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A partner for life: Grey-headed lovebirds

Grauköpfchen in Ankarafantsika

All over Africa, there are lovebirds: Small, colorful parrots that live with the same partner for life. They are not only famous for their lifelong pair bond, but also for extensive social behavior. Once a pair has found each other, the little birds are constantly seen cuddling or grooming each other’s feathers. Madagascar is also home to lovebirds, especially small ones: the grey-headed lovebirds (Agapornis canus). They grow to only 13 to 14 centimeters and weigh 25 to 30 grams. Only the males have the gray feathers on their heads that give them their name; the females are green all over.

Grey-headed lovebirds live everywhere in Madagascar in coastal areas. Only in the highlands, they are not found. They like open landscapes like savannas or forest edges with bushes and lower trees. In closed, dense forests they are fewer to be found. They can be seen particularly well in Ankarafantsika National Park, Kirindy Reserve, and near the Tsingy rouge. Remote villages and cultivated land such as rice, maize, and cassava fields are also usable habitats for these lovebirds.

Pairs of grey-headed lovebirds congregate in groups of up to 30. Together they search for food. Again and again, whole groups can be seen on the ground, where they eat grass seeds and other small seeds. Many rice farmers on Madagascar are less fond of grey-headed lovebirds because of course the small birds also like the most popular seed on the island, rice, very much. However, grey-headed lovebirds cannot be tricked very well with scarecrows – they are too smart and soon understand that there is no real person in the field.

The rainy season, which starts in November, marks the beginning of the breeding season of the grey-headed lovebirds. Once a suitable nesting hole is found in a tree, the pair pads it with grasses, pieces of bark, and small branches. A nest is created! The female lays four to six eggs in it. Then she takes over the entire brood, while the male provides a steady supply of food. After three weeks, the time has come: the still naked, blind nestlings hatch. The young birds fledge after only five to six weeks. Then they go in search of their soul mate, their partner for life. Gray-headed birds can live for ten to twenty years. Only when a mate dies does the remaining grey-headed lovebirds look for a new lover.

In many places, children and young people catch gray birds with simple traps or by hand. They sell the small birds on the roadside for small money to wealthier Madagascans, who then keep the lovebirds as pets. Outside of Madagascar, grey-headed lovebirds are now regularly bred. The first breeding success was already in 1872 in Germany with Karl Russ, a pharmacist and later ornithological writer. The regular breeding and their good adaptability led to the fact that gray heads have become today on Comoros, La Réunion, and Mauritius just as popular as on Madagascar. Accordingly, they are not yet considered endangered and are not likely to be in the future.

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