Sir Henry Stanley gave this species the scientific name Agapornis taranta. Discovered around 1814 in central and eastern Eritrea they live in mountainous country at a height of 1300 up to 2000 metres. It is quite accustomed to lower temperatures. The name taranta incidentally comes from a mountain-pass.
Abyssinian lovebirds are sexually dimorphic. Basically a green bird the cock’s forehead, it’s lores and a small ring of feathers around the eye are bright red. The under wing covert are black. The hen lacks these red and black areas. Both sexes have a red bill however. With a length of 16.5 cm the Abyssinian is the largest species of the lovebird tribe.
In the wild they congregate in small groups and rest in holes in trees. When breeding they split up into pairs. The hens make a shallow pad-like nest by using twigs and leaves. This material is brought into the nest cavity by transporting it between the body feathers. Rather curiously taranta hens lose (or pluck) part of their breast feathers just before laying. These feathers are integrated into the nest pad. No other lovebird species has this habit. Three to six white eggs are laid every other day. After an incubation period of some 25 days the youngsters will hatch. Their natal down is white, the second down is grey. When fledging at fifty days the chicks resemble the hen. The under wing coverts can be used at this early age to determine whether the fledgling is a cock or a hen. They are black in cocks and greenish in hens. Sometimes young cocks show a few red head feathers when leaving the nest but it takes about nine months before they are fully coloured.
Abyssinian lovebirds are sexually mature in their second year. They feed on grass seeds, berries and fruit. They are partial to ripened figs.
They are reasonably free breeders in aviculture though not as prolific as Peach-faced, Fischer’s or Masked lovebirds. Some pairs always raise offspring and other pairs never do under the same management. Give them a small aviary or large breeding cage per pair. This species can absolutely not be bred as a colony. Hens in breeding condition are very spiteful and will murder even large birds. Fresh willow branches can be given as nesting material, but not every bird uses this. Some hens are quite happy with a few pieces of decayed wood in the nest box where others use no material at all. Newly hatched young frequently die when only a few days old. No reason or solution has been found as yet. Abyssinians can (in Europe) be kept outside all year long, provided a draught- and frost free shelter is given. It should preferably be provided with a nest box as a roosting place.
© Dirk Van den Abeele