IAATE Resource Center: Companion Parrot

Poicephalus senegalus

Senegal Parrot




FAMILY: Psittacidae

GENUS: Poicephalus

SPECIES: P. senegalus


Common Name(s):  Senegal parrot



Senegal Parrots have a relatively large head and beak for their overall size, and feathers form a short broad tail.  Adults have a charcoal grey head, grey beak, bright yellow irises, green back and throat, and yellow, red or orange underparts and rump (depending on the sub-species – yellow is most common). The yellow/red/orange and green areas on a Senegal parrot's front form a v-shape resembling a colored vest worn over green.  Juveniles have dark grey, almost black, irises.


Senegal Parrots are not sexually dimorphic, but there are some differences which sometimes might help to determine the gender of adult birds.  For example the v-shape of the vest is usually longer in females, extending down between the legs, whereas the males vest ends midway down the chest.  Females generally have a smaller beak and head than males, and overall smaller body size.  The under-tail covert feathers are generally yellow in males and green in females. 


There are three subspecies.  They do not differ in behavior, but only in the color of the "vest" and geographical range in the wild.  In the pet trade, the nominate subspecies (yellow) is the most common though all three are raised and sold as pets.



Senegal Parrots are about nine to ten inches long, and weigh about four to six ounces.  Its wingspan is around six inches.



Senegal Parrots can be found in north and central Africa.  Ranges vary according to subspecies:


  • Poicephalus senegalus senegalus (the nominate subspecies):  this subspecies has a yellow vest; its native range includes southern Mauritania, southern Mali to Guinea and Lobos Island.


  • Poicephalus sengalus mesotypus: this subspecies has an orange vest; its range is from eastern and northeastern Nigeria and Cameroon into southwest Chad. 


  • Poicephalus sengalus versteri:  this subspecies has a red vest; its range is from the Ivory Coast and Ghana east to western Nigeria.


Their preferred habitat is savannah woodland and open forest.  They can regularly be found foraging in cultivated areas.



Senegal Parrots can be found singly, in pairs and in small flocks of ten to twenty parrots.  While small flocks are still commonly seen in the center of their range, pairs or individual birds are more frequently seen in outlying areas where they were formerly abundent.


The Senegal is a resident breeder across a wide range of west Africa.  It makes migrations within west Africa, according to the availability of the fruit, seeds and blossoms which make up its diet.  It is considered a farm pest, often feeding on maize or millet.


They are naturally shy birds and, other than for migration, rarely venture great distances from tree cover.  Their predominantly green coloring provides perfect camouflage when roosting in trees.


These small parrots share many features with other parrots including the characteristic curved beak shape and zygodactyl feet, with two forward toes and two backwards toes.  In addition to being an extremely powerful and efficient “nut cracker”, their beak is used to aid in climbing much like a mountain-climber would use a grappling hook.  The upper mandible is hinged at the joining to the skull, which gives it more maneuverability than in other birds.  The “X” shaped feet are an adaptation to assist in climbing shared with only a few other climbing birds, such as woodpeckers.  In addition to this they actually have two pairs of opposable toes on each foot, giving them great ability to pick up and manipulate objects in their environment just like we would use our finger and opposable thumb.  They hold their food in one foot while they are eating and will favor left, or right, much like a left/right-handed person.

Senegal Parrots are one of the most popular parrots to be kept as pets.  Those that are wild-caught, however, do not usually tame and do not make good pets.  These birds have high pitched whistles and squawls, but are not as noisy as some larger parrots.  Even so, like all caged birds, they require a great deal of time, attention and enrichment, as well as space to live comfortably.



Senegal Parrots nest in holes in trees, often oil palm trees, usually laying two to three white eggs. The eggs are incubated by the hen, starting after the second egg has been laid, for about twenty-seven to twenty-eight days. Newly hatched chicks have a sparse white down and they do not open their eyes until about two to three weeks from hatching. They are dependent on the hen for food and warmth who remains in the nest most of the time until about four weeks from hatching when the chicks have enough feathers for heat insulation. During this time the male brings food for the hen and chicks, and guards the nest site. The chicks fly out of the nest at about nine weeks and they become independent from their parents at about twelve weeks from hatching. 


In the wild:  Seeds, grains, fruits (especially figs) and buds.  Will also forage on millet, maize and peanuts in cultivated areas.



Senegal Parrots live an average of approximately 25-30 years in the wild, and have been known to live for 50 years in captivity.



Because of its vast range in Africa, the wild Senegal Parrot population is difficult to estimate. Nevertheless, in 1981 concerns about extensive trapping of wild parrots for the pet trade lead to it being listed on appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), along with all parrot species.  This has made the trade, import and export of all wild caught parrots illegal.  Unfortunately many are trapped and killed as pests, and despite being illegal a steady trade in live birds still remains to further deplete wild numbers.



Forshaw, Joseph M. Parrots of the World


Hilton, Eric. D Description of a Senegal Parrot


Welch, Diane An Introduction to Senegals





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