Great Pet Birds
The price range of the most available Poicephalus, the
Senegal, is anywhere from $500 to $800.
Poicephalus parrots across the board are some of the
most desirable birds available. The genus covers a huge portion of
the African continent. The largest Poicephalus, the Cape, is
about the size of a T’imneh African grey, weighing in at about 275
to 300 grams, and the smallest is the Meyer’s, which can be as small
as 90 grams and about 81/2 inches long.
There is a size and temperament for everyone. Many Poicephalus are
either green birds with different colored heads or primarily gray.
Birds living outside can develop the adult eye coloration just a few
weeks after leaving their nest, and birds living indoors may never
achieve the eye coloration of the adult, so eye coloration is no
indication of age.
As a group, Poicephalus are full of themselves, and
they love you to death. Poicephalus do not need a friend for
company and usually would rather not have one. So you don’t have to
feel guilty about your bird being home alone. They love you, and
their loyalty to you can cause resentment to the friend you provided
for them. This creates the perfect situation for the working person,
the apartment person and the family person.
If you are a working person, plenty of toys for
entertainment and perhaps a radio on a timer are good diversions for
the Poicephalus. Most Poicephalus do require time with
you; as with any bird, this is a must. They adore their caretakers
and expect the same adoration in return. Most make good first birds,
and some are wonderful for children (10 years and older). Some are
very tolerant of small children and are even friendly and gentle
The diet for your Poicephalus should be a good,
standard parrot diet, consisting of pellets, veggies and some seed.
The Poicephalus seem to do better with some seed added to
their diet. Caging for most of the Poicephalus doesn’t have
to be overly large. A medium-sized cage can provide a secure
environment for a bird whose ancestors were high-strung and nervous.
Any exceptions to the overall group will be pointed out when
discussing the individual species. As a sidenote: Any time you see
the” ‘s “ ending in the common name (as in Meyer’s), this indicates
the species was named after the discoverer, and this is the correct
The Poicephalus genus is a very closely related group
of birds. Much of their care and temperament is very similar, and
what follows is just fine tuning of each of the nine different
species. What applies to one is generally accepted across the board
for all. To aid in the ease of understanding this group, they are
usually broken down into two smaller groups consisting of the large
and the small Poicephalus.
(Three species of Poicephalus, the yellow face, the
Niam-Niam and the Ruppell’s, are not included because they are very
rare to nonexistent in aviculture.)
The larger of the genus consists of the Cape parrot,
Jardine’s and the yellow face.
The Cape parrot (P. robustus) is found in three distinct
regions in Africa, which is conducive to them having three different
subspecies. The nominate species P. robustus robustus is
found in South Africa. They have very distinct faded yellow heads,
making them easily recognizable from the other two subspecies. Males
as well as females may sport the coral patch above the cere. To my
knowledge, there are none in the U.S.
The subspecies P. r. suahelicus is found through a
large region of central Africa extending down into the far north of
South Africa. It seems to be the largest member of the Cape family. P.
r. fuscicollis is found in a small area in western Africa in
parts of Gambia and Senegal to northern Ghana and Togo. These two
subspecies are not easily distinguished from one another, and
confusion exists as to what subspecies are actually present in
It appears that P. r. fuscicollis has a
burgundy-brown to wine-colored wash over much of the head, and the
hen seems to have a large patch of coral color above the cere,
sometimes extending to the back of the head and down around the
eyes. P.r. suahelicus has a more silver head, with the hen
having just a moderate amount of coral color.
The Cape parrot “appears” to be about the size of a
medium-sized African grey, but in actuality it barely weighs more
than a Jardine’s. A Cape parrot will weigh anywhere from 200 to 400
grams, with the average being about 250 to 300 grams.
The Cape parrot is, at first glance, another green bird.
Like most Poicephalus, the head coloring is variable shades
of color, the Cape’s being silver gray, with the hens having a patch
of coral color above the cere. The most obvious physical
characteristic about a Cape parrot is its enormous beak, which is
bone-colored and always wears a smile.
The Cape parrot is a very active bird and should be given
time out of the cage on a regular basis. A play area that is more
elaborate than most will suit a Cape parrot. They love to climb a
rope, run across the top of the playgym, slide down a knotted rope
or the edge of a ladder, scoot around and climb back up again. Many
toys should be available for the momentary stop to chew or fight.
They love to swing and fight with hanging toys, and their
larger-than-normal cage should contain a fair amount of rugged toys.
Some of the toys should consist of items to be chewed. With a beak
the size of theirs, chewing is a must.
Although they have such a large beak, Capes are the least
likely of all Poicephalus to bite. The Cape parrot is a very
affectionate bird, and petting time is a must, so plan on spending
time with your bird. Oddly enough, they are very affectionate, but
do not seem to become cage-bound or one-person birds as easily as
The Cape parrot has the ability to become quite a good
mimic, using many different voices. Some are rather soft spoken, but
I know of some that project their voices very well.
The base diet of the Cape parrot should be what is good for
most parrots, with an addition of a few more fruits and vegetables,
along with just about any nuts imaginable. Favorites on the list are
macadamia, almonds, walnuts and pistachios, with the least favorites
being pecans and Brazil nuts.
Prices of the Cape parrot range in the neighborhood of about
$1,500 to $2,000.
According to Forshaw, the Jardine’s (P. gulielmi) subspecies
ranges covers about the same range as the African grey. Other
authorities show them in distinct, separate ranges, which adds
credibility to the separate subspecies. A few members of the African
Parrot Society are studying the Jardine’s subspecies in depth and
are developing guidelines for determining the different subspecies.
The Jardine’s parrot is the second of the large group. The
weight range is roughly from 180 to over 300 grams, depending on the
subspecies. We find once again another “green” bird, but upon closer
inspection, one finds black feathers edged in the most iridescent
greens to be found anywhere. True to form, the head colors vary from
bird to bird with color ranging from red-orange through every shade
of orange to almost yellow. The Jardine’s beak is oversized in two
of the subspecies and appears on some individuals to be rather huge.
The nominate Jardine’s (P g. gulielmi) is a stocky
bird with very little green edging on the wing feathers, giving it a
“black wing” appearance, hence the common name of black-winged
Jardine’s. The beak on this Jardine’s is overly large for the bird,
as well as being predominantly black. The weight averages about 270
to 280 grams. It may have a vast amount of the crown color on the
head, extending to the back of the head. The black wing is not a
Jardine’s for the pet market. It is estimated by the African Parrot
Society that less than 10 pairs are known in the U.S.
The subspecies P g. massaicus is a bit larger,
ranging from the high 200 to low 300 grams. This Jardine’s is
commonly called the greater Jardine’s and is very distinct from the
other two. This bird’s beak is proportional to its body and is more
tucked in than with the other two subspecies. The upper mandible is
predominately horn-colored. The greater Jardine’s posture is upright
and appears to be a sleeker bird overall.
In most greaters, the white eye ring has a distinct line of
thick black right next to the iris. It sometimes looks like someone
just applied fresh eyeliner. These Jardine’s are good pets if you
can locate a hand-fed chick. They are becoming more available than
they once were.
The most plentiful of the Jardine’s is the P.g.
fantiensis, commonly called the lesser Jardine’s. It is a
smaller version of the black-winged Jardine’s. While they are very
similar in appearance and posture, the lesser has an obvious black
and green wing, is smaller with weights from 180 to about 240 grams
and crown color can be more orange-yellow. There are a number of
lesser found as pets across the U.S.
Jardine’s are the Amazons of the Africans. They seem to love
life, awakening in the morning just waiting to see what adventure
awaits them. They are happy doing anything life has to offer. If you
don’t have time to play with them one day that’s okay because they
will just tear up their toys, roll around on the floor of their cage
or hang from the top and practice twisting their bodies into
incredible shapes. They are active and fun-loving. Most Jardine’s
can very often be found lying on their backs with feet in the air
playing dead. It takes years off your life! Cage size does not have
to be overly large for Jardine’s if they have frequent out-of-cage
time on a play area.
Their diet is basically the same as for all other Poicephalus,
with the exception of making sure they get plenty of natural vitamin
I know many 13- to 15-year-old children who own wonderful
Jardine’s. I do not recommend them around small children because
their formidable beaks are capable of amputating a tiny finger. They
can talk fairly well, although in my experience they have a parrot
Prices of Jardine’s range from $700 to about $1,200
depending on the subspecies.
The smaller of the genus consists of the brown-headed
parrot, the Meyer’s, red-bellied parrot, the Ruppell’s and the
Brown-headed parrots (P cryptoxanthus) may not look like
much, but they have great personalities. The range of this parrot is
southern central Africa in a strip near the eastern coast. The
brown-headed parrot is exactly that — a green bird with a brown
head. Most people upon seeing them for the first time, ask “What is
wrong with that Senegal?”
Brown heads are very close to the Meyer’s in personality. If
you are happy with a plain-looking bird and don’t have to have all
the flash and color, you can’t go wrong with a brown-headed parrot.
I have heard reports they can be similar to the Senegal in their
possessiveness, but I have not found this to be the case. Their
talking ability is somewhere between a Meyer’s and a Senegal. I
recommend them for young adults or families with small children and
a healthy dose of common sense.
The diet for brown-headed parrots in the wild consist of a
high-carbohydrate diet for much of the year, switching to diet of
higher protein and fat during breeding season. It is reasonable to
assume this should be followed in captivity due to the fact that
brown heads can fall victim to fatty liver disease. (See your avian
vet for dietary concerns. — Ed.)
Prices of the brown head are in the vicinity of $500 to
The range of the Meyer’s parrot (P. meyeri) consists of
groupings all over central Africa. This is the smallest of the Poicephalus,
weighing as little as 80 grams. The Meyer’s can be very petite to
more robust birds, depending on the subspecies. Their overall color
is a soft gray, with bellies of blue to turquoise to green. They may
have large bright-yellow bands on their crown to none at all, and
the same hold true for the lead edge of the wings, depending, once
again, on the subspecies.
The Meyer’s parrot is the second most available of the
little Poicephalus. Meyer’s have been described as shy birds.
I don’t think they are shy, I just believe they are softer birds.
They do not seem to be as athletic as some of the other Poicephalus,
but they are more easygoing, roll-with-the-flow birds. Toys should
be puzzle-type toys and things to work with and study.
Meyer’s seem to enjoy working on rawhide knots for endless
amounts of time or trying to see why the little bell stays in the
plastic cage. Meyer’s are not the best talkers of the bunch,
although some have been known to be outstanding. They seem better at
sharing their owners than the Senegals. Meyer’s radiate love, and
they are happiest when they can interact with you. Meyer’s parrots
are sexually dimorphic, which means they can be visually sexed. Even
as just-feathered youngsters, the difference in coloration is
obvious. Males will have black bars on their chests, and hens will
be a solid color.
I recommend Meyer’s for children age 10 and up or families
with small children and, again, a healthy dose of common sense.
The average price of a Meyer’s parrot is about $500 to $800.
The range of the red-bellied parrot (P. rufiventris) is the
horn of Africa in Somalia and Ethiopia. This 9-inch, 150-gram Poicephalus,
the clown of the group, is sexually dimorphic with the adult males
having a bright orange belly, while the hens have drab orange to
greenish bellies. Overall appearance is a fawn color with sherbet
accents on the rump and lower belly. Juvenile red bellies more often
resemble the male before they have their first molt, but there are
clutches that may resemble hens, and sometimes may even be
The red bellies are the third most common of the Poicephalus.
They are happiest playing and acting silly. Red bellies are showoffs
— even in front of company. They are one of the only parrots that
don’t clam up but instead will talk (even jabber) in front of
strangers. I think they are one of the best talkers of the Poicephalus.
Red bellies can play with anything. In a cage with no toys I
believe they would make them up. I have seen them playing and
attacking something in their flights, but when I walk over to
investigate I find nothing there. They play sometimes just to get
your attention, and playing dead is one of their favorite attention
getters, as well as standing on their heads. They will do just about
anything to get in on the activity. I recommend them for adult
families, not small children.
Average price of the red belly is about $700 to $900.
The Senegal (P. senegalus) ranges from Senegal on the far
west coast of central Africa and goes easterly through Africa ending
in Camaroon and Chad. The Senegal is a green parrot with a grey head
and a yellow-orange vest.
Senegals are the most common of the little Poicephalus.
Senegals as pets are very charming, endearing birds. Some can learn
large vocabularies and are willing to be handled by anyone. Others
will learn only a few words. They are very playful, needing a
variety of toys and entertainment (swings are one of their favorite
toys). By the same token, they are not demanding. Senegals are
self-entertaining and are quite comfortable in a working-owner
situation. Intense is a word a lot of people use when describing
They find mischievous ways of getting into things, almost as
if to get your attention. Senegals are very loyal, and they expect
the same in return. If a Senegal is allowed to bond to only one
person, it may perceive anyone else as a threat to its “intended.”
They can at this time become possessive and may bite their owners
trying to drive them to security or may bite the intruder trying to
drive them away.
The gender of adult Senegals can often be determined by the
coloration of the undertail coverts (not to be confused with the
term “vent feathers”). Males will be all yellow, while hens will
have from small patches of green to almost solid green feathers
mixed in with the yellow. I recommend them as a great first bird. I
do not recommend them for young children.