Poicephalus Parrots

© Jean Pattison — The African Queen

In the year 2001, after much research and DNA testing the Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus) of South Africa was determined to be a distinct, separate species from the other two cape parrots P. r. fuscicollis of West Africa and P.r. suahelicus of central Africa. The Cape parrot of South Africa is now known as the only true cape parrot. The cape from West Africa will now be known as Poicephalus fuscicollis fuscicollis, the dusky-collared or brown-necked parrot, while the central African cape will be known as Poicephalus fuscicollis suahelicus, the grey-headed parrot. Since there are no S. African capes in the United States and for ease of understanding I will refer to the new named species as un-capes.

To keep this in perspective it helps to imagine Africa being three times as big as the United States. The grey-headed un-cape and the Meyer's (Poicephalus meyeri) have a range over central Africa about the size of the U.S. with the Meyer's being in six subspecies pockets scattered throughout, with some overlap.

The Jardine's (Poicephalus gulielmi) range is largely north and south of the equator with the three (perhaps four) subspecies pockets going from west to east.

The Senegal (Poicephalus senegalus) is found from Senegal to the Ivory Coast, and the red-bellied's (Poicephalus rufiventris) range is the starving, desolate countries of Somalia and eastern Ethiopia. The brown-headed (Poicephalus cryptoxanthus) is in trouble with its small stretch of land in Southern African, near the east coast. In recent field studies it was found there are not nearly the populations of brown-heads as what is written up in most journals.

Temperament

The overall temperament of the different Poicephalus species is about the same. The un-cape is an intimidating bird with his large beak, but he seems to know the damage he can do. He seems to also know, that people know it too, so they don't have to prove it by biting. Although they are mouthy parrots and want to touch everything with their beaks and tongues, they rarely bite. Their talking ability is exceptional, although soft-spoken, often times one doesn't even realize they talk as much as they do, unlike Africa greys that project their voice. Un-capes are very affectionate, but are not demanding and clingy. They play hard and need plenty of toys and a climbing tree.

The Jardine's is the in-between bird. It falls right between the un-cape and the small Poicephalus in just about every way. They are not as vocal as some of the others. Of the Jardine's I have sold to young adults between 12-17 years old, they have done exceptionally well. Perhaps it is the carefree attitude that fits so well with the Jardine's. One 13 year old taught her bird how to hang on her belt loops while she rode her bike over to her friend's houses. Once there, the Jardine's would run around the floor like a puppy with all the neighbor kids. Another young lady took her Jardine's everywhere. When she would go shopping with her mother, the young lady would just put the Jardine's down into her shirt and no one was the wiser, while she shopped. In comparing them to ones I have sold to adults, it seems adults treat them as grandmas treat their grandchildren ... perhaps a bit over-protective. I see more dominance problems associated with adults and Jardine's. Jardine's love life and think the world owes them a good time. Jardine's love to lay on their backs and scare the wits out of you, or hide under newspaper so you can't find them in their cages.

The small Poicephalus are pretty much the same across the board, with red-bellieds being the best talkers and more outgoing in front of strangers. Red-bellieds can be playing in their cages and seem to be chasing something all over the bottom of the cage. When one goes over to inspect, there is nothing there. They are so playful, it seems, they even imagine things to play with. The Senegal follows close behind with their outgoing, almost mischievous attitudes. Senegals will create a fuss just to get you to come over and see what's going on. Meyer's and brown-headeds are "softer" birds, since they tend to be a bit gentler. They play with small ropes and leather ties for hours and do very well with small children. They even seem to enjoy the supervised attention from small children. Swings are a must for all of the Poicephalus parrots. Any one of the small Poicephalus can be a cuddle bug, and they love to be loved on, but be careful you don't spoil them. It is awfully easy to do.

Behavior/training issues

I had heard of phobic Senegals, but didn't know what people were talking about. Then one day ... boom, I found out. Phobic Poicephalus have two forms. The first is pure terror where the parrot throws himself off the cage or perch in fear. The second is when the parrot will almost attack you and bite viciously. My experience involved the latter. While playing with a hen Senegal of about 2 years old, I then went to play with her brother which was opposite of my usual routine. When I reached for the male, Troubles, he immediately lunged at me and sunk his beak into my finger and would not let go. I immediately dropped him to the carpeting. In almost the same motion, I reached for him and he lunged again and latched on biting me a total of seven times. Since I was already near the floor I dropped him again onto the carpeting and went to get him again. He immediately ran into the kitchen, with me on my hands and knees following close behind, while my hands were bleeding all over the floor. At this point I was about ready to kill him. I chased him into my kitchen where he ran into a corner. Ah-ha! I had him now. He turned sharply and headed back towards me and I thought, "I am wrong, it looks like he has me." I sat back on my heels and he ran right between my legs, flipped over his back and fluttered his wings. As he looked up at me, he uttered in a quivery voice "What doin? I love you." Instantly, tears streamed down my cheeks as I picked him up and gave him kisses. He just trembled and snuggled as close as he could get. In hindsight, I know we had a confrontation and it was settled right then and there. I believe if I had put him right into his cage, he would have "won" and may have been a parrot with a horrid phobia. To this day he is one of my best birds, we adore each other, and he has never bitten me since that day.

Phobias in Poicephalus can be dealt with, and overcome. If there are seemingly insurmountable problems, do not hesitate to call in a behavioral consultant. These folks are familiar with many species of birds and their phobias, and can usually walk you right through the problems.

Good with other birds?

If one works out of the home and is away most of the time, do not feel guilty and find a friend for your pet Poicephalus. If one wants to add another Poicephalus to the family, by all means do so, but do it for yourself, not as a buddy for your "lonely" bird. Poicephalus love you, and another bird will not be appreciated. In breeding pairs, if they are not compatible they will often kill each other. They do get along with other birds but a lot will depend on the birds themselves and the situation. I once had a breeder friend call saying he had just received a blue front Amazon with a Senegal as his cage mate, and would I want the Senegal. When I went to pick him up, I was amazed at the devotion this odd couple had toward each other. This Senegal now has a mate of his own kind and has raised many babies, although the initial separation was hard.

Health

The Poicephalus are fairly easy to care for where health is concerned. Brown-headed parrots may be prone to liver problems if fed a high fat and protein diet. Jardine's can be subject to aspergillosis infections. Any unusual voice change, or lameness may be a warning to have a vet check. Jardine's can have an overgrown beak in a short time, and if allowed to go unchecked a corner may break off unnoticed and the opposing beak may grow crooked causing a scissor-beak type of abnormality. It is suspected this is due to not enough chewing, since in the wild their nesting site is from two feet to eight feet in length, and often in living trees. Most all of the African Parrots were imported with round worms and tapeworms. Bird breeders should have dewormed their birds, but in the event it wasn't done, worms will be passed on to the chicks. At your bird's regular vet check testing and/or deworming should be done. There are no other unusual problems to be concerned about.

Toys

Playtime is important and good toys are a necessity. When choosing toys, always think of any accident that could happen with the toy and fix it, or purchase another. Soft, chewable wooden toys are a must. Parrots need to be able to chew wood to keep their beaks in good condition and provide quality entertainment. Of course good acrylic toys are a must since so many are very entertaining and last for a good length of time, plus they are easily sanitized. Most Poicephalus love swings.

When looking to purchase a Poicephalus, the larger cities throughout the country will have Senegals and some of the other Poicephalus for sale in the better pet shops. Due to most breeders being in CA, FL, and TX the largest concentration will be found in these states. One may purchase from a reputable breeder or pet shop. In the spring, after the winter breeding season, Poicephalus are the most plentiful. In the off-season a few can be found here and there, due to breeders that breed their birds indoors.

Mutations

With the variable colors of the different subspecies we have some very dramatic colors in the Poicephalus parrots. In captivity we are finding redder reds in the red bellieds and deeper oranges on the chests of the Senegals. Often times a natural mutation shows up and breeders try to work with those. One should not look specifically for a certain colored subspecies, since a lot of the Poicephalus are hard to find from the start. Many times one is lucky just to find the species desired. Some cinnamon and pied mutation Senegals have surfaced over the last five years, as well as some out standing colored red-bellieds. One should watch for yellow feathering where green feathers normally are. Often times this is from feather picking or health issues. I once bought four brown-headed parrots with yellow heads. The seller tried to convince me these were rare. From past experience I knew this was from plucking. After a year all four molted back to their normal colors.

As with all parrots there is an upside and a downside. These are still wild animals. In my opinion the upside of the Poicephalus far outweigh any downside there may be. One does not train parrots, not to bite or chew on electrical cords, since this is what parrots do. One leans to move the cage away from the cords, or allow the parrot his private time. When owning Poicephalus one learns mutual respect. Once that is learned, your Poicephalus will give you more joy and pleasure than you could ever imagine.

Resources:
1. Prof. Mike Perrin from the University of Natal, personal communications, as well as "Proceedings of the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), 2001 Convention," pages 20-24.
2. Stuart Taylor, Research Center for African Parrot Conservation, University of Natal. "The Brown-headed 3. Parrot in South Africa: a Silent Decline." "Watchbird Magazine," September/October 2000, pages 29-31, AFA.
4. "Lexicon of Parrots," Arndt-Verlag, Brückenfeldstrasse 28, 75015 Bretten, Germany.
5. "Parrots of the World," Joseph M. Forshaw.