The screechy, chirruping notes of Lilian’s lovebirds are the dominant music in the air on a sunny June afternoon in an expanse of mopane forest deep in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park. These gregarious little parrots are found in mature mopane forests throughout the Zambezi River Basin. Conservationists concerned about widespread and ongoing degradation of their habitat are calling for greater protection of these forests — and trialing artificial homes that could help the birds survive while damaged portions recover.
These lovebirds (Agapornis lilianae) are “mopane specialists,” according to Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, a researcher and lecturer in ecology at the Malawi University of Science and Technology.
“Mopane woodland is their village,” she says. “The big, mature trees, otherwise known as cathedral mopane among ecologists, have cavities in which these birds roost and breed. In addition, mopane woodlands come with a foraging habitat for the birds which feed on seeds, fruits and flowers.”
Mature stands of mopane (Colophospermum mopane) are found across a wide belt of Southern Africa, thriving in hot, relatively dry lowlands from Angola and Namibia in the west, through Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and into Malawi and Mozambique in the east. But in many places, the trees are falling to both licensed and unlicensed logging for timber and charcoal.
“In our studies of the birds in Zambia,” Mzumara-Gawa tells Mongabay, “we found cases where they took up cavities in trees such as Combretum and Faidherbia albida species; but that was only because of the deforestation problem with mopane. Otherwise, mopane is their favored habitat.”
Lead Image: Lilian’s lovebirds perching on a branch. Image by Michael Wilcox via Unsplash.
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