Poicephalus Parrots: Senegals and Their Relatives

Isabel Taylor


This marvelous group of parrots
consists of nine species. Six are available
in the U.S. today, the best known
being the Senegal Parrot. Three
species (Rueppell's, Niam-Niam and
Yellow-fronted) are quite rare and
intensive cooperative breeding is
urgently needed to keep them alive
for future generations. One couple is
now sharing their experience and
knowledge of breeding Rueppell's
Parrots. Their experience contains
important clues about how to manage
these birds successfully and is perhaps
a clue about why these birds are
still so rare after being in this country
for many years. Only by sharing generously
the information about common
and rare species will we be able
to preserve them in captivity and live
up to our calling to be responsible
stewards of the world's wildlife. 

This is a quiet group of birds which
makes it possible to raise them in
apartments without disturbing your
neighbors. I have found, however,
that Capes can make a lot of cheerful
noise, especially if you have more
than one pair. Like Grays, Poicephalus
parrots can all growl; but tend not to
very often. Poicephalus vary from
about 100 to 400 grams in body
weight and are a very colorful group.
They sport every color of the rainbow
except purple. The name Poicephalus
most probably comes from two Greek
words, kephalos meaning head and
poios meaning what kind of. This
refers to the puzzling head colors seen
in this group of birds. These head
colors and frontal bands are influenced
by sex, age, location or subspecies
and individual differences.
Three species are sexually dimorphic:
Capes, Rueppell's and Red-bellieds.
One of the lesser known facts about
this group is what wonderful pets
handraised babies make. The wildcaught
birds can be extremely shy and
are best suited for breeding as a general
mle. However, a handraised baby 

can seem like a different species from
its parents. They are affectionate,
devoted, comical, not demanding,
have strong personalities and are loving
little birds. They all can talk, but
some species are more adept than
others. The talking ability and intelligence of the Red-bellied Parrot has been

a delight to many owners and an 

unusual characteristic for a small bird.
This group has many advantages for
the breeder. Low noise is a clear
advantage for city dwellers and
smaller species can live in small
spaces. They will breed year-round,
which can be an advantage or a disadvantage
if you need a break from
"baby birdie burnout". Wild-caught
birds are seldom aggressive, but I am
finding handraised parents can be
quite aggressive when breeding. They
are not very destructive to perches
and nestboxes and many make excellent
foster parents.
The young of sexually dimorphic
species will resemble the most
brightly colored parent. For Capes and
Rueppell's the most brightly colored
parent is the female. Red-bellied
babies can be very confusing to
breeders as they all resemble the
brightly colored male. You will find
that almost every book you pick up
will tell you incorrectly that young
resemble the adult female.
Subspecies can also be very confusing
in this group of birds. Forashaw is
the most widely used reference on
subspecies, but it is virtually impossible
to tell a "more or less washed with
orange" from an "orange" tummy in a
single Senegal. Most people do not try
to tell the difference in a Meyer's with
a "bluish-green rump" from one with
a "rump green washed with blue". I
cannot tell the difference in "broad
margins" on a Jardine's feathers from
the "broader margins" of another subspecies.
I have found Jardine's the
most confusing of all. Most of us have

limited number of birds of a species
to observe and we should be cautious
in declaring a subspecies without
extensive comparison of birds from
many sources. Many of us have had
the experience of matching breeding
pairs colorwise, only to have them
produce young that are colored like
another subspecies. Some of the
answers may be found in studying the
skin collections of the world's
museums. Other answers lie in field
studies in Africa which have been
practically non-existent.
These birds like privacy for breeding
in captivity and as little interference
from keepers as possible. Wild-caught
pairs seem to settle down and breed
best in smaller cages (2' x 2'). 

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