By Jean Pattison
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.
In the United States, the average retail price is from $1,200.00 to about $1,800.00
and all prices will depend on location.
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
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 in the United States of the Timneh Grey is about $800.00 to $1,000.00
and all prices will depend on location.
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 “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, 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
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-Naim, P. crassus; and the Ruppell’s, P. ruepellii; will not be included, due
to the fact, they are either very rare to nonexistent in aviculture.
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
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
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 shroud 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 in the United States range in the neighborhood of about
$1,500.00 to $2,000.00 and all prices will vary depending on location..
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, 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 in the United States will range from $700.00 to about $1,200.00
depending on the subspecies and all prices will vary depending on location.
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 in the United States are in the vicinity of $500.00 to
$600.00 and all prices will vary depending on location.
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 in the United States is about $500.00 and
all prices will vary depending on location.
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 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 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 in the United States is about $700.00 to $900.00
and all prices will vary depending on location.
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 in the United
States anywhere from $500.00 to $800.00, all prices will vary depending on location.
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.
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
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
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 in the United States from $25 to hundreds
of dollars depending on the color mutation and how rare or coveted it is.
These little Lovebirds are native to central Africa. They are slightly smaller than
the peachies (about 5-1/2 inches in length). The,y 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”.