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Lilian’s Lovebird

 (Agapornis lilianae)
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© Philip Perry |

Project Status: Active | 2013-current


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

Lovebirds at risk due to 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: Since 2013, fieldwork in Zambia has added new distributional records while uncovering worrying range contractions, identified multiple roost sites, and highlighted the threat of expanding agriculture and charcoal production. The team has also sought to understand the habitat requirements for Lilian’s Lovebirds and infer their current and historical distribution. Studies showed the critical importance of mature Cathedral Mopane woodland for Lilian’s Lovebirds, and that the birds' populations have dwindled further than previously thought. Further studies have shown that the impact of cutting timber for charcoal use and legal and illegal logging is more damaging to the birds' forest than the activities of other animals, such as elephants.

Focus of future work: Collaborations with researchers are helping understand changes in the status of key habitat. Studies of nest box use in Malawi will inform the widespread use of this approach for mitigating habitat loss. Water holes vulnerable to pesticide poisoning are being protected through increased surveillance. Awareness and education planning and implementation have begun. New genetics work will determine the processes responsible for past-to-present geographic distributions of different lineages to understand their taxonomy, effects of population fragmentation and climate change.

With your support, we can help put into action measures to protect Lilian's Lovebirds.

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
  • Pesticide use in 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 is abundant. Non-breeding birds form communal roosts in tree hollows where five birds at a time sleep.

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Image and Video Galleries Parrot Encyclopedia - Species Profile

Further reading:

Tiwonge I. Mzumara, Mike R. Perrin, Colleen T. Downs. (2018). Feeding ecology of Lilian’s Lovebird Agapornis lilianae in Liwonde National Park, Malawi. Ostrich 89:3, pages 233-239.

Tiwonge I. Mzumara, Michael R. Perrin, Colleen T. Downs. (2016). Comparative performance of four survey methods for assessing Lilian’s Lovebird abundance in Liwonde National Park, Malawi. Ostrich 87:3, pages 247-253.

Tiwonge I. Mzumara, Mike R. Perrin, Colleen T. Downs. (2016). The drinking habits of the Lilian’s Lovebird and incidents of poisoning at waterholes. African Journal of Ecology 54:3, pages 289-298.

Tripathi, H.G., Mzumara, T.I., Martin, R.O., Parr, C.L., Phiri, C. and Ryan, C.M. (2019). Dissimilar effects of human and elephant disturbance on woodland structure and functional bird diversity in the mopane woodlands of Zambia. Landscape Ecology 34 (2), 357-371.

Mzumara, T.I., Martin, R.O., Tripathi, H., Phiri, C., and Amar A. (2019). Distribution of a habitat specialist: Mopane woodland structure determines occurrence of Near Threatened Lilian’s Lovebird Agapornis lilianae. Bird Conservation International.

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