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Feature Articles

Fischers Lovebirds

By Dianne Calvert

Habitat
These lovebirds are another that belong to the white eye ring species, of which there are four family members, all originally from Africa. The Fischer's territory is very small and spreads southward from Lake Victoria, in Tanzania. Their habitat is an area of savannah with some bush which includes acacia trees. A small population also exists in Southern Kenya, they are thought to have established from escaped aviary birds. A large number of Fischer lovebirds were released in the port of Tanga in the late 1920's where they established themselves. This is outside their natural territory but it was done at the time when there was great concern about the large numbers that were being trapped for the cage bird trade. Descendants of these birds apparently still live in this area.

Normal Fischers
Normal Fischers

Feeding
In the wild the birds feed on acacia and seeding grasses. They also eat maize and millet which is grown in these areas that are inhabited by humans. I feed my birds budgie seed, plain canary and millet, with a little mixed canary for variety. I mix through a little cod liver oil in the cooler months for added vitamins. Sunflower, safflower seed and hulled oats is given in a separate dish to keep wastage to a minimum as the birds will toss aside the seed in search of their favourite. The greens I give them consist of chickweed, dandelion, silverbeet, apple, fresh corn cobs, puha, seeding grasses and in season, ripe cotoneaster berries. These are all washed and I make sure they come from uncontaminated sources.

It can take a while to get the birds to eat different things if they are not used to them. Non coloured bird pellets could also be given but suggest you feed these in a different dish, or with the sunflower seed. In the breeding season I give soft food, fresh each day. This is a mix of hard-boiled eggs, conditioning food, cooked rice, baby rice (farex) and soaked hulled oats, mixed crumbly with water. I have recently added grated carrot as well. You can also add crunched weetbix and wheatgerm. Grit and cuttlefish are always available as is fresh water which is replenished daily. Lovebirds like to bathe a lot and dunk everything into their water bowls, even the odd ring that has fallen off a chick in the nest has found its way into the water dish. I vary the additives in their drinking water, some days ornithon vitamins are added or about 1 tsp of cider vinegar per pint of water, in between times they have a few days with plain water. The cider vinegar helps keep down fungal infections and also helps with the health of the birds. A worming preparation is also added to the water every three months or so. Once again this is slotted in so the birds are not getting overdosed with any one preparation.

Description
Fisher lovebirds are approximately 15cm in length which is slightly larger than the masked lovebirds. All of the white eye ring varieties have a white ring, void of feathers , around their dark inquisitive eyes. In the 'normal' colouring, the adult birds have a red beak and grey legs, toes and toe nails. Their heads are kahki in colour and this goes down the back of their neck which mingles with the bright orange that extends around from their chest. This mingling of colour changes slightly to take on a yellowish orange hue. This colour also goes around their neck to form a narrow blended area under the orange on their chest. The forehead colour is a reddish orange which changes into the bright orange of their chest as it extends down between their eyes and their beak. Their flight feathers are black with some green on the outside edge. On closer inspection the very edges of these feathers have a very fine hint of gold as if they have been outlined with an artists brush. Their wing coverts are a beautiful emerald green. The tummy feathers are a medium green. Their rump is dull purple in colour and their tail feathers are green, tipped with a little blue, and beautifully marked with black and orange. In the sunshine all the feathers have a lovely iridescent hue.

Mutations
The Pastel Green Mutation, like all the other mutations, are recessive to the above. The orange colouring is brighter and the greens are lighter and more yellowy. The flight feathers are white-ish with the outside edge having a greyish appearance. The flight feathers can differ in depth from bird to bird to varying decrees. The blue is absent on the tips of their tails and the rump is a muddy colour with a hint of purple.

The Yellow Fischer lovebird is substantially more yellow, and the orange brighter and clearer still. The feathers on the wings and tummy have almost no greenish hue on them at all. The flights are white.

There is also a Blue Mutation. It is similar to the blue masked but with no black mask on the head at all. The area on the back of the head is pale grey, the forehead and face,i.e. inside the eye ring area towards the beak is also white. The chest is white and the wings are a dark blue, the tummy is a lighter blue. The flight feathers are black with blue on the outer edge. Their beaks are pink.

The Pastel Blue Fischer is similar to the pastel blue masked lovebird, but once again there should be no hint of a black mask, the forehead and face being completely white. Their beaks and legs are pink.

There is also a Lime Mutation. All these varieties have been available in New Zealand in more recent years, although the latter five mentioned are not very common. By breeding the different colour mutations back through the normal coloured birds you get stronger and bigger youngsters. 'Fischers' that have any black on their heads have probably got a high percentage of masked lovebirds in their heritage. It is interesting to not that there is no natural hybridisation of the Fischers and masked lovebirds in their natural habitat. This probably due to natural barriers between the territories which are very close together. Because of this factor the genetics of the birds are kept pure and this should be kept in mind when breeding them in captivity so as not to destroy the pure strains of birds we have available to us in New Zealand. It is also important not to breed either of these species with the peachfaced lovebirds which are not of the eye ring species.

Other fischer mutations that are available overseas are the Sea Green (this bird has a pale apricot forehead and the green body feathers have a blueish tinge), avocado, albino, lutino, dark and olive green, cobalt blue, spangles and the pied (although I understand some birds with normal colouring and with yellow flight feathers have been reported in New Zealand.)

Sexing the Birds
Not being sexually dimorphic means the plumage is alike in both the cocks and hens. There are a few ways that breeder have tried, over the years, to tell the birds apart. Some of the more reliable ones are:

# Hens are, on the whole, a little larger and heavier than the cockbirds.
# They have a deeper eye ring than the cocks.
# The pelvic bones of the hens are wider apart (a bit tricky when the birds are very young)
# The cock birds stand with their feet closer together.

Breeding
A nest box ratio of 1.5 - 2 per pair is suggested. Boxes about 200 x 200 2 250mm are a good size to use, larger ones are not necessary as the birds just keep filling them with more nesting material. An entrance hole approximately 55mm in diameter, about 20mm from the top and to one side is a good size. Place a dowel perch about 3cm under the hole. A hinged roof for inspection access is required. I have hung hem individually in the aviary but currently I use an "L" shaped design with no dowel perch. These can be made in groups but make sure a divider is placed between each nest to help define the birds territory. The upper portion of the design, where the entrance hole is placed, is about 100mm narrower in depth than the bottom section. The lower section has a deeper base, is about 150mm high and is where the birds always build the nest cavity. With this design the birds can both sit together on the top of this section which is hinged so it forms the lid for nest inspections. You then do not have to partially destroy the dome of the nest to get to the chicks for any reason. My birds handle nest inspections very well.

A number of different things can be used nesting material, broom and willow are the ones I use. I have found the birds breed mostly in the Autumn/Winter months and they get very excited when it rains as this is what triggers their nesting activity. Fischers are colony breeders and breed best in an aviary. I have found them to be more placid than masked lovebirds but in both species the hens are the dominant birds. The only time the cock birds get a little more "bossy" is when they think the hen has been off her nest long enough and chases them back again. The hen chooses the nest box and does most of the nest building, carrying the nesting material in her beak. I have also seen the cock birds carrying nesting material around and taking it into the nest.

They usually mate on the "resting" portion of their boxes and the eggs are laid about 10 days afterwards. They lay up to six white eggs, incubation is done by the hen (although some of the cock birds will sit in the box with their mates). Incubation takes approximately 21-23 days. The chicks of the normal fischers have orangey down on them. Their eyes open at ten days, by this time the grey secondary down is coming through. They are fully feathered and are ready to fly at around six weeks old. The cock bird educates the youngsters where and what to eat. The babies will return to the nest to roost at night until the hen gets sick of their company and gives them the message it is time to relocate.

Summing Up
The surroundings/feeding utensils of my birds are cleaned each week and the nest boxes are given a thorough clean inside during the summer months. This way the birds have a rest from breeding which is good for them. Fischers are, like the masked lovebirds, little clowns and love to hang by their beaks or one leg on branches or perches. I have some play things in the aviary, to keep the youngsters or non breeding birds amused. A hampster wheel, plastic chain ropes, hanging dowel perches and revolving perches are favourites. Also installed for the birds are little roosting boxes (150 x 90 x 100mm) with partially open fronts. The fledgelings can use them when the hen has gone back to nest or the non breeding birds, housed in a separate light, can use them. The roof is fully covered and I have clear double walled polycarbonate covers over the sides of my aviaries as I live in a high wind area. These are easily removed on good days so the birds can sun themselves as the panels are kept in place by plastic runners, with a bungy cord across the middle of the panel. The wind chill factor is non existent when the panels are in place.

These delightful little birds don't need as much space as the larger parrots, an aviary approximately 2 x 2 x 2 metres would house about 8 pair. The first pair of Fischers that were bought into our household was over twelve years ago by my then twelve year old son. "Mr Fischer" only died last year. They come highly recommended for both beginners and more experienced breeders as they are easy to look after and are very amusing little birds.

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