Black-cheeked lovebirds. Photo Credit: "Bashful," by Helen Haden. Licensed under CC by-NC 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/), via Flickr.
The Black-cheeked lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) is a small parrot native to deciduous mopane forests of southwestern Zambia. Most of its feathers are green, but it's noted for its brownish head, grey-brown cheeks, and orange bib. It also has white eyerings and a red beak. There are no noticeable differences between the male and female of this species.
Black-cheeked lovebirds lay clutches of 3–6 eggs. After hatching, they live with their parents for 4–6 weeks before leaving the nest. Youngsters can be differentiated from adults by the color of their beak, which is more orange than red. They grow to be 11 cm (5.5 inches) tall and weigh 40 grams (1.5 ounces).
Black-cheeked lovebirds feed on grasses, other vegetation (including millet and sorghum crops, making them a pest to local farmers), and, more occasionally, invertebrates, lichen, and nectar.
Europeans were first introduced to these birds in the early 20th century; the parrots were frequently trapped in the 1920s and 1930s to be exported there as pets, although their domesticated popularity has dropped significantly compared to more colorful species of lovebirds. While relatively easy to breed in captivity, the native population has become vulnerable, thanks to potential habitat loss and the decreasing number of surface water sources in the region during the dry season. Scientists now estimate there are fewer than 10,000 black-cheeked lovebirds in the wild. Trapping of wild Black-cheeked lovebirds has been banned.
There are nine species of lovebirds, all of which are native to Africa or Madagascar, mate for life, display social behavior, and spend time sitting closely in pairs, which inspired their romantic name. In the wild, they dwell in cavities and tend to congregate in flocks.
If you're interested in parrots, check out this recent video from Science, which looks at how a parrot flies. In the Parrot Learning episode of Science Update, hear from a researcher who believes parrots may develop language-like communication and other abilities in ways similar to humans. You might also enjoy this Spotlight on Science Writers blog post on Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, the authors of Parrots over Puerto Rico.
If your interest in ornithology is more general, check out All About Birds, a comprehensive, online guide to birds from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Feather Analysis, a Science Update podcast discussing a new technique for tracking birds; and the Journey North App, a free citizen science app to help you track migrations and seasons. Related lessons include Bird Beaks, a grade 3-5 lesson focusing on the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment; Burrowing Owls, a middle school lesson that explores how humans can affect or change ecosystems for other species, specifically the Burrowing Owl; and Bird Populations, a high school lesson about patterns and changes in bird species.
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