Western Red-faced Lovebird – My first breeding

The Western Red-faced Lovebird is an incredibly beautiful bird. It is the Lovebird species that has the most intensive and deeply coloured plumage compared to the 8 other Lovebird species. The male (seen on the left) is generally the most brightly coloured of the sexes.

The 2015 breeding season was by far not a success for me, neither in relation to my Lovebirds, the larger parrots, nor among the parakeets. We had to go all the way to December 2015, when, on the other hand, I really got something to be happy about. Here, several years of targeted experiments with the breeding of the parrot species, which by many aviculturists is considered as perhaps the most difficult parrot species to breed in human care, namely the Western Red-faced Lovebird, were crowned with success.


For a general description of this species, refer to another article on www.birdkeeper.dk (see the "Red-faced Lovebird" tab), as this article exclusively tells the story of the long road to my long-term goal of breeding this species finally bore fruit. The article is about the breeding experiences gained, not least about all the annoyances on the way to the first successful breeding of the Western Red-faced Lovebird.

Already after the first season, I gained a lot of good experience keeping the Western Red-faced Lovebird in flocks in outdoor aviaries in the summer and I learned that it is a really sociable bird. At the same time, however, I had to admit that the summer in Denmark - which is located in the northern hemisphere - is capricious. Flock breeding can probably be done, although not without a set-up with nest boxes containing some kind of artificial heating source, so it was dropped.


The Red-faced Lovebird has been known in Europe since 1603, i.e. since the time when the Danish King Christian IV still was a young man riding his horse around the capital Copenhagen. Already from the beginning of the 17th century, the Red-faced Lovebird was a preferred exotic "pet" among Europe's wealthy, not least among the distinguished ladies of the English aristocracy, who went for walks with their "Lovebird" on their finger. For more than 300 years, it has never been possible among aviculturists in Europe, or for that matter in other parts of the world, to establish this species as a regular breeding bird in human care, which is quite thought-provoking. It is generally difficult to get the Red-faced Lovebird to breed, and if it has happened, attempts at breeding have often been characterized by the chicks dying in the nest after just a few days, alternatively shortly after the young birds have fledged the nest. In addition, this species generally has a reputation for having a very high mortality rate, especially among females. This applies not least in connection with the acquisition of the birds, in particular when they are moved over long distances. Conversely, the poor ability of the species to regenerate in human care means that it has not yet become the subject of the misguided efforts of specialist bird associations to set meaningless standards for wild-coloured Lovebirds with all the attendant misfortunes.

I saw the first pair of Western Red-faced Lovebirds at an exhibition in the Vestegnens Fugleforening (a bird association) near Copenhagen about 45 years ago, but even then, there it was a rare bird among aviculturists, and it was not easy to acquire. At this time, the first thoughts were born that at some point in my life I should try my hand at this species. But we had to get to 1995, when I set myself the concrete goal that I wanted these birds when - and if - the opportunity presented itself. As these birds are very difficult to find, they were on my wish list for the next approximately 15 years before, in autumn 2011, I finally succeeded in acquiring several pairs of these extraordinarily beautiful birds. It is not uncommon that you have to be registered for several years with the very few European aviculturists who own/breed with this species, before you can hope to be able to buy these birds.

Apart from the Black-collared Lovebird (Agapornis swindernianus), which has never been successfully kept in human care at our latitudes, the Red-faced Lovebird is considered the rarest Lovebird species (genus Agapornis) in human care. It is a paradox, since it is the Lovebird species that has by far the largest distribution area in nature, concentrating on a large number of countries in equatorial Africa from west to east, where it is by no means a rarity, except in, for example, outlying areas.

During the years when the Red-faced Lovebird was on my wish list, I became acquainted with an aviculturist at Amager near Copenhagen, who had bought a pair on an earlier occasion, but unfortunately had lost his female after a short time. He had abandoned the idea of getting a new mate and given up on breeding the species. He more or less wanted to give his male bird away, as he also believed that there would be greater opportunities to breed this species if you had more than a single pair. I have a habit of writing down "golden nuggets" when I hear exciting information from other aviculturists, and here I thought I might have found one of the "keys" to successfully breeding of the Red-faced Lovebird, since the birds in the wild after all, live in small and smaller flocks. So, from the start I made up my mind that if I was going to have this species, I would have to get several pairs at once.

From the start I have had virtually no problems getting the Western Red-faced Lovebird to dig a nest and lay eggs, which some other aviculturists otherwise have experienced. On the other hand, the problems have arisen when chicks have arrived, and the female bird - as she does in nature - after a few days leaves the nest for a large part of the day. Here I have experienced the same thing as other aviculturists over the years, who have tried to breed this species, namely that the young die after a shorter or longer time. In this photo you can see a few days old - but dead - chick from the 2nd season, note the full crop, as a sign that the female bird has taken well care of it.


In much specialist literature about the Lovebird genus you can read about how sensitive this species is to virtually all kinds of changes, which also applies in relation to the acquisition process from another aviculturist, which typically takes place over long distances. I therefore set myself the following short-term goals for a future purchasement:


  • The primary focus was to keep the birds alive after the purchasement.
  • I wanted to take a close look at the birds and get to know them and their behaviour in depth.
  • The birds should therefore not be used for breeding from the start, risking their lives.


The long-term goal was subsequently, of course, to achieve breeding and – if possible – to work towards the provision of a strain that could provide regular breeding, which – to my knowledge – has only been achieved by a small handful of aviculturists in the world. I would therefore like to help break the code for the establishment of this kind in human care.

Preparations for the purchasement

As part of my research prior to the purchasement of the Western Red-faced Lovebird (the nominate subspecies, which is the only type that we see in human care), and in addition to reading all available literature on this species, I had contact with some of the few real connoisseurs of this species in Europe. In connection with this research, I became aware that there are certain prerequisites that must be met in order to keep the Western Red-faced Lovebird alive and thrive:


  • This Lovebird species must always have food (and water trough) hanging high up in the cage/aviary, as these birds, unlike all the other known Lovebird species, never/almost never go to the bottom of the cage or aviary to eat food.
  • It must have absolute calm and be kept behind closed doors, and I – myself - was the only one who was allowed to enter the room with the birds on a daily basis, of course dressed in the same colour clothes each time.
  • It must not be exposed to sudden and/or loud noises or disturbances, so all my other parrots and parakeets had to be kept completely separate from them from the start, after which they could gradually get used to the sounds of any other birds.
  • It must be kept at a good temperature (min. 20 degrees Celsius) indoors.
  • It must be fed with a seed mixture containing very small seed varieties, typically tropical bird mixture.
  • It must be offered in abundance with suspended millet cobs.
  • At the same time, it must have access to sweet fruit on a daily basis.
  • It must have probiotics on a regular basis.
  • There must be light around the clock in the room where the birds stay in the first weeks after the move, so that they can settle in better and have the longest possible time for food intake (even if you would think that this would seem stressful).

Here, unfortunately, one more – in this case barely 8 days old, dead chick of the Western Red-faced Lovebird is seen. Note how naked the chick is, as it is largely not covered with down. Precisely in this area, the Western Red-faced Lovebird also differs from the other Lovebird species, which are densely covered with down. This is one of the reasons why the Western Red-faced Lovebird is already very vulnerable to low temperatures and temperature fluctuations at a very early age (which is not the case in nature, where they use a termite mound as a nest typically along the equator in Africa), since after only a few days the female bird leaves the nest box for most of the day and only enters it to feed the young.

Managing the purchasement process and the time thereafter

The birds were purchased in autumn 2011 and after the quarantine period was over, all the birds were placed in a smaller living room aviary, where they lived together. The smaller living room aviary was located in a secluded room in our house, where we normally never keep birds.

It quickly became clear to me that the thesis that the Western Red-faced Lovebird thrives best when there are many of them, either living in a flock or at least having the opportunity to hear each other, must be right, because the birds thrived very well and I suffered no loss. This species has the sweetest and most gentle melodious voice imaginable, and it differs markedly from most other Lovebird species, even the Grey-headed Lovebird (Agapornis canus). This makes it particularly suitable for being kept indoors or in densely populated residential areas. The Western Red-faced Lovebird also differs in another way from the other Lovebird species, in that there is still a constant chatter across cages or when they sit together in an aviary. The other Lovebird species can also often sit and chit chat, but they often take longer breaks in between.

The first breeding season after the adaptation period

When we were well into the spring of 2012, and the weather had become good and the air warm, the birds were moved out into a heated bird house in an indoor aviary with access via a flight hole to freely search out into a large outdoor aviary. The noisiest species had been moved away from the aviary to some of my other aviaries so that the Western Red-faced Lovebirds were not frightened by the sounds of the larger parrot species. The late German Lovebird guru, Helmut Hampe, already wrote in his pioneering book, "Die Unzertrennlichen", from 1934, that the Western Red-faced Lovebird was to be considered among the least intelligent Lovebird species, i.a. because they couldn't figure out for themselves to move out in an outdoor aviary, a label that has followed this species ever since. I had to admit, that day after day went by without the birds going out into the open-air aviary. I therefore chose to do something unconventional, moving a single Grey-headed Lovebird from the neighboring aviary and putting it in with the Western Red-faced Lovebirds, and it wasn't long before the Western Red-faced Lovebirds learned to move in and out. Since then, I have learned that the Western Red-faced Lovebird - even without help - easily can adapt new challenges by itself, which just takes longer. It thus seems more reserved than the other Lovebird species, but I do not take that as an expression that it is unintelligent, rather the opposite, as it is very careful and does not just throw itself into anything.

The birds lived in a flock in the aviary over the summer, where they moved into the inner aviary for food and occasionally also to spend the night. The Western Red-faced Lovebird is a highly sociable bird both towards conspecifics and other, smaller bird species, e.g. finches. It is therefore only slightly combative – once in a while there is a single bird that has to mark its territory, and this is done for the male by spreading his tail and raising his feathers on the crown and using his voice.

At the same time, they had the opportunity to breed, as in the outdoor aviary many different types of custom-made nest boxes were placed under the ceiling of the aviary on the long sides of the aviary. The experimental nest boxes that I used in the first breeding season offered various options that allowed the female birds - who are known to be pure "drill bits" that gnaw a nest tunnel typically of 20 - 40 cm up to the place where the individual female wants to make the nest chamber itself. Over the years, aviculturists have experimented with different types of nest filling made of compressed peat, clay, plaster and even flamingo sheets (styrofoam); the latter I could never dream of using, as it is a toxic plastic. Many of these aviculturists have at the same time experimented with artificial heat sources, which are either placed at the bottom of the nest box or below it to ensure a high level of heat in the nest. Because of this species' unique breeding biology in nature, where it digs nests in termite mounds on the savannah in Equatorial Africa, it is always very warm in the nest around the clock. It is said that there can constantly be approximately 30 degrees Celsius inside a nest dug in such a termite mound. This is why the female in nature typically leaves the young a few days after they have hatched, but when they leave the nest box in the Northern European summer, changes in weather with colder temperatures can be fatal for the chicks. Already in the first summer I had chicks in a couple of the nest boxes, but the chicks typically died after 8 – 10 days, as the Danish summer weather can be very capricious.

Having thus tried flock breeding in Danish summer weather, I dropped it when I had to admit that this was probably not the way forward. The birds should have warmth and probably also as much peace as only a breeding rack (combined box cages of e.g. the Dutch brand GEHU) can provide. However, I had gained a great deal of experience, as the season had shown that the Western Red-faced Lovebird is extremely sociable and very sociable towards conspecifics.

MY FIRST CHICK OF THE WESTERN RED-FACED LOVEBIRD AFTER APPROXIMATELY 5 YEARS OF EFFORT!!! The photo was taken a few hours after it fledged the nest. There had probably been some kind of a problem, as it came out approximately 1 week too early, which i.a. can be seen that its plumage is not complete and it cannot yet fly. This is the chick mentioned in the article, who unfortunately died on 4th January 2016. Based on my research, it appears that young specimens of the Western Red-faced Lovebird are particularly vulnerable until an age of 10 – 12 months.

The following seasons

The following year, the birds were only allowed to be outside in the spring and all summer, after which they were taken into breeding racks in the heated bird house. Here I started putting 3 – 4 birds together in individual double cages in the breeding racks, so that the birds could mate from here themselves. I also installed camera surveillance, so that I could keep the birds under observation around the clock, which is also part of the permanent burglar alarm.

After further experiments with different nest boxes, I decided to no longer experiment with different designs of nest boxes, but instead use the regular nest boxes that come with the GEHU breeding racks (size measurements: L: 25 cm x W: 14 cm x H: 18 cm). It is important not to allow the Western Red-faced Lovebird to breed in nest boxes smaller than this size, as I have seen another breeder use a nest box of approximately half that size, causing permanent physiological damage to the chicks; the nest walls are hard, so when space is tight, the parent birds press the chicks against the walls of the nest, which can cause crookedness or other defects in the chicks. Over the years, I have had great breeding success by using the GEHU breeding racks with their standard nest boxes in relation to the Grey-headed Lovebird. However, compared to the Western Red-faced Lovebird, the nest boxes had to be filled with hard material that must not be so hard that the birds could not gnaw on it. I initially started out using clumps (cut peat, which is either directly cut from bog soil or formed by kneading and shaping peat moss) and that worked fine too, with the birds digging the desired nest tunnels and chambers, but after a few months in this second breeding season, I became afraid that the very fine-grained dust created by the birds' processing of the material could damage their respiratory organs. Many times, I saw that several of the females on a daily basis had almost turned to be more or less brown by the dust of the peat. From the following year I therefore decided only to use aquarium cork, which is cut to the right sizes so that they fit the nest box, before they are placed layer by layer in the nest box, of course after they have been rinsed under water to remove dust and impurities. Even when using cork, especially the female birds, when the nest engraving is on, can become completely blackish in the heads as a result of the processing of the cork sheets, but it is not at all dusty in the same way as peat.

The pattern of putting some of the birds into breeding racks in the aviary to breed on top of a long summer, and letting the rest sit in the inner aviaries of the aviary with access to outer aviaries, was repeated in the next breeding season (2014). It gave me insight into how robust the Western Red-faced Lovebird really can be once it feels safe and properly at home. The birds that stayed in the aviary thus moved out even on winter days with strong frost and snow. Here I differ from the other very few aviculturists in Europe that I know who have the Western Red-faced Lovebird, in that these aviculturists only keep this species indoors. However, in the long term, I do not believe that this will strengthen the health and well-being of the birds, including the immune system, which is why I am a supporter of the birds having a good long summer in the outdoor aviary, of course with free access to indoor aviaries, which they largely do not use, unless they have to forage. I have used the same approach towards my Grey-headed Lovebirds, which over the years have become particularly robust with me. They can also always forage indoors in a bird house that is heated in winter, but the Grey-headed Lovebird likes to sit in outdoor aviaries for hours at a time on even the coldest winter days and even move around on the bottom of a snowy aviary floor.


Among the Western Red-faced Lovebirds that sat in the breeding racks this season, I once had a male with two females in one box cage, which produced a pair of chicks, which unfortunately died, but this time after 14 days. The extra female, who was nicknamed "Aunt", contributed to the nest engraving and sought to enter the nest chamber together with the pair when it felt unsafe. At no time was there any kind of trouble between them, but I did not dare to move "Aunt" after I had ascertained during nest inspection that there were eggs. It is also a complicated and risky process to carry out nest control for the Western Red-faced Lovebird, since after opening the lid of the nest box layer by layer you have to remove each individual cork board to get down to the cork boards where the nest chamber is excavated. It is especially difficult on GEHU nest boxes, as half of the nest lid is fixed, but the GEHU system offers so many other advantages for an aviculturist.

In 2013 and 2014, during the winter months, I had both eggs and chicks a few times, but each time there were chicks, these died - for unknown reasons - at an age of 14 days at the most. It is part of the story that in 2014 there were quite a few breeding activities, as I simply had the birds taken into the breeding racks too late for family reasons.

Here you can see one of my other two chicks of the Western Red-faced Lovebird from the first clutch. The blackish area on the upper bill has already decreased in extent and intensity, in addition to which the colour of the bill has begun to change from yellowish to horn-coloured. As an adult bird, the upper bill is maroon red with a lower bill that is somewhat lighter.

Breeding season 2015

2015 was now to be the year in which everything was put in place to ensure that breeding would finally succeed, based on the experiences gathered in the previous years. In this connection, I thought that perhaps there were too many disturbances in the aviary for the Western Red-faced Lovebird's taste anyway, just as it was not possible to reach such high temperatures as might be needed to achieve successful breeding - and the high heat could have a negative effect on the other species at the same time. In late summer 2015, a separate room in our house was therefore made exceptionally ready for birds, as I installed a GEHU breeding rack. Normally I always separate human habitation from birds living places, but I now made an exception. I remained confident that the GEHU breeding racks, where over the years, as previously mentioned, I have had great success breeding the Grey-headed Lovebird, combined with a closed room that could ensure absolute peace and high warmth for the Western Red-faced Lovebirds, still had to be the path to success. The room in which they were placed could be observed from outside through a large window, and I alone frequented the room once on a daily basis.

The lighting was set to 13 – 14 hours a day, as we were heading into the dark autumn, and when the lighting was off, a night light was automatically switched on, which I have found makes this particular species more secure.

I normally place great emphasis on having a high level of cleanliness in my bird collection, but I decided to scale back these ambitions in order to disturb the birds as little as possible. For the same reason, this entire breeding season I would refrain from carrying out any kind of nest box inspection, just as there would also be no marking of any chicks with closed rings - now I simply should not interfere in any way, but instead leave the "whole scene" to the birds. It has before been seen that a female bird of this species can permanently leave a nest box with eggs when nest box inspections are carried out.

The Western Red-faced Lovebirds were also this time moved from the aviary, where they had been together since the spring until the end of September. The birds had to be started at the same time, and the starting point was to put a single pair together in each box cage.

The 4 birds, which had certainly already produced eggs and chicks (which unfortunately typically died at an age of no more than 14 days), and thus already had to be considered a compatible pair, were the first to be put into their own box cages. A male and a female were also placed in the other box cages. As something completely new, I would then, on the basis of daily observations, use a significantly different strategy compared to previous years, such that I replaced one bird in a pair with a bird of the same sex from one of the other box cages, if there were not sufficient sympathy between the birds, or if there was insufficient progress in the breeding activities. The same applied, if the male did not search into the nest box together with the female, then it was exchanged with another male in order to always strive for mutual sympathy between the birds. The replacement of the male birds was also instrumental in the nest engraving further getting underway, so that it had a stimulating effect on the affected female birds. In this connection, it is worth emphasizing that it is my experience that the bonds between the sexes in a sympathy pair of the Western Red-faced Lovebird are not nearly as strong as, for example, is known from a number of the other far better known Lovebird species. Since the sexes of this species are also dimorphic, i.e. that there is a visible difference between male and female in the form of different colour patterns and intensity (see the article Red-faced Lovebird elsewhere on www.birdkeeper.dk), it is very easy to replace a bird with another of the same sex.

The exchange of birds between the different cages was based on the fact that it is very easy to follow the nest engraving of the Western Red-faced Lovebird, as there are larger or smaller piles of small pieces of bitten off cork on the bottom of the box cages below the nest hole. This strategy meant for the first time ever that I had up to several pairs starting at the same time, but I would be happy to get just a single chick from one pair.

Here you can see the profile of the second of the two surviving chicks, who are thriving in the best possible way.

As something new, I also provided each box cage with a suspended bundle of hanging willow branches/twigs with lots of leaves to also act as a hide. I had not previously been sufficiently aware that it appears from individual breeding reports that the female of the Western Red-faced Lovebird sometimes also uses nesting material (pieces of leaves, twigs and branches), which is carried into the excavated nest under the plumage. In addition, it is generally my experience that this species thrives and is best stimulated when it has the opportunity to gnaw on fresh natural branches and twigs.

Another novelty in this breeding season was that every second day I would consistently shower nest boxes as well as birds with cold water from a flower sprayer, as I had previously experienced that some fertilized eggs had not hatched. The Western Red-faced Lovebird, in contrast to several of the other Lovebird species, is not a bird that bathes, and in fact the birds had difficulty getting used to being showered with water.

Barely a week passed, then the first female bird began to dig a nest in one of the boxes, which meant that lots of small dark pieces of cork gradually piled up on the bottom of the cage, which is otherwise covered with light, granulated beech wood shavings that have been heat-dried and are dust-free. When the nest tunnel was large enough, the female bird began to spend the night in the nest box. During the day, the male bird typically sat out on a perch/branch to keep watch, but at night, or if it was startled, it sought into the nest box for the female.

From the start, the birds were given a constant room temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, but when nesting preparations in several of the box cages seemed to have stopped after some time, my wife suggested that we should regulate the temperature up to 28 degrees Celsius. When that was done, the nest digging took off almost from one moment to the next.

I have not myself observed a complete mating, but it should take place as follows: When the male wants to mate, he shows off his black underwing coverst by raising his wings without spreading them. The tail spreads like a fan and it trips back and forth on the perch where the female is sitting and he continues to nod his head. The female is very passive in the process, but eventually spreads her wings so that the male can mount her.

There is usually no doubt when the female is about to lay eggs, as the size of her droppings becomes significantly larger.

On Monday, November 9th, 2015, during the feeding, I heard the first very early chirps from the nest box in one of the box cages, and over the next 14 days I on several occasions heard that the early chirps became more intensive. I didn't even dare to think about whether the adventure of this breeding season would once again end with the chick(s) dying at the age of 14 days at the most. Fortunately, the chirping from the nest box continued and over the following weeks the chirping turned into very distinct begging sounds - and above all, it sounded as if there was more than one chick begging for food from the parents.

A GEHU nest box of the same type as the one in which the successful breeding of the Western Red-faced Lovebird took place. The birds must not be offered nest boxes that are smaller than this. I have seen with another aviculturist that the birds have been offered a nest box that was approximately half as big as a GEHU nest box, which has meant that due to a lack of space - as a result of the internal solid walls that the cork provides – the chicks got permanent physical defects such as curvature of the body.

When we got home on Friday evening, December 18th, 2015, we looked in through the window to the room with the breeding rack, and here I could see that there was a little chick sitting at the bottom of the box cage, from where we had heard the chicks!!! When I took a closer look it was clear that it was a chick that had fledged too early and still needed the plumage to be complete, but it was a huge step forward.

The chick continued to stay on the bottom of the box cage and I was therefore afraid that the parent birds would even fly down and feed it, as it is said of the Western Red-faced Lovebird that it would rather die of starvation than search towards the bottom of the cage/aviary. My worries were put to shame, thank God, as the parent birds' instinct to look after their young was so strong that the very next morning I saw that the male was sitting on the bottom and regurgitating food for the young, so the parent birds have behaved impeccably all the way through the breeding process. Over the years that I have had the Western Red-faced Lovebird, I have only seen single birds on the bottom of the aviary a few times. Unlike the other Lovebird species, this species - probably for safety reasons - does not want to forage on the ground. In nature you don't find them on the ground either, here they are seen - when they are closest to the ground - only in the high grass of the savannah, where they very elegantly can sit with their heads down while they forage.

Some breeding reports state that the chicks of the Western Red-faced Lovebird all leave the nest at the same time, but we had to wait 8 days until Boxing Day, when I was even more excited when suddenly there were the two most adorable and perfect chicks on one perch between their parents. It is typical for the Western Red-faced Lovebird that the parent birds try to protect their young by sitting on each side of them.

However, as you know, God did not create Paradise without a snake, so the chick that first had fledge the nest, and which had stayed at the bottom of the box cage the whole time, was found dead on January 4th, 2016. I don't know why, but the day before it seemed as if it had suddenly become paralyzed and couldn't really use its legs, but still - two whole chicks on a perch - it wasn't that bad.

It must be seen in the light of the fact that if the Western Red-faced Lovebird finally takes up an offered nesting opportunity, the female lays 3 – 6 eggs, rarely up to 7 eggs, but there is a tendency for only 2 – 3 eggs are laid. The eggs are incubated by the female alone, and they hatch after 22 - 23 days, and then not many days pass before the female bird is typically only in the nest with the young at night.

During the incubation period, the female came out of the nest a few times a day to defecate and was eagerly fed by the male. She could also manage to feed herself. After that she continued with the brooding. During the process, I observed that the male also entered the nest box and fed the chicks, sometimes - far along in the process - he only got half way in because the chicks had eagerly crawled forward into the nest tunnel to beg for food.

From the previous failed breeding attempts with the Western Red-faced Lovebird, I know that its chicks immediately after hatching appear very naked compared to the other Lovebird species. At first, the chicks have a beak tooth, and at the age of 11 - 13 days they begin to open their eyes, and it is at this time that you usually will ring the chicks with closed rings. A few days later the first feather pouches appear, and then the first feathers appear. Approximately at 35 days old, the chicks are almost fully feathered, and 1 - 2 weeks later they leave the nest. Barely 9 weeks old, the chicks are independent.

I have read that, unlike the young of other Lovebird species, the Western Red-faced Lovebird's young do not return to the nest once fledged, but this is not correct. With me, the young birds have on repeated occasions returned to the nest after the first flight.

Here you can see how the Western Red-faced Lovebird has dug its way through the cork boards with which the nest box has been filled. The nest itself consists of a nest tunnel, which in nature will typically be 20 – 40 cm long and a nest chamber where the female bird lays eggs. The nest chamber itself is an extension of the nest tunnel along the top edge and goes out into the nest chamber at the top left of the photo and then goes under the cork board along the left side.

If the birds feel threatened, you see more often than with other Lovebird species that the parent birds, especially right after the chicks have fled, try to protect the young by letting them sit between them on a branch, as already described above. Some breeders describe the fledglings as extremely shy, while others describe them as surprisingly calm, and I belong to the latter category. However, it seems to me that the older the young birds have become, the more of the shyness from the parent birds they take on. The young begin to moult into their adult plumage at the age of approximately 4 months.

If you are lucky enough to get the Western Red-faced Lovebird, you may find that it – like the Grey-headed Lovebird – can be very shy, but over time the Red-headed Lovebirds become much calmer in contrast to the Grey-headed one. However, I have heard from various other aviculturists that they are impressed with how calm many of my Grey-headed Lovebirds are. Among other things, I always try to interact with my birds with calm movements and a soft voice. There is no comparison between the chicks of the Red-headed Lovebird and the Grey-headed, as the chicks of the latter are always very shy and will do anything to escape when any humans get too close.

Although I did not ring my first Western Red-faced Lovebird chicks, it is my opinion that the recommendations that I have seen from closed ring suppliers concerning the use of rings with a diameter size of either 3.8 or 4.0 mm are directly wrong and can be deadly for birds if you follow these recommendations. The young birds of the Western Red-faced Lovebird may appear relatively small at the start of life, but in fact as an adult it is a rather large - and more corpulent - bird compared to the Grey-headed Lovebird, and it has significantly stronger legs, tarsus and feet than this species. According to the late German Lovebird guru, Helmut Hampe, the average weight of the Grey-headed Lovebird 24 – 29 grams (for both sexes under one), where the average weight of the Western Red-faced Lovebird is 36 – 43 grams (also for both sexes under one). Going forward, I will use rings with a diameter of either 4.2 or 4.5 mm for the Western Red-faced Lovebird.

Some females leave the nest when the chicks are only 3 – 4 days old, other females stay longer in the nest box. When the female leaves the nest very early, the chicks can easily freeze to death, as the chicks of the Western Red-faced Lovebird - as previously stated - are characterized by being mostly naked in the first days of their life, in contrast to the chicks of the other Lovebird species, which has down from the start. Therefore, it is important to have either a high room temperature or a separate heating source for the nest box itself.

Over the years I have observed that the Western Red-faced Lovebird has a tendency toegg binding if it is not warm enough where it resides. Incidentally, the breeding female from which I have now succeeded in getting chicks was almost dying the year before precisely because of egg binding, but my wife and I managed to save her, and she has now thanked us for that in the form of a successful breeding.

At no time have there been signs that the parent birds have wanted to start the 2nd cluch, I have only seen this in pairs where things already went wrong for them at the start of the 1st clutch.

Finally, I managed to get chicks of the Western Red-faced Lovebird, what a glorious sight. It is a chick who sits in the front in front of his father. At the back, its mother can be seen, which has gone into moulting.

About the chicks

As an adult bird, the Western Red-faced Lovebird is a fantastically beautiful and brightly coloured bird with mostly sharply defined colour patterns. It is the Lovebird species that has the most intensively coloured plumage, which is why specimens in top condition are the pure "splendor specimens". The male in particular is impressive, whereas the female is usually lighter (paler/more yellowish) in the otherwise strong orange-red face mask. However, I also have females that are so intensively coloured that they look almost like males except for the known obvious differences in the colour pattern of the underwing coverts, which are black on the male and green on the female. Another visible sex characteristic is the bend of wings, which are black, slightly bluish on the male, while the female's bend of wings is green with a narrow yellow border. The tail of the Western Red-faced Lovebird is also incredibly beautiful, with the central vane of the tail feathers being deep red, and it is a beautiful sight when adult males in affect spread their tail feathers so that the red colour becomes visible in a fan shape while at the same time he raises his feathers on the crown.

As previously stated, a newly hatched chick of the Western Red-faced Lovebird has very few down and therefore appears very naked in contrast to the other Lovebird species. After a few days, the down starts to really come out.

When the young of the Western Red-faced Lovebird leave the nest, it has blackish areas on the upper bill that are yellowish, but these blackish areas are not as sharply defined as, for example, known from the Peach-faced Lovebird's (Agapornis roseicollis) chicks. The beak itself, as far as the upper beak is concerned, has a different appearance to that of the other Lovebird species, as it is as if there is a "crack" in the middle of the upper beak, which makes the beak more forward and thereby better can be used as a tool to gnaw its way through a wall to a termite mound. The beak position is thus generally more forward-oriented, as e.g. also known from other parrot species that have a behaviour of gnawing their way through hard material to make a nest.

The face mask of the young specimens is much paler and yellowish compared to the face mask of the adult females, and after a few weeks the beak becomes more horn-coloured, later assuming the red colour of the adult bird.

How lucky can you be? The green colour of the underwing coverts reveals already in the young bird's plumage that it is a female bird, which is outnumbered in this species, as the females in particular are vulnerable.

Why do the chicks die?

Over the years, I have probably read a handful of breeding reports about the Western Red-faced Lovebird, and the characteristic of several of these has been that it was a very special feed that this particular breeder used, which was the reason why the breeding was successful and the chicks got on a perch. It ranges from reports of a pair of Western Red-faced Lovebirds consuming as many as 500 mealworms per day while they had chicks in the nest box, to another report stating that the chicks only survive if they are given milk powder – not from cows, but from something as special as a young sheep. Here one can object, what on earth does milk powder from sheep really have to do with birds, but it strengthens the immune system against pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.) in sheep and is rich in animal proteins. It should be mixed together with egg food - and possibly sprouted seed – before it is given to the birds.

Various oils have also been mentioned as being miraculous, as well as the use of vitamin K1 against fungus, which should also prevent feather plucking, as some birds tend to do this during the breeding season.

I have chosen to disregard a number of these more or less special instructions, and the birds, for example, have access to animal proteins via the universal food that I feed.

What remains is the fact that there is a high mortality among young Western Red-faced Lovebirds, the reason for which no one really knows, but it is also a fact that some parent birds kill their young and in some cases are said to eat them.

Here the whole family can be seen in the double GEHU box cage, on the far left, one juvenile bird and on the right at the back the other young bird can be seen flanked by the two proud parent birds at the front.


The focal point in the feeding has been a tropical bird mixture of excellent quality with some small-grained pellets added. Also lots of suspended millet cob (the yellow variety from France).

Next, a home-made soft feed mix, which i.a. contains egg feed mixture, grated carrot and mineral powder.

An absolutely indispensable part of the daily diet is sweet fruit, primarily large ripe apples (especially the red varieties, the favorite being the Jonagored, which is a beautiful spherical, firm and juicy, crisp apple with an intense sour-sweet taste) and pears, as well as vegetables, in particular corn. Some of the Western Red-faced Lovebirds consume so much fruit and vegetables that they tend to be frugivores.

Its fondness for millet seeds and maize is connected to the fact that in nature it likes to haunt fields with these crops.

I have deliberately chosen not to use sprouted seed mixtures in order not to expose the birds to unnecessary dangers. I have thus also disregarded the possibility of cooking seed mixtures, as I believe that this reduces - or in the worst case - destroys the nutritional value in the seeds.

All feed is given suspended either in cages or aviaries, as the birds, as mentioned, do not walk on the bottom of either cages or aviaries.

During the period when I have had them, the birds have been regularly offered live mealworms, but none of the birds have shown any interest in this at any time, neither outside the breeding season nor within it. Instead, I have used a universal mixture with insects, so that the feeding also is in place in relation to animal proteins.

A suspended iodine block is also indispensable, as is a suspended bowl containing mineral shells, which should be sufficiently "crisp" for the birds to handle them.

Vitamin preparations have continuously been added to drinking water.

The Western Red-faced Lovebird is a very peaceful and sociable bird that can be kept in a flock with conspecifics. Here is a glimpse from one of my aviaries, which, based on the light blue colour of the upper tail coverts, shows that it is the nominate subspecies, the Western Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis pullarius pullarius).

The future

You can of course say that getting 2 chicks on a perch from a pair of Western Red-faced Lovebirds, when there were several pairs that were set to breed, is a paltry result. However, it just emphasizes to me how difficult this species is to breed, and why it is not yet a well-established breeding bird in our bird collections after more than 300 years.

Some aviculturists will claim, regardless of bird species, that if you can succeed in putting together just the right pair, then you will - no matter what - at one point or another succeed in getting them to breed. A few individual breeding stories also show this, e.g. from 1986, when another Danish breeder shortly after acquiring a pair of this species was successful in getting a single breeding.

Nevertheless, I will be happy that I have finally succeeded in breeding this species. If nothing else, this article illustrates that if you have a goal and are determined to pursue it, and garnish it with patience and a little luck, breeding can be successful - even of the Western Red-faced Lovebird.

Along the way, the thought has never crossed my mind to abandon the venture of breeding this species. From the start I made it clear to my wife that this was a multi-year project that had to be successful, regardless of how long and how many resources I had to spend on getting the Western Red-faced Lovebird chicks on a perch.

Subsequently, one of the other pairs, which had fertilized eggs but no young, has started with clutch no. 2, and this is done by digging the nest chamber even larger. It will be interesting to follow the further course.

When I originally wrote the above article at the beginning of 2016, I had just succeeded with the first breeding of Red-faced Lovebird at the end of 2015. At the time of rewriting this article – February 2024 – as I sit translating it into English, it may be added that I since then - for 9 years - continuously have bred with two or more breeding pairs per year, so I have bred + 50 birds, so I am glad to have been able to contribute to the preservation of this incredibly beautiful Lovebird species in human care.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 12.02.2016 / 12.02.2024