Origin: West Africa
Order: Psittaciformes (parrots)
Family: Psittacidae (family of true parrots)
Subfamily: Psittacinae (Old World parrots)
Species: P. Senegalus
Weight: 120 – 170g
Height: 9in / 23cm
Wingspan: 6in / 15cm
Appearance: Senegal Parrots are medium-sized birds with a green back and throat, yellow underparts and rump, a V-shape yellow vest and a charcoal grey head, the size of which is relatively large compared to the bird. The beak is also grey, the eyes are light yellow. Senegal Parrots have short broad tails and large, strong wings.
Procreation: In the wild, Senegal Parrots create their nests in holes, mostly in oil palms. The female lays 3-4 eggs, the incubation period is about 4 weeks. They are easily to breed in captivity as well, which is often done today, because of their popularity as pet birds. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 to 4 years.
Temperament: Senegal Parrots are some of the most popular pet birds for families, because of their intelligence and calm personality. Compared to other parrots of their size, Senegals are not mischievous. They love human attention, but can also entertain themselves, which makes them more easy to care for than many parrot breeds. Most people prefer them for their compact size and the good behaviour of adult parrots. Senegal parrots bred in captivity are much more easily socialised than those brought from the wild.
Talkativeness: Senegal Parrots can talk, but they are better at imitating sounds and learning tricks. Their voices are soft and gentle, very easy on the ear compared to most parrot types whose noises and screaming can be very loud. Senegals generally whistle and squawk, their tiny voices sound rather comical when imitating human words.
Environment: Because of their compact size and soft and pleasant voices, Senegal Parrots are very suitable for apartment living. They don’t require as much space as the larger parrots. They do need toys – choose some wooden toys and ladders; Senegals enjoy chewing and like to swing and climb.
Preferred Food: Primarily fruits (dry and fresh), nuts and seeds.
Relationship with People: Senegals are a social type of bird, but they are also very independent, they don’t require their owners’ attention all the time, they can entertain themselves pretty well. Still, they do need their owners to interact with them for at least an hour a day for their safety and good behaviour. They can live perfectly well with children and even other pets, which makes them the ideal family pet birds. You do need to make sure that they are socialised with all members of the family, as if allowed to they will bond with a single person.
Common Health Problems: Vitamin deficiency, megabacteriosis, psittacine beak and feather disease, chlamydiosis, respiratory diseases mostly aspergillosis, feather picking, bacterial, viral and fungal infections, calcium deficiency disorder, toxicities.
Lifespan: 20 – 50 years (25 – 30 years in the wild).
Senegal parrots are lively and entertaining companions that easily adjust to their owners’ schedule and habits. They are sociable birds and need at least an hour a day for interaction, play, and bonding. This quality time has to be shared with all members of the family as Senegals are known to become too attached or even jealous and possessive of one person, and this needs to be prevented with early socialisation. Senegals are small and cuddly but a lot less vocal than other small birds, such as the Conure in the Aratinga genus. This makes them well suited for flat living.
Senegal Parrots learn human speech quite easily. They are capable of building a middling vocabulary, although some acquire more extensive set of words and phrases. The Senegals are more soft-spoken than their larger African cousins like the African Grey and are typically more easily tolerated by family members and neighbours.
The meaning behind a bird’s movements.
Before training, owners need to learn how to communicate with their birds. Parrots use screams and body language to connect with each other and convey different messages.
- When the black part of the eyes becomes smaller, it usually means the bird is content and comfortable.
- If the black part of the eyes becomes larger, it could signify a normal mood, or an alarmed state.
- When the feathers lie flat down, the bird is probably scared or anxious.
- Fluffed up feathers are a sign of anger or irritation.
- Screaming is the parrots’ natural way of communication but excessive loud noises can signify that the bird is bored, alarmed or angry.
Senegal parrots can’t actually speak, they rather imitate sounds from the surrounding environment, such as whistles, ringtones, or alarm sounds. Within a month, they can pick up and start whistling catchy tunes and jingles if they hear them repetitively throughout the day. Senegals successfully mimic sounds they hear on TV, the radio or other household items, such as cooking timers or doorbells.
Senegals are relatively calm birds and don’t require the amount of attention other pet parrots may demand. They do, however, need proper training and time to adjust to a new home environment. They can spend the day on their own, provided they have been given the opportunity to bond with their owners and taught how to play with their toys. Parrots may not initially take to their toys and need to be shown how to use them to keep themselves entertained when their owners are away. They can do this by watching other birds play or with the help of their owners who can engage in an exercise session to show them how much fun foot and chewing toys can be.
Keeping a Senegal parrot as a pet is a long-term commitment, given their long life-span, which can be up to 50 years in captivity. Therefore, the bird needs to be well socialised with all family members and properly trained. It needs at least an hour a day outside its cage to interact with people and animals and exercise. It is a good idea for the bird’s cage to be placed in areas where owners spend most of their time. This way the parrot will get used to their presence, voices, and movements as part of their routine. Once the bird feels comfortable in the home and is accustomed to the space and people, it can be involved in basic training sessions. If the bird is at ease, it will start mimicking voices and other sounds it hears. Senegal parrots can be taught words or phrases with consistency and repetition, in the same way a child acquires language. A repeated “Hello” when entering the room will be easily picked up and the parrot will start pronouncing it when it sees people walk into the room. Pointing at an object and repeating its name repeatedly is also a way for the bird to make associations and start repeating the word. Vocabulary has to be taught always in a calm, pleasant voice, and with the patience it requires for the bird to start imitating it. Rewards will reinforce the vocabulary acquisition. Owners can use a treat, a scratch on the neck, or a clicker sound to reinforce positive behaviour, such as learning a new word or trick.
Training sessions have to be kept short and carried out in a calm ambience, free of distractions. Multiple short sessions of about 5-10 minutes are much more effective than prolonged sessions once a day. Punishment of destructive behaviour can be detrimental to training, as it will only frighten the bird and make it lose trust in its owner or trainer. When the bird is displaying behaviour that needs to discouraged, it is best to resort to target training, using a stick, straw, or a peanut as a distraction.
The Senegal parrot (Poicephalus senegalus) is indigenous to Senegal, hence the name, also occurring in the adjoining countries, as far south as northern Cameroon and the Central African Republic. It was first described by Linnaeus in 1766. Senegal parrots make migrations across a wide range of west Africa, seeking fruit, seeds and other constituents of their diet. These birds are considered a farm pest throughout their range, as they plunder ripening millet and maize crops, and loot harvested peanuts and figs. These birds are gregarious and social, living in flocks. There are three subspecies of Poicephalus, which differ in colouration and not so much in behavioural traits.
The Senegal parrot (Poicephalus senegalus senegalus) is the nominate subspecies of Poicephalus, characterised by a charcoal grey head, green wings, back and throat, bright green upper breast, and a yellow to orange v-shaped section on the lower rump, the breast and abdomen. Reichenow’s orange-bellied parrots (Poicephalus senegalus mesotypus) have a deeper orange colouration on the abdomen and are generally paler than the nominate subspecies. They display the same behavioural traits but are less common in captivity. Red-vented parrots (Poicephalus senegalus versteri) have a green upper body and deep orange or red colouration on the abdomen.
Senegal parrots are stocky short-tailed birds, adapted to surviving in the harsh, seasonal African subtropics. They inhabit lowland forests from dry savanna to mosaic forests. The native range of the nominal subspecies Poicephalus senegalus senegalus includes Southern Mauritania, southern Mali to Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Lobos Island, east to southern Niger, northern Cameroon and south western Chad. Poicephalus senegalus mesotypus are native to Eastern and northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon into southwest Chad, and the Poicephalus senegalus versteri generally occurs south of the nominal subspecies, but north of the rainforest belt – North western Ivory Coast and Ghana east to south western Nigeria.
The exact number of these parrots in the wild is hard to estimate as remaining wild populations are sparsely distributed throughout a wide range in Africa. All of the species’ habitat is facing serious threats, including climate change and alarming rates of deforestation. In countries like Zambia, Kenya and Malawi almost all old-growth forests are lost and forest restoration is vital for the preservation of endemic forest bird species, especially long-lived forest specialists such as the Senegal parrot. In addition to loss of habitat, the Senegal parrots’ numbers in the wild are also declining due to capturing for the wild-caught bird trade, which has resulted in local extinctions in some African countries.
In 1981, all parrots, including the Senegal parrot, were listed on appendix 2 of The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making the trade, import and export of all wild-caught parrots illegal. More than three million birds have been extracted from the wild over the last thirty years, with 811,408 CITES Export permits issued since 1975. Rates of unregulated trade were highest in the 1980s and 1990s, and bird populations are still exploited by the black market industry. The Senegal parrot continues to be among the most traded species on earth and more than 45, 000 individuals are removed from the wild every year. It was the most traded bird on the CITES Appendix II in 2005. African parrot species have been proven to be effectively bred in captivity, excluding the need to be sourced from the wild, and all Senegal parrots in captivity should be captive-bred and hand-raised to prevent depletion of populations in the wild.
In the wild, Senegals typically eat seeds, nuts, fruit, blossoms, and greens. They particularly enjoy newly formed buds on a variety of trees, and the fruit of the locust tree. When kept as pets, their diet can include a variety of foods. A daily base diet of pellets and seeds has to be complemented with fruit and vegetables – raw or dried, cooked rice, pasta and multigrain bread. When feeding fresh foods, anything uneaten within a few hours should be thrown away. Frozen fruit makes a refreshing treat and is just as nutritious as fresh fruit. Dried fruit or jarred baby food is an alternative to fresh food and is suitable for periods of longer absence. A Senegal parrot’s diet can include:
- Fruit: apples, grapes, bananas, melon, grapefruit, oranges, berries, mangoes, pomegranates, pears, papayas, nectarines;
- Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, apple pieces, mango pieces, coconut chips, banana chips, orange peel strips;
- Vegetables: chicory, sprouts, cooked sweet potatoes, raw or cooked pumpkin, corn on the cob, frozen corn, peppers, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, celery;
- Nuts: almonds, cashew, pistachio meats, macadamia, pecan, halved walnuts;
- Seeds: safflower, sunflower, canola, sesame, flax, canary grass, caraway;
- Herbs: dandelion leaf, papaya leaf, peppermint leaf, raspberry leaf, thyme leaf, rosemary leaf, basil leaf, red clover blossoms, oat straw, rose hips;
- Beans: green beans, peas in the pod, soy beans;
- Rearing food: hard-boiled egg, whole grain bread, low-fat cheese, carrots, ground to a crumbly consistency.
Fruit and vegetables should be chopped to manageable bits and placed in a separate bowl. Cheese and other dairy products are allowed but should be kept to a minimum as they contain casein, which can obstruct the bird’s digestive system. A Senegal parrot should not be fed any kind of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, chocolate, cocoa, dill, apple seeds, rhubarb leaves, raw beans, cabbage, aubergine, asparagus, honey, or avocados. Dried fruit has to be free of preservatives, especially sulphur dioxide. Vitamins, containing mineral and amino-acids, and other supplements can be added to the dietary intake, but owners are advised not to put them in the bird’s water bowl to prevent bacteria growth.
Senegal Parrots need a lot of space and toys to climb between. When choosing a cage, owners should consider an indoor cage measuring at least 120cm x 90cm x 90cm or an outdoor aviary with a minimum size of 180cm x 180cm x 90cm. The size of the cage should correspond to the time spent in it – the more time the parrot stays inside it, the larger the cage and the more toys to keep him interested. The cage should be placed in a room where people spend a lot of time and where the parrot will be doted on by family members. Senegals need a quiet and dark ambience to get a needed rest and sleep for at least 10 hours a day, and even a TV in the late night hours can have an adverse effect on the bird’s health.
Provided there’s no risk for the parrot getting injured, or flying away, owners can have an extra open or closed cage outside where the bird will be able to take in some fresh air. A Senegal parrot would appreciate having a tent to hide in when he’s feeling vulnerable or a tad too timid to come out and play. Senegals need a lot of varied toys to play with, chew on, and attack, such as rawhide, leather, twisted cotton rope, sisal rope, and foot toys, rotated regularly to keep the bird interested. Senegals are susceptible to overgrown beaks, and need plenty of wooden perches and toys to chew on. Senegal parrots need at least one hour a day outside their cage to exercise and stretch their muscles. They can spend their time outside the cage in a separate playpen or a cage-mounted playpen.