Description of Senegal Parrot

The Senegal---Poicephalus senegalus

The following information is a portion of an article written by Eric D. Hilton.

Maybe the most commonly kept of the Poicephalus birds, as they have been imported in great numbers in the past. It is a green bird with a grey head and sports different colored under parts, belly or sometimes known as the vest and has piercingly bright yellow iris. As its name suggests it originates from Senegal, but also from many other countries, as birds do not respect political boundaries. They are split up into 3 sub species which can be easily identified by the color of their bellies and are known by the following names:

Habitat - Lives in moist woodland and on the edges of the savannah. Feeding on seeds, fruit and grain. Particularly the seed of locust beans and newly formed buds of a variety of trees. They are a considered a pest by local farmers, because of the raiding trips they make to fields of maize and millet and the stealing of Ground Nuts (Peanuts) that have been laid out to dry in the sun. Nesting is done in hollow trees.

Suitability as pets: Hand reared birds make very good pets. They are small enough to handle and can be accommodated in a medium sized parrot / parakeet cage. Not too noisy and will learn to talk and imitate sounds such as the creak of the garage door, the ping of the microwave,the ring of the telephone etc. Not with the accuracy of pitch and tone as would an African grey, but quite entertaining. My hand reared Senegal likes to whistle various tunes but not always getting the notes in the correct order. One minus point I have found is that some individuals can on occasions bite. When excited, or in protest at being put back into their cage before they want to go. This must be remembered when handling these birds. They must be allowed time out of their cage to exercise and interact with their owner. I have also found that these birds will attach themselves to one person in particular, but can also change their affection to someone else, if the mood takes them. My pet Senegal would only come to me, but has now changed her affection to my wife. I consider that adult imported birds should not be considered a good choice for a pet. I know that they will be considerably cheaper but in my experience they do not become tame.

Feeding: In the wild little information is available as to the type of foods eaten and will inevitably vary with the seasons. Research of this nature is being pursued. This data when available be beneficial to our birds and may be the secret to breeding success.

In captivity the diet should consist of: A good quality seed mixture of Sunflower, safflower, pine nuts, oats, hemp, millet, canary etc. along with a bean and pea mixture containing the like off Soya bean, chick peas, green split peas, yellow split peas, adulki, mung, black eye, haricot and butter beans etc. Lean chicken. Cat / dog biscuits. Fruit such as apple pear orange. A selection of vegetables cooked and raw carrot, Swede, cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, should also be made available what ever is in season to minimize the cost. Most breeders also add one of the many vitamin / mineral supplement additives to their diets to counter any shortages. But care in the use of these supplements must be observed, so as not to overdose your birds with one particular vitamin or another. [In countries of the world where good pellet diets are available, it is encouraged that a pellet mix constitute at least half, if not more of the total diet.]

Breeding in Captivity: It is commonly accepted that these birds to not breed until they are about 3 to 4 years of age. The hens will be sexually mature by the age of 2 years some maybe as early as 12 months. The cocks take a bit longer and I would expect them to be mature at about 3 years. This will account for the accepted age of breeding. But do not take this as "Cast in Stone" I have known of birds breeding at this age, but others not attempting to breed until 6 or 7 years of age. Unfortunately some breeders dispose of these birds under the mistaken belief that they will never breed, only to be disappointed that their new owner has bred them straight away. I accept there could be many other reasons for the birds change of mind and attempting to breed such as a more suitable type of accommodation or a change in the type of diet. But in bird keeping patience is not only virtue but a necessity.

Accommodation: They can be kept in cages or aviaries. Inside or outside or as I prefer a combination of the 2 with an outside aviary connected to a suspended inside cage so the birds have a choice They are also fed inside this keeps most of the food remnants in the inside accommodation so making cleaning easier this also keeps the food dry and uncontaminated and helps to reduce the problems associated with mice etc.

A flight of 6 foot long by 6 foot high by 3 foot wide would be suitable If these birds are to be kept in internal cages only I recommend a minimum size of 4'x3'x3'. Different breeders will have different ideas about aviary and cage sizes. I can only recommend what I personally feel is right.

As for nest box sizes and shapes there is more debate about this subject than is carried out in the House of Commons. I know that some will swear that only vertical boxes are any good, others are equally convinced about horizontal boxes, some have elaborate "L" shaped boxes some have tunnels with twists and turns towards the nesting chamber. Some have large packing case sized boxes others the size of a shoe box all seem equally successful or unsuccessful at breeding birds!!! All I can say is, in the wild, birds seem to nest in the most unusual size and shaped holes. The nest box size I recommend is 18" to 20" high and 8" to 10" square hung vertically with a mesh ladder fixed inside to allow access up and down the box. Containing in the bottom a wood shaving and peat mixture of four parts shavings to one part peat by volume to about 2" deep. I also think it is important not to put too much of this litter in the box otherwise your birds will spend all their time trying to remove it instead of breeding. Just something I personally consider a mistake I have made in the past. I have also heard of people achieving success after a long period of disappointment by changing to a horizontal box So if you are having no success, try turning the box on its side, before the breeding season!

The Senegal usually breeds in our winter November to March but some birds have been known to breed at other times of the year. Like I said about the age at which they will breed, do not lay down hard and fast rules. They lay normally 2 to 3 eggs but cases have been recorded of clutches as high as 6 eggs. They lay with a two day interval incubation is carried out by the hen and lasts for about 25 to 28 days dependent on the ambient temperature. Commencement of the incubation is usually after the 2nd egg has been laid. The young leave the nest at approximately 9 weeks and are independent at about 12 weeks.

Sexing: The only reliable method is by surgical or DNA methods both which can be done by an avian veterinary surgeon. Or alternatively a DNA sexing kit can be obtained via mail order. A blood sample is taken by cutting a toe nail too short. A drop of blood is caught in a special capillary tube provided and returned to the laboratory for testing. The sexing result is returned by post some days later. Advertisements for this method can be seen in many cage bird magazines.

There are many theories of how to sex these birds visually, Two of the more successful ones are. The hen has a smaller sleeker head and beak than the cock also the head is more rounded at the crown and the cock has a flatter crown large head and large beak. Another is that the "V" of the vest is shorter in the cock stopping somewhere between the upper part of the chest or midway down the front, whereas the hens vest is much longer and terminates between the legs.

© 1996 African Parrot Society
Last updated: May 2, 1996