The symbolic birds of love in the spotlight

Their intimate pair behavior has made the lovebirds famous. (Photo: NABU / R. Thierfelder)

“They are like two lovebirds”, it is said – but where can you actually watch the proverbial symbol birds of love? Conservationists complain that there is less and less opportunity for this: the lovebirds can hardly find suitable habitats here and in some countries they are even shot down. In order to draw attention to the little romantic fate of the small pigeon species, the NABU and the Bavarian State Association for Bird Protection (LBV) have now voted it Bird of the Year 2020.

They are only about the size of blackbirds, have a colorful plumage and their striking courtship behavior has made them famous: “In the past, you could hear the cooing of the lovebirds on every edge of the village or on the river bank,” says Norbert Schäffer from LBV. But as he and his colleagues report, the species has been descending for many years: “We have lost almost 90 percent of these birds since 1980, entire areas are free of lovebirds,” says Heinz Kowalski from NABU. The reason: “Our smallest pigeon can hardly find any suitable habitats,” says the animal rights activist.

There is less and less turtling

As he and his colleagues explain, the intensification of agriculture worsens the living conditions of the lovebirds enormously. Apparently the migratory birds are particularly short of food in their summer quarters with us: once, the lovebirds mainly fed on the seeds of woody plants and wild herbs such as clover, bird vetch, earth smoke and gluewort. But it is precisely these plants that farmers do not want to have in their fields and so they have disappeared in many places.

The pigeon has adapted and changed its food since the 1960s, reports the NABU: The proportion of seeds from agricultural crops now often forms the predominant part of the food instead of just 20 percent as before. But there is a problem here: in contrast to wild herb seeds, the agricultural seeds are only available for a short time until harvest and are absent from the lovebirds during the critical phase of raising youngsters.

In addition to the ever smaller supply of wild herb seeds, more and more fields, fields and small water bodies disappeared as the cultivated areas were expanded. These were elements of the landscape that provided the birds with nesting sites as well as places to eat and drink. Weeds are also removed from many fields with herbicides and chemically treated seeds are spread, which is bad for the birds. “Wild herb seeds on farm roads and crops from intermediate crops used to provide the animals with sufficient food in many places. Today, lovebirds often breed only on former military training areas or in wine-growing regions, where they still find suitable living conditions, ”says Norbert Schäffer from LBV. According to estimates, there are still 12,500 to 22,000 couples in Germany today.

The bird of love under fire

Most of the approximately 5.9 million couples in Europe live in Spain, France, Italy and Romania. And there the situation for the lovebirds looks bad too, which has already earned them a place on the red list. “Legal and illegal hunting is particularly at risk in the Mediterranean region,” says Heinz Kowalski from NABU. “Scientists were able to prove that the more than 1.4 million lovebirds legally shot in the EU can no longer be handled by the species. Particularly scandalous: in some countries, shooting the endangered lovebirds is considered a sport for your own pleasure, ”adds Eric Neuling from NABU.

In order to protect the lovebirds, NABU petitioned the German Federal Minister for the Environment Svenja Schulze as part of the Bird of the Year campaign to advocate not only an improved agricultural policy but also the permanent suspension of the shooting permits in the EU member states. Everyone can participate in this petition at “We need 25,000 signatures to achieve our goal,” says the website.

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Source: NABU

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