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African Parrot - Poicephalus 
Parrot Species Profiles

A Few Basics ...

When I talk to caregivers about their companion Poicephalus, the people often describe them as being cuddly and curious, often adding that they have a lot of spunk. Most of these parrots are generally quiet but there are certainly exceptions. In order to stay tame and happy, Poicephalus need to be handled in  a consistent gentle nurturing manner. Parrots who have been left without attention for long periods of time may need to be patiently re-tamed. Some Poicephalus have a tendency to be one-person birds so it is important for each person in their lives to spend time both individually and with the other people in the human flock handling the parrot in a gentle, playful manner.

My experience with wild-caught Poicephalus was limited to a few Senegal Parrots. I found it difficult to win their trust and one of them seemed to be desperately afraid of just about everything. I talked to his new owner about the ways that I had gradually changed my grey, Bongo Marie, from a terrified parrot into a trusting parrot. I did talk to the young man during the time he worked with the bird's behavior and he had been able to successfully win the bird’s trust so that the Senegal would step on his hand.

It wasn’t until the early '90s that I started working with hand-fed Poicephalus. One thing became very clear with these parrots. If they came from an aviary or bird shop that placed an importance on early socialization, the birds were out going and adventurous. However, if they came from a production-type situation, they were very timid, some to the point of becoming phobic. It was actually work with the African parrots (including the greys) that made it clear to me how important early socialization was to the emotional health of a parrot. In fact it was so obvious to me that I couldn't believe that anyone would dismiss the concept unless they simply had other priorities. No parrot proved my theories more clearly than the Red-bellied. These were the first truly phobic birds that I worked with and when I lived in the S.F. Bay Area, I could almost tell where the bird had been purchased by its behavior in its new home

With several species of Poicephalus, individuals who have bad to endure traumatic handling or have had an experience that frightened them may have a serious phobic response. They may thrash around the cage when approached and refuse to allow their previously beloved caregiver to handle them. Don’t take it personally and don’t get angry. The key is to realize that for some reason the bird has gone into prey mode and is terrified. The way for people to get their delightful little birds back is to become very submissive with them. This includes minimal direct eye contact or demands. I recommend sitting next to their cage with the door open. Just lean into the cage a bit and read a magazine. Don’t make any eye contact; if you do slowly lower your head and look away. This gives the bird the chance to come back to you and most of them do. The more submissive you are, the less threat you present to them and the more likely they are to relax and accept you as a friend again.

Arranged alphabetically by common name.

ALL drawings are copyrighted and may not be used in any form without the written permission of Sally Blanchard

Poicephalus cryptoxanthus

» Native to several countries in south east Africa and some coastal islands»
» Most populations seem to be stable although they are declining in some areas of their range and they may have been extirpated from the island of Zanzibar
» About 9"
» There are 3 sub-species: P. c. cryptoxanthus, P.c. tanganyikae, and P.c. zanzibaricus
» Green body with brown head. Yellow on inside of wings.
» Their species name is description - crypto translates as hidden and xanthus translates as yellow — so the species name cryptoxanthus means hidden yellow referring to the yellow in the inside of their wings

My experience with Brown-headed Parrots was limited to two birds that I met when I gave consultations with their caregivers. I thought that they were cute but had no idea how cute they could be. One of the Brown-heads had turned quite nippy at a young age but his breeder was one of those that thought early socialization was a waste of time. It is my belief that this is why the bird turned so nippy and not some inherent species trait. This has become even more apparent to me since I have met so many of these little guys since I moved to Colorado.

A nearby aviary raises Brown-heads and from time to time I used to go there to play with the babies. ( I believe in quality socialization and it is really a joy to be able to play with babies as part of their socialization. I have fallen in love with the Brown-headed species. They may seem somewhat nondescript but when they open their wings, SURPRISE!, they dazzle you with bright yellow and their personality is anything but nondescript. From my experience, I would say that they seem to be the most mellow of all of the Poicephalus that I have met (Senegal, Red-belly, Meyer’s, Jardine’s) perhaps with the exception of the Cape parrot, which is still fairly uncommon as a companion. While they may be able to say a few words in a sort of possessed little voice and learn some sounds in their home, they have a reputation for being one of the quietest companion parrots.
I have had some in-depth experience with Brown-heads since I bird sit for a few of them from time to time. One of them loves play on the hanging gyms that I have but when he gets tired of that, he flies over and lands on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. I also met one of the cutest Brown-headed Parrots when I was in Canada. The breeder told me that out of all the Poicephalus that she raised, she thought that the Brown-head was the most steady and had the potential to be the best companion parrot. I have bird sat a couple of these Poicephalus and have fallen in love with Brown-headed parrots and think that they are the ideal companion for people who want a smaller parrot with a lot of personality that is fairly easy to manage.

Poicephalus fusicollis, Poicephalus robustus

» The true Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus)of South Africa is seriously endangered due to capture for the pet trade and Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in its wild population. 
» The Brown-necked parrot (Poicephalus robustus fusicollis or Poicephalus fusicollis fusicollis) is from West Africa and includes northern Ghana, Togo, Gambia and southern Senegal. It is the most common of these three birds as human companions.
» The Grey-headed parrot (Poicephalus suahelicus) is from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, northern Botswana, and northern Namibia.
» The largest birds in the Poicephalus family at about 13".

Recently the taxonomy of the P. robustus has changed and become quite confusing to many people. Now the nominate robustus is now considered a separate species from the P. suahelicus and P. fuscicollis. The robustus (P. robustus) is now the only true Cape parrot. The P. fuscicollis fuscicollis is now called the Brown-necked Parrot and the P. fuscicollis suahelicus is now called the Grey-Headed Parrot.

How does this apply to the companion parrots in these species? I am sure that the "Cape" parrots that I have met are no longer called Cape parrots. I really have no idea whether these three birds have differing traits so I will cover the parrots that I have met or heard about. I would imagine that most of the delightful birds that I have met are the Brown-necked parrots. The true Cape (P. robustus) is seriously endangered in its native South Africa and less likely to be a human companion in the United States.    
Jardine's and CapeThe Cape parrot is still unusual as a human companion although there are certainly more now. I met my first Cape parrot about ten years ago and was very impressed with him and I have been equally impressed with the ones I have met since. The well-socialized hand-feds are very sweet and easy to handle. One caregiver referred to them as the “teddy bears of the Poicephalus ... friendly, affable, and intelligent.” They seem to be a very adaptable parrot who are comfortable in the midst of a busy family — like most parrots, they really want to be where the action is. They are large, energetic birds who use their large beak for chewing and they enjoy occasional nuts in the shell. They can be excellent talkers, readily picking up words and sounds from the people and activities in their lives. However, although I have not heard it, I am told they do have a contact call that some people find piercing. The black and white drawing is of a Brown-necked parrot and a Jardine's.   

Poicephalus gulielmi

» Also called the Red-fronted Parrot
» There are three sub-species:
•Black-winged Jardine's (Poicephalus gulielmi gulielmi) from the Congo River Basin
•Lesser Jardine's  (P. g. fantiensis) Liberia to southern Ghana: The most common Jardine's on the United States.
•Greater Jardine's  (P. g. massaicus) from Kenya and northern Tanzania
» These birds are still considered to have stable populations although habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade may create problems in the future. CITES II

Hardly anyone even heard of Jardines when I started working with parrots. The first ones I met lived with Shari Carpenter. Harry and Isabel were really fun little parrots. At the time, Isabel said over 20 words and Harry said over 50. Harry has a big man attitude and the two of them were into everything if they got a chance. Harry pretended to be a bit “nippy” and threatened me when I tried to pick him up but was actually a pretty good bluffer. Shari reported that the two were not morning “people” and could be a bit grouchy until they were up for awhile  ... perfect birds for me?

Rita Shimniok who bred Jardines made no apology for the fact that they were her favorite parrots. She did a survey of Jardine caregivers and these birds were most frequently described as outgoing, cuddly, acrobatic, inquisitive, easy to handle, calm, gentle, trustworthy, and, above all, enthusiastic eaters. Common playtime behaviors included lying on their backs in thei
r caregiver’s hand, hanging upside down from the person’s fingers, and tug-of-war games.  Laura Ainsworth reported that her Jardine went through a nippy period but with some work, he came out of it just fine and now loves to show off for visitors.

The drawing to the left is of a Greater Jardine's. Of course, this describes their sizes but I don’t know the Greater well enough to discuss personality differences. A couple of years ago, I fell in love with a little lesser Jardines. I can’t remember her real name but I called her “bug” as an affectionate nickname. It is a good thing that I haven’t brought all of the  birds that I have fallen for home or I would have far too many birds to take care of properly.  It has been nice to be able to have experiences with a whole bunch of delightful parrots.

Poicephalus meyeri

» Range is primarily in central sub-Saharan Africa to the border of South Africa.
» Populations are still considered stable despite loss of habitat and capture for the pet trade. » » CITES II
» Six sub-species are recognized which vary some in range, color and size.
» Size is about 8"

The Meyer’s parrot is described as being clever, quite adventurous and a bit pugnacious. They could be called the Poicephalus with an attitude … although it seems some others will give them a challenge for this description.

Most Meyer’s caregivers describe their parrots as being relatively quiet unless they are threatened and overexcited. Many of these attractive parrots have a decent vocabulary but may not always talk clearly. The quality of their voice and the sounds that they make can be quite humorous. Their natural sounds seem to consist of quiet chirps, squeaks, whistles, and chattering.

One caregiver reported that her Meyer’s fashions a splinter of wood or a molted feather and uses it to rub his head. Meyer’s Parrots should have plenty of toys with wood because they can be big chewers.
Many caregivers say that their Meyer’s parrots are being loving and cuddly. Some people say that they are the perfect family parrot. Others report that some Meyer’s can be quite territorial on occasion and may have a tendency to be aggressive to other animals and parrots in the household.
Not all of them are like this but caregivers need to watch their Meyer’s parrot’s reactions to other birds. This is one parrot that responds to aggression with aggression so the best way to deal with situations where they want to go after other birds is to avoid them rather than try to solve them as they are happening.

With some of the Poicephalus fear and aggression are closely related. Before trying to deal with their aggression, make sure that there is not something that is causing them to be afraid. If you are calm and relaxed with a parrot who is being aggressive, there is a chance that the parrot will match your energy and slow himself down.


Poicephalus crassus

» Length 9 to 10"
» Range is Central Africa: Cameroon to West Sudan
» Considered stable in its range
» Not known in aviculture

Poicephalus rufiventris

» A Sexually dimorphic species with the male having a bright orange-red belly and the hen having a dull orangish to greenish belly.
» About 9"
» Range includes Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and northern Tanzania.
» Populations seem stable at this time.

Please read beyond this first paragraph. Tony Silva in his book, Psittaculture, states that Red-bellies are largely unsuitable as pets. He states that, differing from other Poicephalus, “the norm is for them to become highly nippy even when hand-reared from birth, some become extremely vicious as adults.” I often wonder how many companion Red-bellies this man saw before he made this sweeping generalization. I haven't always agreed with some breeders (certainly not all) when they write about parrot species as companions. I have met quite a few adult Red-bellies since I read this statement and it is so much nonsense. My guess is that Mr. Silva had only met poorly socialized production-raised birds that were so prevalent when he wrote his book. Considering that the Senegals are such a desirable companion, it would surprise me that two parrots within the same genus could be so vastly different. I refuse to believe that a well-socialized Red-belly whose gentleness has been maintained by loving caregivers will not remain a trusting and trusted companion.

I do believe that some Red-bellies are sensitive to traumas and may develop serious fear behavior. It is clear to me that their tendency for phobic behavior can be related to some element essential to their proper personality development (especially in regards to a sense of security) is missing from the early socialization they receive when they are babies. While not all Red-bellies become phobic, I have worked with a few who have after a traumatic event. This translates into fear — not aggression unless someone continues to pressure them to be handled. Read the general Poicephalus information above on how to deal with this problem.


Poicephalus rueppelii

» Length about 9" Weight about 120 grams
» Endemic to southwest Africa: Angola and Namibia in southwest
» Rare in aviculture and as companions although they are considered to be good pets

» Sexually dimorphic: hens have blue on their lower back, rump and lower belly
» CITES II Considered to be stable in its range

Poicephalus senegalus

» Range throughout areas of west Africa
» Three subspecies which vary in chest color from yellow to deep orange.
» The nominate species Poicephalus senegalus senegalus with its yellow chest is mofe common in the United States.
» Populations are undetermined but as with all parrots, habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade may be creating problems. CITES II
» About 9"

One of the most popular small companion parrots. It is my observation that Senegals can look a little diabolical because of their eye stripe configuration. Maybe not diabolical but at least mischievous or feisty. Many caregivers describe their Senegals as being exceptionally sweet and cuddly. One of the birds that I sit for from time to time is sweetheart hen Senegal named Jane. If they are all like Jane, I can see why they are so popular. She has received a great deal of gentle handling and affection and it certainly shows in her behavior.

Some Senegals are quite assertive and caregivers need to establish and maintain nurturing guidance. Some go through a nippy stage but that can be worked out with a patient and knowledgeable caregiver.  Senegals have a contact call who some people find annoying but they are generally quiet parrots who may say several words appropriately but most of all, they like to mimic other household animals and sounds.
Wild-caught Senegals were often nervous and took a lot of patience and nurturing to win their trust. Even hand-feds may be wary of abrupt changes. This is particularly true if they have not been properly socialized. Phobic episodes can be brought on by mishandling by vets or groomers, a perceived threat to the cage territory, a certain object that frightens them, or even something that no one can figure out. One Senegal I worked with became terrified after the person who he previously liked greeted him with new, exceptionally long, red acrylic nails. Once the woman stopped taking it personally and slowed down her energy to win her parrot back, things went back to normal fairly quickly.


Poicephalus flavifrons

» Length about 11"
» Range is disjunctly in highlands of Ethiopia
» Not found in aviculture
» Considered stable in its range

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