Why Lovebirds Make Pretty Paper Tails

lovebirds shredding paper CROP. By Julia Kuznetsova/Shutterstock

It's mesmerizing to watch. Peach-faced lovebirds will carefully and precisely tear off perfect strips of paper with their beaks and gently tuck them into their tail feathers. It looks as if they're adding to their plumage with these paper extensions for their tail feathers.

But it turns out there's no vanity in this fascinating avian ritual.

Why do lovebirds make paper tails?

It may look good, but it's all about housekeeping; the birds are tucking the paper away for safekeeping so they can use it later as material to build a nest.

Their close relatives Fisher’s lovebirds (Agapornis fischeri) typically gather the materials for their nests by carrying one strip of tree bark at a time in their beaks. Peach-faced lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis) are a little more efficient. They hide bark and other nest-building material in their feathers.

According to Smithsonian, "Scientists believe that the latter’s more complex behavior is an ancestral trait, and have used this facet of lovebird nest-building as an example of the intersection of evolved and learned behavior."

Lovebirds take their task seriously, writes animal trainer and avian expert Barbara Heidenreich.

"They shred with precision and each strip is uniform in width with ragged edges. The strips are usually as long as the piece of paper. It is not uncommon for a female lovebird to look like she is wearing a paper skirt after a shredding session," Heidenreich says. "Some lovebirds will take the paper back to a nesting cavity; however others won’t necessarily do anything with the paper after tucking it under the wings. In many cases they simply fly away and the paper strips fall to the ground."

Captivating Lovebird Quirk

Commenters on YouTube and on Reddit (where many lovebird videos are posted) chime in with stories of watching their own lovebirds create flouncy tails filled with shredded paper strips. They point out that it's typically the female birds who are skilled at the feather skirts, while the males just can't get the knack of it.

The process is fascinating to watch, they say.

"They try to make everything into nesting material, especially books," said Redditor TheNorthRemembers. "It's really cool seeing them [in real life] in action. It looks like they are automated."

The only problem is that the lovebirds don't discriminate when choosing paper material.

"The obsession to shred paper for some species can at times be problematic. This is because lovebirds will chew whatever is available," says Heidenreich. "If a treasured book is left open, the pages could become the target of a shredding lovebird. You can prevent this by making sure paper that is acceptable for shredding is easily accessed and items you don’t want chewed are safely stored away when your bird is out."

Better hide the Harry Potter.