For the Birds Radio Program: Rosey O'Lovey, the Lovebird

Original Air Date: Oct. 13, 1989

Today Laura Erickson talks about a bird that comes all the way from southwestern Africa, the lovebird.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Lovebird)

I have loved birds all my life. When I was four I even memorized an entire encyclopedia article about birds, but my only close experiences with living birds as a child were with my grandpa’s pet canaries. Oddly enough, although I now rehabilitate wild birds, I’ve never in my life lived with a real pet bird until just last week, when my daughter Katie got a little lovebird, which she named Rosie O’Lovey.

Rosey is a peach-faced lovebird. Long ago her ancestors hailed from southwestern Africa, though she is the product of many generations of captive breeding.

Now that the life of a lovebird rests in my hands, I’ve been reading up on them. I’m used to ornithological books, wherein there are no sweeping generalizations. The problem with reading any books on pet care, from training dogs to choosing a guinea pig, is that information in each book directly contradicts information in every other book. In this case, I’ve read that it is essential to have two lovebirds because a single one will pine away, and that it is essential to have only one lovebird because the male will overfeed the female to the point that he starves and she dies of obesity; that lovebirds are impossible to train or even to tame, and that lovebirds are the sweetest, most docile birds and can even be taught to speak; that they must have vitamin and mineral supplements every day no matter how good the diet is, and that they will overdose on supplements and should be given a natural diet alone.

Anyway, the one thing I have learned for sure is that as far as Rosie’s care goes, we’re going to have to wing it. So far she seems perfectly happy without another bird. She spends most of the day loose in the house, perched on our shoulders or climbing into our pockets. She’s little enough that she doesn’t get in the way when we do dishes or read or practice piano, though she is a distraction at homework time. Although all the books strongly recommended clipping a lovebird’s wings in order to tame it, Rosie was quite gentle, docile, and easy to catch from the start, with her wings intact. She flies in circles around the room occasionally, but always lands back on a human rather than on the curtains or furniture.

In the overall scheme of the universe, it is a supreme act of arrogance for a human to make any creature into a pet. But there are basic human needs for love and for intimate connections with the natural world—that is why pet ownership is probably as old as humanity itself. I am absolutely opposed to taking adult wild animals into captivity for pets, and am equally opposed to taking most baby animals into captivity as well. But as long as an animal is raised in captivity, as long as it belongs to a species which is intelligent, adaptable, and compatible with humans, and as long as is is cared for in a responsible and humane manner, I think pet ownership is probably more good than bad. Caring for dependent creatures has a gentling effect on most of us. Even a three year old can be taught to hold a tiny, fragile creature, and the long-term effect of learning empathy and nurturing skills at an early age is to strengthen our civilization.

Lovebirds are in the parrot family, and as such are intelligent and vocal. They are expert climbers, using their hooked beak as well as their zygodactylous feet—feet with two toes in front and two behind—to scale objects. Rosie will never live the life of a wild lovebird or probably even that of a mated captive one, but we sure hope we can provide her with a long and happy life, and that if she could choose, she’d take our home over the southwestern deserts of Africa to live out her days.

(Recording of a Lovebird)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”