Black-cheeked Lovebird Agapornis nigrigenis


Justification of Red List category
This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small population which is undergoing a continuing decline, principally owing to the gradual dessication of water bodies within a highly localised range.

Population justification
The population, based on surveys in 1994, has been estimated at c.10,000 individuals, however due to suspected declines in the population since this year, the population is placed in the range bracket 2,500-9,999 mature individuals. This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
This species's population is suspected to be declining in line with habitat desiccation (L. S. Warburton in litt. 2007), although the likely rate of decline has not been estimated.

Distribution and population

Agapornis nigrigenis occurs patchily in south-west Zambia between the Kafue river to the north and the Zambezi river to the south (Warburton 1999b), with an Extent of Occurrence of c.14,400 km2, within which the core breeding areas cover c.2,500 km2 (Dodman 1995b, Dodman et al. 2000). The species is found in an area of 4,550 km2 of mopane woodland, 3,200 km2 of which occurs in the Zambezi catchment (Dodman 1995c). It used to occur more widely, although some isolated historical records may reflect feral populations, as may unconfirmed records from the eastern Caprivi region of Namibia (Dodman 1995b, Dodman 1997). However, these might refer to birds from wild populations (Dodman 1995c). There have also been unconfirmed records from Botswana and Zimbabwe. The core population can be split into two subpopulations during the dry season, those in the Zambezi catchment (c.6,200 birds in 1994) and the Kafue catchment (c.3,800 birds in 1994) (Dodman 1995c). In 1994, the overall population density in presumed breeding habitat was c.2.2 birds/km2 (this does not reflect their clumped distribution [L. S. Warburton in litt. 1999, 2000]) and the total population was estimated to be 10,000 individuals (Dodman 1995c, Dodman et al. 2000). Evidence from farmers and bird-trappers suggests that this is a considerably lower total than in the early 20th century (Moreau 1948, Dodman et al. 2000).


It inhabits deciduous woodland, dominated by mopane Colophospermum, not Baikiaea (Benson and Irwin 1967) as formerly reported (Moreau 1948), where permanent supplies of surface water exist (Dodman 1995c, Dodman et al. 2000). It commutes to adjoining habitats, such as riverine vegetation and agricultural areas, to forage and drink (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). It requires daily access to water, and needs to drink twice each day (Dodman 1995c, Warburton 1999a, b, Dodman et al. 2000, Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005d). In the dry season it congregates in large flocks of up to 800 or more in some areas (Warburton 1999b). It relies on water sources that are not regularly disturbed by humans and livestock (Warburton and Perrin 2005d, T. Dodman in litt. 2007). It breeds in holes in mature mopane trees near roosting sites (Dodman 1995b, Warburton and Perrin 2005a), during January-May (L. S. Warburton in litt. 1999, 2000, Warburton 2003). Fidelity to nest-sites is suspected (Warburton 2003). The breeding season coincides with the annual maximum rainfall and the beginning of the dry season, and pairs usually raise a single clutch (Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005c). Broods of six and seven nestlings have been observed (Warburton and Perrin 2005c). The species roosts in naturally formed cavities in live mopane trees (Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005a). Food largely consists of annual grass seeds, other seeds of annual herbs and ripening crop seeds (millet and sorghum) (Dodman 1995c, Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005b). They have also been observed to consume invertebrates, leaves, flowers, nectar, bark, lichen, resin and soil (Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005b). The crop-ripening season coincides with the species's breeding season (Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005d) and its appetite for crop seeds has earned it a reputation locally as a pest (Dodman 1995c). In south-west Zambia, it has been recorded that 18% of millet seed heads suffered more than 20% damage from the species during the ripening season (Warburton 2003). Flocks were observed feeding in sorghum and millet fields in early 2012, mainly east of the Machile River (N. Buys in litt. 2012).


Three factors are thought to have caused its decline the past century: heavy exploitation for the cage-bird trade from the 1920s to the 1960s (Moreau 1948, Dodman 1995c), gradual desiccation of its habitat (Moreau 1948, Dodman 1995c), which is thought to be (currently) the main threat given the highly localised range of the species (Warburton 2003), and the partial replacement of sorghum and millet crops, (an attractive food source [Dodman 1995b, L. S. Warburton in litt. 1999, 2000]), with maize, between c.1930 and 1950 (Dodman 1995c, Dodman et al. 2000). There is evidence that the wild-caught trade in this species is currently at a very low level, with only isolated incidences of trade and export (Dodman 1995c, Warburton and Perrin 2005c), although it is clear that any international demand would be met eagerly (Warburton and Perrin 2005a, d). Some birds are caught for subsistence consumption and it is also persecuted as a pest, however these birds would usually be eaten as well (Dodman 1995c, Warburton and Perrin 2005c). Farmers take measures to mitigate damage to crops, but they are largely ineffective and rarely lethal (Dodman 1995c, Warburton 2003). The current levels of hunting and capture are unlikely to have any serious long-term impact on the population, but could threaten local populations suffering from the effects of desiccation (Dodman 1995c). Recently there may have been local declines due to loss of surface water supplies in the dry season, perhaps due to long-term climate change (Dodman 1995b, c, Warburton 1999b, Dodman et al. 2000). The direct effect of climate change on the species's habitat may not be that great, but the indirect effect through the effect on human populations could have a large impact on the species (Segan et al. 2015). The number of permanent water sources in mopane woodland has decreased since the early 20th century (Dodman 1995c). The low availability of water in the dry season is probably the principal factor in the disappearance of permanent populations from the Bovu and Sinde Rivers, and changes to the Ngweze River population (Dodman 1995c). This is exacerbated by a decrease in the annual rainfall in the species's habitat of, on average, about 5 mm per year between 1950 and 1995, increasing the species's reliance on artificial water sources (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). The recent establishment of hand-pumped boreholes along the catchments of the Ngweze, Sichifulo, and Machile rivers may lead to a decrease in the availability of surface water as people reduce their water source creation activities in riverbeds (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). In some areas, water pools are poisoned to kill fish and this can impact the species (Dodman 1995c). The species may be threatened by the declining dry-season availability of water in temporary rivers in south-western Zambia, due to declining levels of rainfall (T. Dodman in litt. 2007). Mopane woodland is exploited for firewood and timber, with large areas cleared (T. Mzumara in litt. via C. Downs 2016), though the habitat is regenerating and encroaching into other habitats in some areas (Dodman 1995c). Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Virus is present in the wild population (Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005c), but there is no evidence that this is a serious threat.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Trapping of birds for trade is now banned (T. Dodman in litt. 2000) although a number of captive populations still exist and flourish. In Zambia, a trade ban on wild-caught birds was implemented in 1930 (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). Approximately 35% of its habitat lies within Kafue National Park and surrounding Game Management Areas (P. Leonard in litt. 1999, T. Dodman in litt. 2000), whilst most of its core range is included within the Machile and Kafue National Park IBAs (Leonard 2005). Detailed research programmes on this species were underway in the 1990s (Dodman 1995b, Warburton 1999a, b, Dodman et al. 2000, T. Dodman in litt. 2000) from which reports have been published. An education project focusing on the species was conducted in south-west Zambia in September 2001, involving local schools, villagers and Zambia Wildlife Authority scouts (Warburton 2003).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct regular (e.g. monthly) counts at selected sites (such as water sources in the dry season) to monitor its population, concentrating on the core distribution (Dodman 1995c, Dodman et al. 2000, Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005d). Conduct annual monitoring in areas such as the mid-Machile and Sichifulo rivers and the Mabiya pools region of south Kafue National Park and monitor the availability of surface water in the dry season (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). Investigate its status in the eastern Caprivi (Dodman (1995c, Dodman et al. 2000). Encourage its return to former range areas, initially through piloting the provision of undisturbed water sources and strips of sorghum and millet (Warburton 1999b). Continue a programme of environmental education involving school-visits and meetings with farming communities (Dodman 1995c, Dodman et al. 2000, Warburton 2003) to reduce trapping and disturbance at water sources (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). Provide training in ornithology and conservation for potential local bird guides and hold meetings with villagers on the protection of resources such as trees and water (Dodman 1995c). Maintain and create water resources with minimal disturbance (Warburton 2003). Continue to enforce the trade ban on wild-caught birds of this species (Warburton 2003, Warburton and Perrin 2005d) and further develop captive breeding programmes. Investigate the effect of burning on the availability of grass seeds (Warburton and Perrin 2005b). Manage water sources to encourage use by the species, and assess the impact of pumped boreholes on surface water supplies (Warburton and Perrin 2005d). Identify a selection of reasonably accessible sites where visitors can go to see the species, and ensure options for revenue generation through ecotourism, in collaboration with BirdWatch Zambia (T. Dodman in litt. 2012).


14 cm. Fast-flying parrot. All-green, apart from dark brown head, orange bib below throat, and white eye-ring. Bright red bill. Juvenile similar but with more orange bill. Voice Loud and piercing shrieks, identical to those of other lovebirds. Hints It forages predominantly at ground-level on annual-grass seeds, but also arboreally on other vegetable matter and insect larvae, as well as ripening sorghum and millet fields (Dodman 1995a, Warburton 1999a, L. S. Warburton in litt. 1999, 2000).


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Mzumara, T., Dodman, T., Rockingham-Gill, D., Warburton, L., Leonard, P., Downs, C., Aspinwall, D., Buys, N., Irwin, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Agapornis nigrigenis. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023.