Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae)

Malawi has issued a total of 5 stamps with motifs of the Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), as recently as 2009, when a series of 4 stamps was issued exclusively with very lifelike motifs of this species.

Originally a difficult species to deal with

It is probably only in the English language that the word "Nyasa" is retained in the species name of this bird, where the word “Strawberry” has gained traction in other languages over time, e.g. in German, where the species is called "Erdbeerköpfchen", which translates directly into English as "Strawberry-headed Lovebird". The name Nyasa also comes from the various local languages among natives around Lake Malawi and is a local term for it. During the colonial period, the lake was called Lake Nyasa, and the country of Malawi was originally called Nyasaland.

The Latin species name dates back to 1894, when Captain G. E. Shelley discovered the species in the wild, and named it after expedition leader Sclater's sister, Lilian E. L. Sclater. The designation subsequently also made it to the English species name, Lilian's Lovebird, which has now been replaced by the designation Nyasa Lovebird, according to “Deutsche und englische Namen der Papageien” from Akademie für Vogelhaltung, Berlin 2023_03.


Colour description

In his work, "Papegøjebogen" (“The Parrot Book”, only available in Danish), the late J. L. Albrecht-Møller describes the Nyasa Lovebird as follows:

“Male and female: The smallest of the Lovebirds with white eye rings. Forehead, crown to above the eye, the sides of the head and the upper part of the throat orange to maroon red (strawberry red), the forehead is darkest (deep crimson), the lower part of the throat almost salmon red (INSERT: as in the Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis)); back of head, neck and sides of neck light olive green; wing coverts, back neck, back and upper tail coverts dark green, breast, sides, belly and undertail coverts light green, secondaries completely green; inner vane of the primaries black, outer vane green, outermost feathers with black tip; tip of tail feathers yellow green, the two middle feathers completely green, the other 5 have above the yellow-green tip a dark green belt, which continues along the outer vane to the root of the feather, within this again a yellow-orange spot over almost the entire inner vane and a strip of the outer vane along the middle of the feather. Naked eye ring white. Iris black-brown (in older birds, however, grey-yellow or grey); beak coral red, upper beak lightest at the root, cere flesh-coloured; legs flesh-coloured light grey or blue-grey.

The female, however, is slightly duller in colour.

Length 130 – 140 mm”.

The plumage of the young birds generally appears somewhat duller in colour and, unlike several of the other Lovebird species, does not have a black border along the cere of the bill in their first weeks after leaving the nest. In addition, there may be dark areas ("shadows") in the face mask of the young birds, especially around the cheeks, which is quite natural. However, when the birds moult into their adult plumage, there must no longer be any "shadows" left in the face mask, as this is a sign of a lack of species purity, which is why the bird must not be used in further breeding. In in human care, some breeders aim to breed Nyasa Lovebirds without shadows in the face mask from the juvenile stage, whereby the birds skip their juvenile plumage, so to speak.

Note that, similar to what applies to the Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis), the Nyasa Lovebird must also not have any kind of blue - or tinge of blue - feathers on the upper rump (the upper tail coverts), as this is a clear sign on hybridization. Likewise, the upper part of the upper beak should be almost whitish.

The flight of the Nyasa Lovebird is – like the Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) – fast, and its voice has the same level as the Black-cheeked Lovebird. I have read in early works on Lovebirds that certain writers believe that this species, especially the male, should have a melodious voice. However, I have not experienced that, but I have noticed another thing, and that is they seem to be a little noisier than the Black-cheeked Lovebird, understood in the sense that they use their voice for longer periods at a time.

In the photo above, on the left (in the front) you see a specimen of the Nyasa Lovebird, which has a light olive-green back of the head, as you see it on birds in the wild, while the bird on the right is of the variety, which has a yellowish back of the head, which over time has become bred to be more distinct in human care.

May the colour of the back of the head of the Nyasa Lovebird be olive yellow?

Over recent years, a variant has emerged among some European breeders of Nyasa Lovebirds that has an almost yellowish back of the head, which is particularly evident in the juvenile bird stage, where the area can be almost completely yellow, which looks very wrong.

In the spring of 2010, I was again visiting some of Europe's leading breeders of the Nyasa Lovebird. Not least in the Netherlands, the variant with the yellowish back of the head prevailed. In the Netherlands, I was told that the variety with the yellow back of the head no longer could be sold to the German market, so instead these birds were exported to countries in southern Europe (typically Portugal, Spain and Italy) that demand this type.

Some breeders - also Danish - aim for Nyasa Lovebirds to be as yellow in the back of the head as possible, but that is not how the bird looks in the wild.

When Captain Georg Ernst Shelly first described the Nyasa Lovebird as a species in 1894, the back of the head, nape and sides of the neck were described as "light olive green". In all important authoritative sources from home and abroad since then, it has been said that the designation for the back of the head is "light olive green" and in some places it even simply says "olive green". This applies right from R. Neunzig's descriptions (1926) to Helmuth Hampe's in "Die Unzertrennlichen" (1933) - which must be described as the key work within the Agapornis genus - to more recent publications and works, e.g. H. Schwichtenberg (1970), Gottlieb and Gaiser (1995) and - not least - the late J. L. Albrecht-Møller, the author of "Papegøjebogen" (1973), or "The Parrot Book" (this work is only published in Danish).

I have also had the opportunity to review colour photos taken of Nyasa Lovebirds in the wild, and all of these photos support the designation "light olive green". There is thus no significant species variance in the appearance of the back of the head on the Nyasa Lovebird, which, for example, is known from Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), cf. the article on this species.

It is important that all serious breeders of Nyasa Lovebirds adhere to the colour descriptions from the authoritative scientific sources, partly for the sake of preserving the species in human care, partly because it is important to have the right frame of reference for the wild coloured bird if you are working seriously with colour mutations.

The Nyasa Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae) is seen in different "varieties". If you work with exhibition birds, you e.g. try to breed a sharp border between the face mask and the green body colour, which is seen on this bird. Aviculturists who are members of special associations and clubs for Lovebirds strives in connection with breeding for an artificial ideal set up in a non-scientific standard description, which has nothing to do with how this species looks in the wild. Colours as strong as this bird's are not seen in the wild, and these exhibition types are very large and clumsy compared to the birds that live in the wild.

Here is a photo of a Nyasa Lovebird from the wild. As you can see, this magnificent Nyasa Lovebird from nature has nothing to do with the kind of artificially bred exhibition bird, which appears in the previous photo.

In the wild

The Nyasa Lovebird occurs along the Zambezi Valley in Mozambique and into Zimbabwe, northwards along the Luangwa River into Zambia and southern Tanzania, and along the Shire River into Malawi, where it occurs throughout Liwonde National Park over a total area of 539,000 km2 according to BirdLife International. Although it is described as common in most of the areas where it lives, Birdlife International estimates the total population only to be in the range of 6,000 - 15,000 mature individuals, and the population trend is still decreasing.


60 % of the Nyasa Lovebird's range lies within the KAZA (Kavango-Zambezi) nature conservation area, in which Zambia and Zimbabwe also participate together with three other countries.


The Nyasa Lovebird has a strong association with the Mopane forest areas (Colophospermum), especially the so-called "Mopane forest cathedrals", in the southern part of its range, but it also lives in belts of Acacia trees (Acacia), just like it in the north part of the distribution area is fond of areas covered with fig trees (Ficus). It feeds on grass seeds, including Hyparrhenia species (Hyparrhenia is a genus mostly native to tropical Africa, consisting of about 20 different grass species known as "thatched grass"), millet (Panicum) and wild rice (Oryza perennis), but the Nyasa Lovebird also takes flowers, seeds and fruits of various kinds. Grain from cultivated fields is also part of the species' regular food base.


A field study from 2018 has shown that the Nyasa Lovebird in the rainy season (December – June) prefers the grassy wetlands, while in the dry season it mainly searches for food in wooded grassland. The same study has revealed that over 60 % of foraging takes place in trees for fruits, leaves, flowers and buds.


The breeding season extends from January to March and in June and July in Zambia, and occurs somewhat earlier in January and February in Malawi. Young birds have been observed during the month of April in Zimbabwe.


In the wild, the Nyasa Lovebird's nest often consists of a covered structure in the crevices of Mopane trees.

A flock of Nyasa Lovebirds forage for water on the banks of Mhara River Bush Camp, Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe. Photo taken on December 6, 2023, by Niall D. Perrrins.


In 2009, the Nyasa Lovebird was 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 "Near Threatened" category, just like the Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri).

The reason the species is listed as "Near Threatened" is due to the relatively small population, which may be in decline. If the total population of Nyasa Lovebirds were smaller, it would be considered for a higher threat category. Nyasa Lovebird numbers have been significantly reduced by flooding of much of the Zambezi Valley at Lake Kariba, and probably also by the Cahorra Bassa Dam in Mozambique. The bird is considered by the local small farms as a pest.

Its preferred habitat, the Mopanes forests, is exposed to logging and charcoal extraction, which threatens the species' habitats and nesting sites.

In addition to the legal capture of the Nyasa Lovebird in large quantities for the international cage bird market (it is estimated that over 10,000 specimens have been captured for this purpose since 1981 (per 2009), when it was listed on CITES, List II), many birds have been captured and sold locally in Mozambique, and besides, the species is also caught and traded in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

In this section, only the threats that are against wild individuals in nature are dealt with, but the Nyasa Lovebird is also threatened in the population that exists in human care, e.g. in Europe. Here, special associations and clubs specializing in Lovebirds have drawn up so-called "standard descriptions" of how the wild-coloured bird should look, and it does not at all look like the Nyasa Lovebirds as it looks in the wild. The exhibition type is typically much larger and stronger in colour intensity, and the colour pattern is close to perfect. So, at the same time that humans are exterminating this species in the wild, so-called "Lovebird experts" are destroying the gene pool that we have of wild coloured Nyasa Lovebirds in human care, so that these birds at a later occasion not will be able to be released into the wild if the species ends up becoming extinct in the wild. The development is extra devastating because many of these "Lovebird experts" unrestrainedly continue to breed new colour mutations, e.g. using other species, which is profoundly nonsensical.

Nature protection measures

The Nyasa Lovebird is listed on CITES, List II, along with 7 of the 8 other Lovebird species. The only one not covered by this is the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis).

Various proposals have been put forward for the protection of the Nyasa Lovebird in the wild, i.a. conducting surveillance to obtain a more accurate estimate of the total population. An attempt will be made to monitor the development of the population through regular monitoring. Controlling or halting capture and trade to avoid "predation" on the species is also considered.

An approximately 20 days old chick of Nyasa Lovebird. Note the clear colours in the face mask without dark areas (shadows).

In human care

The Nyasa Lovebird was until relatively few years ago an expensive bird, which i.a. connected with the fact that there was a very high mortality among these birds, as it was very sensitive, not least in relation to the changing Northern European weather, but over time this species has become much more robust. With me, the birds have the opportunity to go outside all year round, of course with the option of going in at night and on particularly cold days in an interior that is dry and heated, and where there is drinking water and feeding bowls. However, I find that the birds like to sit outside for several hours a day at temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius or more. It should be noted that all my outdoor aviaries are covered with a roof (since I lived in an urban area) so that the birds do not sit on wet or damp perches where frost can occur, which the birds cannot tolerate under any circumstances.

The Nyasa Lovebird's behaviour is very similar to that of the Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis), and it also likes to go to the bottom of the aviary several times a day to forage, which is why it is important that it is regularly wormed and then cleaned - as well as disinfected - both in the bottom of the aviary and in the bottom of the inner room.

The Nyasa Lovebird is by nature a flock bird, and it is my impression that it thrives best in human care by living together in pairs in a smaller flock. You have to keep track of the flock so that it must be built up gradually, and if there is a single bird that ruins it for the others by exhibiting too dominant aggressive behaviour, it is best to remove this bird from the flock, give it a mate and perhaps build a new flock around these birds. If you build up a flock gradually, it seems that the adult birds get on better together, and in addition, they occasionally seem to call the unruly juvenile birds to order. Conflicts can occasionally arise between individual birds, but fortunately I have not yet experienced that it has developed into something serious in the form of bitten off toes or claws, as is known from several of the larger Lovebird species.

In old non-fiction, you can read that the face mask of the Nyasa Lovebird must be maroon red like the wild-living birds, and it really stands out on this magnificent specimen of the species.

However, keeping the Nyasa Lovebird in a flock requires that you, as a serious breeder, take care of keeping track of your breeding material, so that it is unrelated breeding pairs that live together in the flock. Unfortunately, it is my impression that not all Danish breeders of the Nyasa Lovebird previously have placed emphasis on continuously getting "new blood" into the breeding material, so that inbreeding is avoided. Many people buy a flock of closely related young birds from a single breeder, which they then put together, and the next aviculturist does the same, etc. Unfortunately, I myself have clearly experienced the consequences of this, when some rather expensively purchased purebred Nyasa Lovebirds - from various recognized Danish breeders - got chicks that showed clear signs of inbreeding (degeneration), e.g. in the form of in the form of asynchronous feather development, "cross wings" (the primaries cross each other at the end of secondaries) and signs of neurological disturbances. These chicks have of course been euthanized. I have also experienced that, especially in the Danish population of Nyasa Lovebirds, over a long period there were many specimens with a very short back of the head, which looked completely wrong, especially on the females, who normally have the largest back of the head, where the light olive green colour on normally developed birds is widespread.

I therefore took the consequence of this and in the summer of 2009 and again in 2010 imported a number of Nyasa Lovebirds from some of Europe's leading breeders who carefully keep pedigrees of the birds that are mated and their offspring. In doing so, I have tried to do my part to ensure that we in Denmark have added new blood to the Danish population of Nyasa Lovebirds. I am very much looking forward to working with these magnificent birds once they have reached sexual maturity. Over the coming years, I will systematically and purposefully try to work to ensure a viable strain of the highest quality.

The Nyasa Lovebird is a peaceful bird that can be kept together with other bird species. It must not be kept with any other Lovebird species, partly due to the risk of hybridization, partly because the Nyasa Lovebird, due to its limited size and good-natured behaviour, is unable to defend itself against the larger and more aggressive species.

In human care, the clutch size is 3 - 5 eggs with an incubation period of approximately 22 days and it will be ready to fly in approximately 44 days.

The species-pure Lutino mutation (NSL Ino) of the Nyasa Lovebird is back in Denmark. The photo shows a young soon-to-be sexually mature male bird, a Lutino colour mutation, after a German champion, imported in the summer of 2009, as well as a female split bird (also an import bird). These mutation birds, including split birds, are kept physically separate from the stock of non-mutation birds, which enables you to work with two completely different breeding stocks, so that the wild-coloured strain is kept free of mutation genes.

Colour mutations

Also, the Nyasa Lovebird can display a variety of colour mutations. According to some of Europe's leading breeders of colour mutations within the Nyasa Lovebird, only two completely pure mutations exist with certainty, namely Lutino and Dilute. All other colour mutations within the Nyasa Lovebird are provided as transmutations i.e. breeding with the desired colour mutation of another species, e.g. Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), and then back-paired several times to the Nyasa Lovebird in order to re-establish its distinctive character, which has hardly been fully successful.

The Lutino mutation originated back in 1933 with an Australian breeder in the city of Adelaide, presumably on the basis of wild-caught specimens. Incidentally, it was the first Lovebird species that could exhibit a Lutino form. Curiously, the inheritance of this mutation (similar to the corresponding mutations in Fischer's Lovebird (Agapornis fischeri) and Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) is autosomal recessive and not sex-linked (NSL Ino), as is seen, for example, in the Lutino form of the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis r. roseicollis) which is sex-linked (SL Ino), and as it is also known from a large number of other larger parrot species. This mutation is incredibly beautiful, and in fact one of the "grand old men" of Danish aviculture, the famous Walther Langberg, was a breeder of the Lutino form over a long series of years until 1971, when the population died out as a result of disease.

Personally, I also find the Lutino form incredibly beautiful, but it will probably take some time before this colour mutation - in the completely pure species version - becomes more widespread, as it must still be said to be quite expensive to acquire, not least on the basis of a high mortality among their offspring. Therefore, you must continuously pair viable species-typical wild-coloured birds, including strong split birds, with the Lutino form (see separate article on the Lutino mutation under another tab).

Approximately 10 days old chicks of Nyasa Lovebird.


See the Masked Lovebird (Agapornis personatus) article for feeding. In addition, it must be emphasized that my Nyasa Lovebirds ares incredibly fond of sweet apples and pears as well as grated carrot.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 01.01.2010 / 07.02.2024