lutino on Lutino, but rather split/Lutino on Lutino or even better split/Lutino on split/Lutino. However, the latter pairing has the disadvantage (cf. the table above) that you cannot tell the difference between wild-coloured birds and the birds that carry the Lutino genes, which is why, if necessary, you must do control pairings when the birds are 1 year old.

In relation to the Nyasa Lovebird, as already stated, I work with two different strains, namely wild-coloured ones without genetic modifications, and the strain with Lutino genes, so that I can continuously bring in birds from the wild-coloured strain, which come from some of Europe's leading breeders.

Whether I succeed in creating a solid foundation for further breeding work for Nyasa Lovebird with Lutino genes remains to be seen. So far, I am impressed with how well the birds with the Lutino genes have managed through the severe winter of 2009/10. Unfortunately, it is my experience that it can be difficult to get wild-coloured birds that have never seen a Lutino bird to accept the Lutino colour mutation. It has surprised me that the Nyasa Lovebird, which otherwise appears to be a peaceful bird, can show such aggressive behaviour towards the Lutino colour mutation, a phenomenon that E. N. T. Vane already described many years ago, where wild-coloured birds killed Lutino birds. Nevertheless, I continue to insist on pairing my birds with Lutino genes with vital wild-coloured birds.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 25.07.2010/ 09.02.2024