Grey-Headed Parrot

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Is the Grey-Headed Parrot right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Un-Cape parrot; Brown-headed parrot (P. f. fuscicollis)

Scientific name: Poicephalus fuscicollis

The basics:
Many people, especially in the United States, who think they own Cape Parrots actually own Grey-headed Parrots, and probably almost all of those birds are the Grey-headed subspecies (P. f. suahelicus). Although they are on the large size for a Poicephalus, they are well-regarded as being much more gentle and less prone to bite than some of the smaller birds in this genus. They may have better speaking voices too. They are often described as affectionate, yet independent enough to play alone during the day while their owners are at work.

If you thought you had a Cape Parrot, but your bird has a silvery to gray head rather than a brassy, olive, or old gold head, you have a Grey-headed Parrot. To tell whether you have Grey-headed (P. f. suahelicus) or Brown-necked (P. f. fuscicollis), check the head yet more closely. The true Grey-headed has a silvery-gray head, while the Brown-neck has a browner head, with the appearance of a prominent light bib on the chest.
The two subspecies of Grey-headed Parrot are rather widely but somewhat patchily distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and their wild status is unclear, although they are in much better shape than the critically endangered Cape Parrot. In both subspecies, the female is notable for having a pinky-red forecrown, which is especially large and beautiful in the Brown-necked subspecies. The males may have a hint of pink over the beak, but nothing like the beautiful mark of the female. It's a rare example of a parrot species where the female is more colorful than the male.

A few sources don't accept the split of Cape Parrot and Grey-headed Parrot, not necessarily because of the science behind the split, but because of fears that the new split would draw attention to the rarity of the Cape Parrot and cause this critically endangered bird to be attacked by smugglers. When researching your pet, you will need to be aware of all the possible names, new and old. If you have any doubt, contact an expert breeder.

Appearance / lifespan:
20 - 30 years

Behavior / temperament:
Many reports about “Cape Parrots” held by American pet owners are actually Grey-headed Parrots. This species is not particularly well-known, but the people lucky enough to hold one of these birds say that they tend to be affectionate and not nearly as prone to bite as the smaller Poicephalus species. Teach them to speak early, and you may be surprised at the size and aptness of their vocabulary. They will also play with toys and learn tricks.

Don't neglect them when they're young. A domestic hand-fed bird should be calm and confident, but an untame bird may cross the boundary from “quiet” to “timid.”

Written by Elaine Radford

This large Poicephalus demands a generous cage. A powder-coated metal cage of 4' by 4' by 4' is not too large for your Grey-headed Parrot, and a high quality small macaw cage might be just the ticket. Use sturdy manzanita perches in places where you don't want to replace the perches often, but you should also stock plenty of chewable perches, bird-safe unsprayed tree branches, and bird toys to give your bird lots of opportunity for independent play.

You should also invest in a play gym, with plenty of additional toys, so that your Grey-headed Parrot can come out and interact with you every day. Every member of the family should take care to work with the bird, teaching it to step on and off a hand-held perch on command. This species is not noted for territorial aggression, so take advantage of its natural sweetness and give everyone a chance to learn how to properly play with your sweet bird.

All Poicephalus, including the Grey-headed Parrot, may be at risk for calcium deficiencies, unless they are exposed to natural sunlight or full spectrum light, since the vitamin D created by light helps their bodies use calcium. A seed-based diet may not work for an indoor bird because it may not be able to properly digest dietary calcium without being exposed to the hours of sunlight it would get in Africa. Therefore, many experts strongly recommend a pellet-based diet formulated for the African parrots.

However, these intelligent birds should not be allowed to get bored on an all pellet diet. One good diet might be approximately half pellets and half a chopped salad with plenty of mixed fruits and vegetables. The Grey-headed Parrot benefits from extra nuts in the diet, and many people recommend adding walnuts.

Caution: Never feed avocado or chocolate to your Grey-headed Parrot.

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