Pugnacious, violent and even murderous are all words that have been used to describe peach-faced lovebirds, but PAULINE JAMES says it’s down to how you house them
ACRIMONY within a lovebird flight usually only occurs because of the way the occupants are being housed and looked after. It’s not that the lovebirds are showing unacceptable levels of aggression for no apparent reason, as is usually presumed.
It is completely natural for a peach-faced hen to be the dominant partner in a pairing, and for the male to be placid and subservient, to the point that sometimes she won’t even allow the male in the nest-box at night during the breeding season.
But it is not all doom and gloom for the male, and a compatible pair of peach-faced lovebirds actually show each other much affection – hence their name. They will spend a lot of their time mutually preening, chewing and playing in the willow branches, and in quieter moments they will take a nap snuggled up together.
Bonded is better
If several pairs of lovebirds are to be kept in a colony, there is even more opportunity for aggression to erupt, so it is important that each pair of lovebirds is fully bonded before they are put into the aviary together.
The easiest way of bonding a new pairing, once they have shown initial interest in each other, is to keep them together in a cage for several months. Always release all the lovebirds into the colony flight at the same time, so that none of the birds feel the need to defend “their” territory from interlopers.
Give a newly formed colony a few weeks to settle into their accommodation before putting up the nest-boxes. As well as your birds benefiting from the exercise and sunshine prior to the breeding season, it will also give you time to observe the pairs. Much information can be gleaned by closely watching how they interact at this stage, and if necessary, any trouble-makers can be removed before nesting begins.
Never try to breed two different species of lovebird in the same aviary. Apart from not tending to be very tolerant of one another, in my opinion, breeding hybrids is most undesirable.
These mixed-gene individuals should never be passed on to other breeders, since the youngsters that they produce will also not be birds of pure genes, and have the potential to spoil many generations of pure species lovebirds.
One of the main reasons for aggression and problems occurring is that an aviary is over-crowded. Four pairs of lovebirds require an outside flight measuring 2.7m x 1.8m x 1.8m high (9ft x 6ft x 6ft), with adjoining inside accommodation 1.2m x 1.2m x 1.8m high (4ft x 4ft x 6ft).
Although the outdoor flight space is important, it is the indoor space, where the lovebirds retreat to at night out of the breeding season, which actually dictates the number of birds that can be safely housed together.
If the birds have no inside housing, this can also be the cause of much unrest, when their basic needs and comfort levels in winter are seriously compromised.
Even in a bigger aviary than this, no more than four pairs should be housed together. The more birds that there are in a flight, the more chaotic and potentially hazardous it will become. It is tempting to think that perhaps you could squeeze in just one more pair, but once all these pairs breed and start fledging four to six chicks each, numbers in the flight rapidly proliferate.
The more youngsters there are trying to find their feet, the greater the likelihood that attacks or fatalities will occur.
It should also be taken into account that lovebirds become very territorial when breeding. As a result, they need to be allocated as much personal space as possible.
The easiest way to do this is to provide groupings, consisting of two nesting boxes and at least one roosting box, as far away from each other as possible. This way adult pairings will be far more relaxed and won’t feel the need to be forever defending their territory. And as a result, they will be far more tolerant of neighbouring pairs.
When the chicks first fledge and are learning to fly, they very easily become disoriented. They will find it much easier to cope and find their way back to their nest-box, if they have a good-sized area of the flight to aim for. This helps them to avoid landing on another family’s nest-box, and be met with hostility.
Each grouping of nest-boxes should be hung at the same height, and should be similar in design and appearance. This will prevent the most dominant hens from fighting over the highest box or what they consider to be the most advantageous grouping of boxes.
It is also important to hang the boxes at least 15cm (6in) from the top of the flight. This will give the birds enough headroom to be able to perch on top of the boxes, but keep them away from the heat of the roof.
The way forward is to keep lovebirds in as natural a situation as possible, making sure that they are warm and comfortable at all times, and are fit and healthy by providing them with a good diet and enough flying room.
This way they will be content, happy and relaxed and will never have any need to show aggression.
FOOD pots can be a source of potential antagonism between lovebirds and ideally in a colony flight the feeding trays should be placed in two separate positions, within the inside accommodation.
Otherwise, a dominant hen can sometimes commandeer the food and water bowls, seriously intimidating youngsters when they first fledge, and sometimes prevent them from feeding and drinking.
Pauline James has been writing for Cage & Aviary Birds since 1994. She has kept eight species of lovebird, as well as many cockatiels and other psittacines.