Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus canus)

Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus canus) - here one of my breeding males.

The anonymous bird

The title is due to the fact that apart from this species' somewhat angry behavior at times, it does not make much of a difference. It is not so widespread among aviculturists, probably because of its relatively modest colours compared to its relatives, but conversely the species is not rare in human care. To the untrained eye, the female bird in particular may resemble some of the Parrotlet species (genus Forpus), but the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird is much more elegantly built and has longer wings.

Agapornis canus canus, formerly Agapornis cana cana, is the scientific Latin name for the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, which also differs from its relatives in other ways. E.g. it is one of only two species of Lovebirds that has a bright beak, the other species with a bright beak is the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis). In addition, the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird's main range is not continental Africa, but the world's 4th largest island, Madagascar, located off the south-eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar, like Australia, is known for a fauna which is completely unique, as a large number of special plants, birds and animal species are only found here, just think of the Lemur apes (wet-nosed primates of the superfamily Lemuroidea), which you often see in nature programs on TV.

As a very young person in 1975, I had the extraordinary opportunity to buy 2 pairs of wild-caught Pallid Grey-headed Lovebirds, which had arrived at the importer, Winston Wulff, in Amager in one of the - as far as I know - last consignments to Denmark. Normally only Zoos around Europe - as well as pet shops - could buy from Winston Wulff, but as I had previously worked for a whole week as a school internship at his quarantine station, so here I had a unique opportunity to buy these birds before they were sold on.

Postage stamp from the Seychelles with a pair of Pallid Grey-headed Lovebirds as a motif. The male with the grey head sits at the top.

Colour description

The species is distinguished as one of the few species within the Lovebird genus (Agapornis) by having visible gender differences. In his work, "Papegøjebogen" (“The Parrot Book”, only available in Danish), the late J. L. Albrecht-Møller describes the nominate subspecies as follows:

"The male: Head, neck and upper breast pearl grey, the yellowish-green ground colour of the feathers sometimes shines through; other upper side green, lighter on upper rump and upper tail feathers; lower part of breast and other underside yellowish green; inner wing feathers and the outer vanes of the other primaries and secondaries green, the inner vanes blackish brown; underwing coverts black, edge of wing whitish; tail-feathers green, but with a broad black band in a distance from the tip; the ground of the side tail feathers yellowish. Eye brown; beak and waxy cere whitish grey; tarsus white grey.

The female: Similar to the male, but the head is green and without grey. Upperside green, underside yellow-green; underwing coverts green.

Juveniles: Down coat yellowish white, nest coat grey down and feathers. In the wild, the chicks all look like females (however, cf. later in the article); in captivity, the male chicks turn grey on the head already at the first moult, cause unknown.

Length: 130 – 140 mm.”

In the same book it is stated about the subspecies, Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus ablectaneus):

"The male: Like Agapornis canus canus, but differs in that the grey feathers on the head and neck have a distinct bluish or blue-violet tint, and that the bird is slightly larger.

The female: Does not differ from the female of Agapornis canus canus.

Length: 140 – 150 mm.”

For further mention and description of the Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird, please refer to a separate article on this at

Newly hatched chicks of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird have a thick whitish down coat and are much smaller than chicks of the white eye-ringed Lovebird species, e.g. the chicks of the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus). As the days go by, the down suit turns dark grey. In human care, the males can already at the age of approximately 3 weeks can be recognized by the beginning grey feathers on the head, but especially on the back of the head the colour has a very visible greenish tinge. In addition, chicks of both sexes are characterized by the fact that the beak in the first weeks after fledging is brownish dark at the base, and their eyes are completely dark, almost black. The young are generally duller and gustier in colour when they leave the nest. It appears from several popular books about Lovebirds that when young males leave the nest in the wild, they look like the females, i.e. that they are without the grey main colour on their head. In the wild, the grey colour on the males' heads should only show when the young birds moult their plumage at the age of approximately 5 months and afterwards get their adult plumage. In human care, the male chicks already have the grey head colour from the start, which means that in human care it would have to skip its juvenile plumage. However, I have had the opportunity to see some colour photos from nature, which the well-known German nature photographer Eckhart Lietzow has taken of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird in their nest, and here the grey head colour appears in the male chick.

The young leave the nest approximately 40 days old.

The Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird has the smallest beak of the Lovebird genus, but if you do not get a good hold of the bird when capturing this species, it can bite quite powerfully with its angry nature despite the bird's small size.

Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird. The female is not as brightly coloured as the male, and to the unexperienced aviculturist the female may resemble some of the different species of Parrotlets (genus Forpus), but the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird has a more streamlined anatomy and is more elegantly built. At the same time, it has an extremely fast flight, during which it can turn in the air and change direction as easily as nothing. The photo shows a couple of my breeding females.

In the wild

The Grey-headed Lovebird's (Pallid and Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird combined) range is estimated by BirdLife International to be approximately 689,000 km2, corresponding to almost 7 % of Europe's area.

The nominate subspecies lives on the huge island, Madagascar, which, as mentioned, lies east of the African continent. It has also been introduced to the surrounding islands, i.a. Mauritius and the Comoros as well as Zanzibar and Mafia on the African east coast itself. At the same time, the species has also been introduced to the Seychelles, which are as far away as approximaytely 1,000 km north of Madagascar, far out in the Indian Ocean.

The subspecies, the Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird (see separate article), comes from the arid south-west of Madagascar, and is the only Lovebird to have evolved from a different environment rather than from geographic isolation.

In the wild, where the distribution areas of the two forms adjoin each other on Madagascar, a crossbred population is found. In human care, the nominate subspecies and the subspecies have unfortunately also been mixed up over time, whereby - combined with export bans from the places of origin and import restrictions - it is now a matter of protecting and further developing the species-pure birds that are, after all, found around certain parrot collections.

The breeding season is from October/November to April, when the flocks split up and the pairs separate and breed separately rather than breeding in colonies as is known from several other of its relatives. It uses cavities in trees as nests, which are lined with dry leaves, fir needles and stubs of straw. In the wild, hardly more than 3 chicks survive per year per clutch.

How a country like Laos, located in the south-eastern part of Asia, can think of issuing a stamp with a motif of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, male bird, may give rise to wonder, but it was published in 1997.


The Grey-headed Lovebird (Pallid and Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird in one) is not a threatened bird species in the context of nature conservation. Thus, it is assumed that the population of the Grey-headed Lovebird is not in danger on the mainland of Madagascar.

The situation is different with the populations that belong on the smaller islands. In the Seychelles, only very few birds of this species occur, and the situation is similar in the Comoros and Réunion. As for the island of Mauritius, which over the past decade has become a major tourist magnet, Grey-headed Lovebirds have not been observed for a long time, which is why it is assumed that the population here is extinct.


Since 2004, the species has been 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 category "Least Concern", and thus has the same status as e.g., the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus).

A photo of a number of my breeding pairs of Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird. Over time, this species has also become very robust, and it likes to sit outside even at severe freezing temperatures, but only for a short time at a time. As applies to the entire Agapornis genus, this species must also have free access to a heated interior.

Nature protection measures

Madagascar has had an export ban for this species for several years, in addition to the fact that it is listed on CITES, list II. This list II deals with species of plants, animals and birds which are not necessarily endangered, but which may become so if trade in these species is not subject to strict restrictions to avoid exploitation incompatible with the survival of the species. International trade in List II species may be permitted by issuing an export permit or a re-export certificate. In practice, many hundreds of thousands of list II species are traded every year, as no import permit is required for these species.

The Grey-headed Lovebird (Pallid and Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird combined) has thus been the subject of intensive trade since 1981, when it was listed on CITES, list II. A total of 107,829 captured specimens of the Grey-headed Lovebird have been registered in international trade, cf. UNEP-WCMC CITES trade database, January 2005. Still, it is not an endangered bird species.

The Islamic Republic of Comoros has also issued a stamp with the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird as a motif, but after all the bird lives on this island group, located in the Indian Ocean in the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel between the northern tip of Madagascar and the African continent.

In human care

As recently imported birds, the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird was perceived as sensitive, and in the first period in human care, many aviculturists fed it rice, which is one of its main sources of nutrition in nature, and gradually at the same time accustomed the birds to other types of food.

Over time the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird has become less sensitive, but it is my experience that this bird thrives best in warm conditions over the winter.

Its behaviour seems rather erratic, especially towards conspecifics, but also towards other bird species, and in this context, it can also be behaviourally be compared to the South American Parrotlets (genus Forpus). The less space you give it, the more aggressive it appears. It is therefore my experience that this species is best kept in pairs, although its natural behaviour is to live in flocks outside the breeding season. The female in particular becomes aggressive during the breeding season, which also speaks for keeping them in pairs alone. It is also my experience that this species, which is quite shy, thrives best if it stays in an aviary filled with natural branches with lots of twigs and leaves that can provide it with some natural hiding places where the pair can sit together and hide themselves. Some aviculturists prefer to keep them in box cages where the birds only see potential threats from one side. The bird thrives best in quiet surroundings and - despite the reports from nature – it is not experienced as noisy.

Although the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird in the wild outside the breeding season moves in small groups of 5 - 20 individuals or gathers in large flocks of several hundred individuals, it is my experience - and thus recommendation - that in human care they are primarily kept in pairs, as otherwise too many mutual conflicts arise between the birds, which will disturb the breeding birds.

Similar to the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis), the species has an incredibly exciting behaviour around its nest building, as the female gnaws small leaves, twigs or bark, which are then processed in the beak and then tucked under the feathers on the lower back and upper rump (upper tail coverts). When the female has filled this area of her body with nest-building material, she flies towards the nest box to build her nest with these building materials, and so the female continues until she has built a nice nest, which, however, is not as "artistic" as the known from other Lovebird species. The species can make use of this nesting technique, as the feathers on the lower part of the upper body are said to be what is called "ruffled" in English. With me, the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird has especially been a big consumer of - often dry - leaves from branches and twigs. The leaves are bitten into narrow strips before being inserted under the feathers.

Here a Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, a male bird of my own breeding, which has just left the nest. You can see that the colours are generally duller compared to adult birds, to which the back of the grey head is mixed with green feathers, which disappear when the bird moults into adult plumage.

Contrary to observations from Madagascar, which indicate that the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird lays 3 to 4 eggs, clutches in human care are larger, namely 4 to 6 eggs, sometimes even up to 7 eggs.

The eggs are hatched alone by the female over a period of 19 - 21 days. During this period, the female is fed in the nest by the male. When the male during this period starts going to the nest box during the day, you can be pretty sure that chicks have arrived. When the children are approximately 14 days old, the female begins to increasingly show herself to be fed by the male. When the chicks have left the nest, the male feeds them, but he soon gets tired of his young sons, who are considered a kind of rivals. All the young birds should be removed from the parents as soon as they become independent, which they will be at the age of 7 - 8 weeks.

The Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, due to its shy behavior, can be quite sensitive to disturbance while the female is sitting on eggs. The female may even leave the nest and eggs if too much disturbance occurs. Although the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird is no longer allowed to be imported, and the current captive population has been bred in human care, the species has still not shed its natural shyness. You can therefore achieve greater success with breeding the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird by offering it many opportunities for natural hiding and by using the most suitable nest box. Here I am thinking of a horizontal nest box (budgerigar nest box), which should preferably be mounted on the outside of the cage/aviary, so that the nest can be checked from the outside. This allows the female, who reacts very nervously to this control, to escape into the aviary through the nest hole without destroying the eggs in a panic. I have exclusively used horizontal nest boxes for breeding the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, and I have used lightly moistened small beech chips at the bottom.

Looking at breeding statistics of Lovebird breeding in Germany, one notices that the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird is only bred in relatively small numbers, and only the Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis p. pullarius) is bred in lower numbers. However, it is my experience that if you get the right pair, the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird is a good and stable breeding bird that produces chicks year after year.

It can be difficult to buy single females, as the males are often numerically overrepresented.

Yellow version of the nominate subspecies Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird. At the time of writing, I have no further information on this bird about whether it is a colour mutation that can be inherited, or whether it is just a sudden modification.

Colour mutations

Colour mutations of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird have also occurred.

On the basis of imported specimens of the subspecies Dusky Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus ablectaneus), a "Pallid"-like colour mutation occurred in Belgium in 2003 among female birds, which in this situation must not be confused with the name for the nominate subspecies, Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird. The birds are a little paler than the wild coloured birds and in addition the primaries differ by being brownish grey.

During one of my trips to the Netherlands in the spring (2010), I was made aware by a Dutch bird friend that a yellow dark-eyed female of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird had previously appeared. I am not aware of whether this is the bird previously reported in the USA. This bird had a normal green juvenile plumage, but after moulting the plumage turned yellow. The bird's adult plumage can be described as follows:

Forehead, cheeks and throat are yellowish-white (just as the same parts in a wild coloured female bird are light or pale greenish). The colour of the body is deep yellow. Primaries and secondaries are white, but the outer vanes have a yellow tinge. The secondary tail feathers show a white line across, whereas the tail tip itself is yellow. The eyes are dark brown and the beak is horn-coloured beige. The feet are light grey.

I was handed a colour photo of the bird which can be seen above.

Whether it is in fact a colour mutation or a modification (not a hereditary abnormality) is not known for sure, but the nature and extent of the colour change suggest that it is a colour mutation, but this of course assumes that the change is hereditary. Unfortunately, no information can be given about the bird's further fate or how such a bird, if any, inherits the phenotype.

At the major bird show, BVA Masters (Belgische Vereniging Agaporniden), in Aalst, Belgium, which took place in September 2010, no colour mutations of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird were exhibited. However, we have probably only seen the start of colour mutations in the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, which also appears in a variegated version. As this species spreads in human care, more colour mutations will naturally occur.

A few days old chicks of Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird from own breeding.


The Grey-headed Lovebird is especially fond of the small seeds included in a standard parakeet mix. You can advantageously add several of the small millet species and grass seeds to such a seed mixture. It is particularly fond of half-ripe grass seeds of various varieties as well as oats. On the other hand, it is less fond of fruit, but it should be constantly available.

You can also try feeding with very small pellets.

With me, the Grey-headed Lovebird has been incredibly happy with spray millets, also in sprouted form.

Here, finally, some good advice from me, who has experience from more than 20 years of breeding the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird:


  • Pay attention to the following if you live in the northern hemisphere, where it can get cold, and if the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird lives coolly (typically below 16 – 18 degrees Celsius): Under such conditions, the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird consumes - as it is a small and frail bird - up to 50 % more food, why it is strictly necessary to give them access to significantly more and fatty food than in the summer, otherwise you risk the birds dying of starvation!


  • When the young birds of the Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird leave the nest, it is important that they have access to suspended spray millets ad libitum in the first months after fledging, as this contributes to reducing mortality among the young birds.


Also see the article on the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) as far as feeding is concerned.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 16.01.2010 / 05.02.2024


A look down into another nest box with a parent pair of Pallid Grey-headed Lovebird, which has three several weeks old chicks that are about to fly from the nest.