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Lilian’s Lovebird

 (Agapornis lilianae)
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© Philip Perry |

Project Status: Active | 2013


Pamela and Neville Isdell, BirdWatch Zambia, the Museums of Malawi, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh, British Ecological Society

At risk due habitat loss and persecution

Lilian's Lovebirds, Agapornis lilianae, are restricted to valleys in the Zambezi basin and may number as few as 10,000 in the wild.

Progress and outcomes: In 2014 WPT initiated research and conservation work with Lilian's Lovebird - actions which had been done on a limited basis previously.  The effort aims to:

  • Learn the current distribution of Lilian’s Lovebirds and identify causes of declines
  • Investigate the extent of illegal trapping for the wild-bird trade and identify ways to address the threat
  • Locate key breeding areas
  • Evaluate habitat requirements and determine how changes in land use are affecting populations
  • Determine sites for the reintroduction of birds into areas from which they have disappeared

Research is being led by Dr. Tiwonge Gawa, a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Cape Town. Dr. Gawa’s previous research has highlighted the importance of stands of mature Mopane woodland for roosting and breeding and identified the emerging threat of poisoning of waterholes with pesticides. In 2014 and 2015 field expeditions in Zambia have added new distributional records as well as worrying range contractions, identified multiple roost sites and highlighted the threat of expanding agriculture and charcoal production.

Focus of future work: Collaborations with researchers from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh are helping understand changes in the status of key habitat. Studies of patterns of nest box use will inform the wide-spread use of this approach for mitigating habitat loss. Water-holes vulnerable to pesticide poisoning will be protected through increased surveillance.

With your help we can complete these important tasks to better understand the species, and continue to deliver effective solutions to further their conservation.

IUCN/CITES Status: Near Threatened / Appendix II

World population: 10,000-20,000, decreasing.

Where found: S Tanzania, Zambia-Zimbabwe border district, NW Mozambique, S Malawi and SE Zambia to N Zimbabwe. Possibly introduced in Lundazi district, NE Zambia.

History: Lilian's Lovebird is found along riverways from Mozambique to Zimbabwe along the Zambesi Valley, into Zambia and S Tanzania and into Malawi.  Its total population may be as high as 20,000 or as low as 10,000.  They have disappeared from the Lower Zambezi river; this may be due to loss of habitat there.  Its global range may be less than 20,000 km (Harrison et al. 1997, UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database, January 2005).


  • Persecution by farmers
  • Loss of mature Mopane woodland habitat
  • Capture for local and international wild bird trade (over 10,000 since 1981)
  • Flooding in the Zambezi valley by Lake Kariba, and the Cahorra Bassa Dam in Mozambique
  • Poisoning of waterholes in S Malawi have resulted in large-scale mortality of lovebirds and other animals (Mzumara 2014).

Ecology: Lilian's Lovebirds are found up to 1000m (3280 ft) in mopane and Acacia woodland on alluvium and in riparian forest in river valleys. Prefers areas with fig trees. Birds forage on grass seeds, millet, sorghum and seeds of annual herbs, flowers, berries and leaf buds. Very social, gathering in noisy flocks of 20-100 birds and more, particularly where food abundant. Non-breeding birds form communal roosts in tree hollows where up to 20 birds at a time sleep, hanging on to walls of chamber. Before retiring for the night there is much squabbling and chasing to and fro.

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