Breeding Madagascar Lovebirds

The Madagascar Lovebird 
Agapornis canus is possibly the smallest exotic parrot available in Australia and is the smallest member of the Agapornis genus. This gem is relatively uncommon here, but enough pairs are held in collections where they can still be obtained. In the 1980s the Madagascar Lovebird became the ‘must have’ of lovebirds.

My thoughts are that they have now become a ‘serious’ collector-only species. This is because Madagascars have some sensitivities in their care and may easily end up ‘disappointing their keeper’, should they be neglected at any time.


The Madagascar Lovebird follows the Agapornis typical body outline in a smaller form. The species is sexually dimorphic and displays noticeable differences in body plumage. The female is green with mottled black spots.

The male displays a strong grey plumage on the head and neck area, with a green body. Body size is similar to the parrotlets, approximately 30g. (The smallest parrot in the world is the Hanging Parrot, Loriculus genus, which is slightly smaller again, and weighs just 20g).

HOUSING: Madagascar Lovebird

Housing is probably the major area of concern when keeping Madagascar Lovebirds. I would class them as needing more care and consideration than most parrots— along the lines of some finches.

Madagascar Lovebirds need to be protected from draughts, excessive heat and cold, and stress-inducing neighbours. In much of Australia this rules out most outdoor accommodation without some very specialised features such as blinds, a full roof, and heating/cooling solutions. I have seen such set-ups here which even included UV light tubes, but I would consider this option only for the very dedicated and time-rich breeder.

A more realistic option is to follow the lovebird fraternity in keeping birds in a cabinet-type breeding cage within an insulated and air-conditioned bird room. The most convenient solution is often a home garage. A large roller door means birds can be easily exposed to fresh air and natural light when the weather is suitable, but also fully protected from the elements when it is not.

Air-conditioning remains a must in most areas due to the extremes of Australian winters and summers. This keeps the birds in tip-top health, with the added benefit of yearround breeding potential.

Madagascar Lovebird Diet/Food

Some conjecture exists regarding the Madagascar Lovebird’s diet. There has been no silver bullet that results in better reproductive success or sustainment for what can be an inconsistent species.

A seed mix suited to finches forms a sound base, with wild greens provided regularly. Typically, lovebird seed mixes that include hulled oats, millet, wheat, linseed, and canary seed are all sound choice. Sunflower does not seem to be enjoyed or taken to any extent, and I put this down to Madagascar Lovebirds’ very small size and the difficulty in hulling such a seed with their tiny beaks. Fruit and veg are not readily accepted. To get green content into these birds, fresh lengths of wild grass must be provided. Seeding wild grasses are highly desired and, I believe, aid in bringing birds into reproductive condition through spring and over the summer months.

How to Breed Madagascar Lovebird

Getting pairs to lay eggs appears to be an achievable goal in Australia but achieving fertile eggs and chicks on the perch is a whole new level of aspiration. Many pairs produce infertile clutches throughout most of their breeding attempts, with a minority of pairs showing more reliable fertility and keeping the species sustainable in Australian aviculture.

There seems to be little difference in diet and enclosure environment between those who are successful in breeding and those who are not, which naturally brings to mind relatedness issues. However, even with guaranteed unrelated pairings, this anomaly continues.

This leads me to believe that we are missing something in the Madagascar’s dietary needs to ensure viable reproductivity. The other thought is that so few people keep the species in air-conditioned environments that birds are strained in regaining strength and condition after the winter cold, let alone successfully breeding. Perhaps it is a combination of these factors.

For those who are successful, birds are clearly maintained in a stable and private environment with a small nest box measuring approximately 12cm square internally. A 4cm entrance hole provides a secure and attractive solution to a female in breeding condition.

When pairs enter breeding mode, behaviour changes, with the male (and sometimes the female) showing more aggression towards the keeper. The female will start to collect grasses or any available material for her nest.

Should eggs follow, expect the female to be reliably sitting on them as Madagascar Lovebirds are typically very attentive parents.

The clutch average is 3–6 eggs, but the number of eggs that are fertile may vary. If all goes well, eggs will hatch in 22–24 days. Chicks will be cared for by the female exclusively until they are six weeks old.


The Madagascar Lovebird is sadly overlooked by almost all bird keepers in Australia, except those who specialise in this genus. They do require unique care and commitment, but their size and lack of significant noise factor means this can be more cost-effectively achieved. Given that breeding results are somewhat inconsistent, prices and availability are likely to remain stable for some time, giving impetus for people to work with this moderately expensive species.

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