The Parrots of Africa
The 9-inch-long Senegal parrot (Potcephalus senegalus) is
probably the most readily available of the genus Poicephalus, and it
is instantly recognizable with its charcoal-gray head, black beak
and yellow-to-orange chest marked with a distinctive green V. The
olive-green wings sport yellow “epaulets” at the bend. Adult eyes
are yellow-gold; baby Senegals have gray eyes.
This compact parrot is possibly as perfect an apartment pet
as one could desire. Young, hand-raised Senegals develop sweet,
friendly dispositions and bond closely with their owners. They are
capable of amusing themselves inside their cages for extended
periods of time, and most will adapt well to a career person’s
schedule. They can be somewhat shy, so they should be handled and
These birds are not loud, but their whistles can sound
shrill to some ears. They can become fair talkers, especially when
words or phrases are repeated over and over to them while they are
still young. A Senegal parrot can make a great first bird for
someone who wishes to start with a small bird that really acts like
a large parrot.
Senegals seem happiest in roomy cages and enjoy flitting
about between two swings installed inside. Mornings incite an almost
involuntary display of whistling, chirping, climbing and leaping
about the cage.
Like their larger psittacine cousins, Senegal parrots use
their feet to play and eat. They are especially fond of small,
foot-held wooden playthings, and enjoy gnawing on larger (Amazon
sized) hanging wood toys.
Short lengths of millet are relished as treats, as are
chunks of corn on the cob and peanuts, which the birds often eat by
making a small opening in one end of the shell and methodically
removing the nuts inside.
A pair of Senegals will usually be quite affectionate toward
one another, engaging in “kissing” and mutual preening year-round.
While there has been some dissension as to whether or not the sex of
Senegals can be determined visually, the males usually have gold
vents and undertail coverts while the females have green ones. Their
plumage seems to become brighter and more intense as mating season
(September to November in the wild, autumn into spring in captivity;
some breed year-round) approaches. The birds appreciate some privacy
for breeding, and many prefer the security of a cage to an aviary.
If your Senegal or other small Poicephalus parrot is shy and
skittish when someone other than yourself must service its cage,
advise the person to avoid making eye contact with the bird. The
bird will probably remain standoffish, but panic will usually be
Senegals are native to central-west Africa where they are
common in open forests and savannah woodlands. There is some
seasonal migration as the birds travel toward food sources. Their
natural environment is so harsh that they have evolved into hardy,
The Meyer’s parrot (P. meyeri) is a mostly brown bird
distinguished by a bright-yellow patch or band on the head,
green-to-turquoise on the rump and belly, and yellow legs, underwing
coverts and patches at the bend of the wing. The eyes are orange-red
in adults and dark brown in immature birds. Meyer’s parrots are
generally slightly smaller than Senegals, but the difference may be
so slight as to be nearly imperceptible.
The Meyer’s parrot is not as readily available as the
Senegal, since fewer were imported during the 1970s and ‘80s. Its
personality is similar, although it may be more shy than the
Senegal. The care requirements are basically the same, and a
hand-reared Meyer’s can make a delightful pet. The Meyer’s inhabits
a wide range in central and eastern Africa, and makes its home in
savannah woodlands, acacia scrubland or near farmland. The common
denominator is water; it is seldom found far from a source of water.
The Meyer’s parrot prefers to roost in tall trees, yet its flight
patterns are relatively close to the ground. The wild diet includes
seed, berries, nuts, and corn and grain foraged from farmland.
The same genus as Senegal and Meyer’s parrots, the
red-bellied (P rufiventris) and brown-headed (P. cryptoxanthus)
parrots can make excellent pets when hand-raised.
The 9- to 11-inch long Jardine’s parrot (P. gulielmi) is a
dark green bird with orange-red markings on the forehead, thighs and
edge of the wings. The orange coloration may not be apparent in a
very young bird, but will develop as it matures. The Jardine’s
parrot is also distinguished by a black-tipped, horn-colored beak
that is quite large in proportion to its head. There are several
subspecies; the P. g. fantiensis, also referred to as the lesser
Jardine’s, is the one most readily available in the U.S.
The Jardine’s is relatively quiet, making it a good
candidate for an apartment or condo bird. It can become a good
talker, and is a talented whistler and “sound effects” bird. The
Jardine’s is quite playful, and, like the Senegal parrot, is fond of
swings. Provide it with a large cage to accommodate its wingspan,
which is somewhat large in proportion to the body. Jardine’s parrots
are enthusiastic bathers and should be misted frequently or provided
with a large, shallow dish of water for a morning bath.
In the wild, the Jardine’s is a forest-dwelling bird
indigenous to central Africa where it subsists on seeds, nuts,
berries and fruit. This species is not always readily available in
the pet trade, but as domestic breeding efforts continue to
flourish, availability may increase. The Jardine’s can be a fine pet
for a novice bird owner who has done some research to familiarize
himself or herself with the species.