African Parrot Overview

Jean Pattison, 1997

African Grey

The proper Englishman, who doesn't want to get his grey tweed suit mussed.
Genus: Psittacus
Nominate subspecies: erithacus erithacus

Forshaw, in "Parrots of The World," (the most widely accepted reference book on parrots) shows one continuous region, starting at the south-eastern Ivory Coast, arching slightly upward and turning east in an ellipse around the north, east, and south of Lake Victoria, through Kenya, and eastern Tanzania, heading back west to the coast through northern Angola. There are no natural barriers to split or divide the nominate species, which could create subspecies of the African Grey. If this is true, then why do we hear so much talk about the different, subspecies, races, or types of African greys?

There are only two recognized subspecies, the nominate African Grey, Psittacus erithacus erithacus (the red tail) and the subspecies Psittacus erithacus timneh, (the maroon tail). What we are finding, is regional differences in size and shades of grey, within the nominate subspecies.

If you start in the country of Ghana or Togo and radiate outward in all directions it will help you understand the progressive change in shade and size. The African Grey that is indigenous to Ghana and Togo are near the size of the Timneh grey (about 275-350) grams, and about as dark as the Timneh, which could be termed, a charcoal grey. As you radiate out in all directions the African Grey gets larger. As you radiate eastwardly, the shade of grey lightens, and as you radiate South, the shade of grey remains the same. In essence, if you have an African Grey with parentage from the old Congo (Zaire, and now Congo again) it would be large ( roughly 500-600 grams) and a very light grey in color. An African grey from Angola would be large and dark grey. An African Grey, who is truly, from the region of Camaroon would be a medium sized grey (roughly 400-450 grams), and a medium grey in color.

Most dealers refer to the African Grey, as the Congo grey, and some will call them Camaroons, which are touted, as bigger and lighter. This is not the case. All African Greys are of one species. The so called Camaroon Greys (bigger lighter ones), are in actuality African Greys who were taken from Zaire and moved across borders (smuggled) to Camaroon. Their papers, then, were written that they came from Camaroon, the country of export.

If you have researched pet birds, and have seriously decided on an African Grey as your choice, do not purchase any other species. Your thirst will not be satisfied, and you will eventually, end up getting a grey, also. African greys, to the uneducated can sometimes be a problematic bird. It is important to do your homework beforehand (as with any pet bird). African greys are very intelligent, gregarious in nature, and very sensitive to their people and surroundings. It is important to find a pet shop, or breeder who understands their nature, and has worked in shaping and guiding their temperament as babies.

Greys are among the best talkers in the parrot kingdom. They have the ability to have hundred word vocabularies, as well as being able to mimic in a multitude of very clear, human like voices. The clearness of sounds probably puts them over the top in mimicking (talking) ability. Please note, that African Greys will normally start talking well, after one to two years old. As with a human baby, they need to practice sounds, and develop muscles to control word formation.

The African Grey should have a spacious cage, and plenty of interesting toys. They need time out of their cages on a regular basis, and interaction with all members of the family. Due to their sensitive nature and extreme intelligence, an African Grey should never have negative reactions in the training process. Ignoring a behavior while changing the subject seem to work much better with "not" reinforcing a behavior. Excitement and praise seem to work well in reinforcing good behaviors.

The average retail price is from $1,200.00 to about $1,800.00 All prices will depend on locations in the United States.

Timneh Grey

The proper Englishman, gone awry.
Genus: Psittacus
Subspecies: erithacus timneh

The Timneh Grey doesn't have nearly such a confusing background as the African Grey. When studying the range of the Timneh Grey, we start in the same country as we did with the African Grey, but we start at the western edge of the Ivory Coast and go in an arch north-west, ending up in southern Guinea. In following Forshaw's "Parrots of The World," this shows that the range of the Timneh Grey and the African Grey do not overlap. Some people speculate that perhaps they do. Timneh greys inhabit a very small area as compared to the African Grey.

It is a shame we use the African grey as a comparison when trying to describe the Timneh Grey. This is, no doubt, due to the overwhelming abundance of the African Grey as a companion bird, as opposed to the infrequency of available baby Timnehs. Actually, they are quite a bit different in looks and temperament.

The Timneh grey weighs about 250-350 grams and is a deep charcoal grey, with a maroon tail. The scalloping on the feathers is very delicate and breathtaking, due to the contrast of white against charcoal. The tail, can be almost red, through every shade of maroon to browns and even almost black.

The Timneh Grey doesn't seem to carry the same regal air, or dignity, the African Grey projects. Because of this, Timnehs seem to be more capable of being silly and more apt to go to extremes to get your attention, and join in the fun. Timneh Greys are family oriented, and will interact with strangers more readily than a lot of pet parrots.

Timnehs should also have a spacious cage, with a multitude of toys. Most parrots like to hang, and swing on toys that hang from the ceiling in their cage, and the Timneh is no exception. They enjoy, fighting with their toys. Toys for chewing is a must, so provide plenty of soft wood, especially for that recreation.

Timnehs are excellent talkers, some with hundred word vocabularies. They too, can mimic many different voices and sounds. It seems, a natural sound that some seem to find, is a short "smoke detector" beep.

The average cost of the Timneh Grey is about $800.00 to $1,000.00.

Genus: Poicephalus

Poicephalus parrots across the board are some of the most desirable of all birds. The Genus covers a huge portion of the African continent. The largest Poicephalus is about the size of a Timneh grey, weighing in at about 275-300 grams, and the smallest is the Meyer's, which can be as low as 90 grams, and about 8-1/2 inches tall. There is a size and temperament for everyone. The Poicephalus are usually green birds with different colored heads, depending upon the species. Eye coloration is no indication of age. Birds living outside can develop the adult color just a few weeks after leaving their nest, and birds living indoors, may never achieve the eye coloration of the adult.

As a group the Poicephalus are full of themselves and they love you to death. This creates the perfect situation for the working person, the apartment person, and the family person. Poicephalus, being so full of themselves do not "needquot; 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, that you provided, especially for them. If you are a working person, plenty of toys for entertainment, and perhaps a radio on a timer, is a good start for the Poicephalus. Most Poicephalus do require time with you, as with any bird, this is a must. They adore their caretaker, and expect the same adoration in return. Most make good first birds and some are wonderful for young adults (10 years and up). Some are very tolerant of small children, and even friendly and gentle around them.

Poicephalus when imported into the US years ago (import ceased in 1992?) were very high strung, nervous birds. Very few imported Poicephalus were ever tamed down enough to become a pet. This temperament has made the Poicephalus a "dark horse" until recent years. Imported pairs that have been in the country breeding now for ten to fifteen years, have adapted well to captivity and have become very secure and happy birds. The chicks that are produced from these older imported, well established pairs, are heads above the chicks produced early on, from the same pairs. This is particularly true for the Red-bellied parrot, who is still overshadowed with the early experience of being "nippy" even though hand raised. It took longer for the imported, adult Red-bellied to adjust, than some of its cousins. Many past experiences do not apply today, that marred the reputation of these great little birds.

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 who's ancestors were high strung, and nervous.

Any exceptions to the overall group will be pointed out when discussing the individual species. As a side note: 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 spelling.

The Genus Poicephalus 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 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, which include the Yellow-Faced, Poicephalus flavifrons; Niam-Niam, P. crassus; and the Ruppell's, P. ruepellii; will not be included, due to the fact that they are either very rare to nonexistent in aviculture.

The Larger Poicephalus

The larger of the Genus consists of the Cape parrot, Poicephalus robustus; Jardine's, Poicephalus gulielmi, and the Yellow-Faced, Poicephalus flavifrons.

The Cape Parrot
The Gentle Giant
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: robustus

The Cape parrot is found in three distinct regions in Africa, which is conducive to them having three different subspecies. The nominate, Poicephalus robustus robustus, is found in South Africa. They have a very distinct faded yellow head, 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 United States.

The subspecies P. r. suahelicus is found through a large region of central Africa extending down into the far north, of South Africa, and seems to be the largest member of the Cape family. P. r. fantiensis 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 avicultural facilities. It appears that P. r. f. has a burgundy/brown to wine wash over much of the head, and the hen seems to have large patch of coral color above the cere, sometimes extending to the back of the head and down around the eyes. P. r. s. 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 grams to 400 grams with the average being about 250-300. 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 grey, with the hens having a patch of coral color above the cere. The most obvious physical characteristic about a Cape parrot is the enormous beak, which is bone colored, and always wears a smile.

The Cape parrot is a very active bird, and should be supplied with 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 or Boing™, run across the top, 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 and chew, or fight, while all this is taking place. 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 destroyed with the activities of chewing. With a beak the size of theirs, chewing is a must.

Considering such a large beak, Capes are the least likely of all Poicephalus to bite. Perhaps, in their own way, they know how intimidating it is and they don't have to bite. They are truly "The Gentle Giant." The Cape parrot is a very affectionate bird, and scritching time is a must, so plan on spending time with your bird. Oddly enough with them being so affectionate, they do not seem to become cage bound, or one person birds, as readily as other Poicephalus.

The Cape parrot has the ability to become quite a good mimic, using many different voices. Some are rather soft spoken, but I do know of some that project their voice very well. The base diet of the Cape parrot should be what is good for most parrots, with an addition of a few more fruit and vegetables, along with just about any nuts imaginable.

Favorites on the list are macadamia, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, with the least favorite being pecans and Brazil nuts.

Prices of the Cape Parrot range in the neighborhood of about $1,500.00 to $2,000.00.

(note: this was written before the subspecies change - see Cape Name Confusion)

The Jardine's Parrot
The Amazon of the Africans
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: gulielmi

According to Forshaw, the Jardine's subspecies ranges covers about the same range as the African Grey. Forshaw has them in close proximity or touching in some areas. 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, making it nice sized bird. The weight range is roughly from 180 grams 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 over sized in two of the subspecies, and appears, on some individuals to be rather huge. Many people familiar with Jardine's, find the two subspecies with the oversize beak, posture parallel to the perch, teasingly say that the huge beak weighs too much for the bird to stand upright.

The nominate Jardine's, P. g. g. 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 wing Jardine's. The beak on this Jardine's is overly large for the bird, as well as being predominantly black. The weight averages about 270-280 grams. It may have a vast amount of the crown color on head, and 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 less than ten pairs are known in the U.S.

The subspecies P. g. massaicus, is a bit larger going to 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 birds beak appears in proportion to it's body, and is more tucked in, than 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, is a smaller version of the black wing Jardine's. While they are very similar in appearance and posture, the lesser has a obvious black and green wing, is smaller with weights from 180 to about 240 grams, and crown color can be more to the orange yellows, in coloration. The lesser is found in quantity as pets across the U.S.

Jardine's are the Amazons of the Africans. They just plain 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, that's okay, as they will just tear up their toys, roll around on the floor of their cage, or hang from the top and practice twisting their body 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 A.

I know many 13-15 year old, young adults, that own and have wonderful Jardine's that ride on their bicycles with them. I do not recommend them around small children just because their formidable beak is capable of amputating a finger. They can talk fairly good, although in my experience they have a "parrot" voice.

Prices of Jardine's range from $700.00 to about $1,200.00 depending on the subspecies.

The Smaller Poicephalus

The smaller of the Genus consists of the Brown-headed, P. cryptoxanthus; Meyer's, P. meyeri; Niam-Niam, P. crassus; Red-bellied, P. rufiventris; Ruppell's, P. ruepellii; Senegal, P. senegalus.

The Brown-headed
The blind date: not much on looks but what a great personality.
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: cryptoxanthus

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, 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 a higher protein and fat in breeding season. It is reasonable to assume this should be followed in captivity, due to the fact Brown-heads can fall victim to fatty liver disease. You may want to monitor seed intake to avoid too much.

Prices of the Brown head are in the vicinity of $500.00 to $600.00.

The Meyer's
They love loving you.
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: meyeri

The range of the Meyer's parrot is groupings all over central Africa. This is the smallest of the Poicephalus with weights as low as 80 grams. The Meyer's can be very petite, to stocky more robust birds, depending on the subspecies. Their over all color is a soft grey, 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 ones. Meyer's have been described as a shy bird. I don't think they are shy, I believe they are a softer bird. They do not seem to be as athletic as some of the others, they are more of the easy going, roll-with-the-flow type of bird. Toys should be puzzle type toys, and things to work with and study. Meyer's seem to enjoy working on knots in rawhide 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 person than the Senegals. Meyer's radiate love, they are the happiest when they can be loving 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 an even solid color. Of course if you are planning to breed, DNA or surgical sexing is a must. I recommend Meyer's for young adults, about 10 years old and up, and also for families with small children, and again, that healthy dose of common sense.

The average price of a Meyer's parrot is about $500.00.

The Red-bellied
The clowns of the group.
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: rufiventris

Range of the Red-bellied, is the horn of Africa in Somalia, and Ethiopia. The nine inch, 150 gram Poicephalus is sexually dimorphic with the adult males having a bright orange belly, while the hens have drab orange to sometimes greenish bellies. Overall appearance is a fawn color with sherbet accents on the rump, and lower belly. Juvenile Red-bellieds, before they have their first molt, more often resemble the male, but there are clutches that may resemble hens, and sometimes may even be dimorphic.

The Red-bellieds are the third most common of the Poicephalus. They are happiest playing and acting silly. Red-bellieds are showoffs, and that includes in front of company. They are one of the only parrots that don't just clam up, and will talk (even jabber) in front of strangers. Of the Poicephalus I think they are one of the best talkers.

Red-bellieds 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 and walk over to investigate and 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-bellied is about $700.00 to $900.00.

The Senegal
Love you loving them.
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: senegalus

The Senegal 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 sports a yellow to orange "V"-shirt.

Senegals are the most common of the little Poicephalus. Senegals as pets are very charming, endearing birds. Some can learn large vocabularies and be willing to be handled by anyone. Others will, even if coaxed, 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 mom situation. Intense is a word a lot of people use in describing them. 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 a certain person, he may perceive anyone else as a threat to his "intended." They can at this time become possessive and may bite their owner trying to drive them to security, or may bite the intruder, trying to drive them away. The sex of adult Senegals can often be determined by the coloration of the under tail 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.

The price range of the most available Poicephalus, the Senegal, is anywhere from $500.00 to $800.00.


Genus: Agapornis

The Lovebirds are probably the most recognized of the African parrots. The range of the Lovebird in the wild is groupings through out central and south Africa. Due to the prolific nature of some species, in captivity, they are known the world over. Many people often choose the Lovebird as the "first bird," and rightfully so. They are hardy, and don't require a terribly large cage. Lovebirds should not be housed with other small species of birds, which may seem like a very practical idea. Of the nine species of Lovebirds only three are commonly kept as pets.

Peach-faced Lovebird
The smallest BIG parrot there is.
Genus: Agapornis
Species: roseicollis

Because Peach-faced Lovebirds are so prolific, they are very common in the United States, and there are more color mutations established than any other parrot except the budgie. The Peach-faced Lovebird originates in south-west Africa, including southern Angola and Namibia south to northern Cape Province in South Africa and Botswana. All the different colored peachies available are the result of mutations, and therefore, they are all members of the same genus and species, Agapornis roseicollis, and so may be freely bred together.

Peachies breed readily and babies are usually available year round. A hand-fed weaned baby will make a wonderful pet for the family interested in a small, colorful, friendly bird.

They rarely talk or mimic sounds, but they have many other endearing qualities to make up for the lack of talking. They are little clowns that will play with their cage toys and amuse themselves for hours. A hand-fed bird will stay very tame and enjoy interacting with family members, cuddling and playing. The peachie should be allowed out of the cage daily to exercise. The wings should be clipped to prevent injury in the house, or worse, inadvertent escape.

It is a fallacy that lovebirds need to be kept in pairs. To keep it tame and sweet, it should be kept without a partner. However, if the lovebird is not tame, keeping two together is a fine idea, to provide company. Lovebirds can become very aggressive towards other species of birds, larger or smaller, so it is very important to supervise their playtime out of the cage around other birds, as they may nip toes, even through cage bars. However, keep in mind that they don't call these birds Lovebirds for nothing. They can become sexually mature as early as 4-5 months of age, and two of the opposite sex will usually breed if housed together. Single birds may begin regurgitating on a toy or they may masturbate on objects or people, once sexually mature.

A pelleted diet should be provided, along with fresh fruits, vegetables and appropriate table foods. A cage suitable for a cockatiel is a good size for a lovebird. Small toys are recommended, as lovebirds love to play. The average size is 6 inches in length, and the average weight is 50-55 grams.

Peach-faced Lovebirds may vary in price from $25 to hundreds of dollars depending on the color mutation and how rare or coveted it is.

White eye-ring Lovebirds
Fisher's Lovebird, Masked Lovebird
Genus: Agapornis
Species: Fisher's: fischeri, Masked: personata

These little Lovebirds are native to central Africa. They are slightly smaller than the peachies (about 5-1/2 inches in length). They too, are not noted for their talking abilities, but hand-feds can be excellent pet birds for a family with children. Several color mutations are available. White eye-ring lovebirds should not be bred to Lovebirds in the Peach-faced group, as sterile mule hybrids will result. Caging and dietary requirements are the same as for the Peach-faced Lovebirds. Fischer's and Masked Lovebirds may cost a bit more than the peachies, and the rare color mutations can become quite pricey.

In closing, I would like to stress the importance of researching your first bird, and what you expect from a companion bird. Many people view our parrots as domesticated animals. Of the larger parrots, some are only one generation from the wild, and these are still wild animals, and should be thought of as such. You do not "train" a bird to "not chew" your antique wooden furniture or electrical cords, they are chewing animals, this is what they do in nature. Make sure you understand their natural habits, and be prepared to adjust your life style to their needs. Above all, seek out good reputable pet shops and breeders when you finally decide on the species of parrot you are going to buy. These good, reputable establishments love the animals they care for, and over the years have studied them in depth. Hand-feeding a baby bird is NOT necessary for the bird to bond to you. A bird will bond to the care taker, and when buying a baby, always buy a weaned bird, unless you have in depth experience, or the pet shop/breeder is willing to work with you for many days teaching you the skills required to do so. Run the other way when someone says, "It's easy, here's the food, and a syringe, all you have to do is squirt some food in its mouth, three times a day."