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The Senegal Parrot (Poicephalus senegalus) is a resident breeder across western Africa where it travels from an area to area depending on availability of food. It is thought of as a pest in some parts due to it feeding on crops such as maize or millet.
These birds occupy the savannahs and open woodlands and are nearly the only parrot species to live in these habitats in this area. Their lifespan in the wild is 25-30 years but in captivity can easily reach 50 years.
Senegals are around 23cm in length and weigh 120-17g. They look as if their head is a little large for their body size, possibly due to a short, broad tail. Their head feathers are charcoal grey with a grey beak and bright yellow eyes. Their back feathers are green with a yellow belly and rump apart from a v-shaped green area at the top of the breast which almost looks like they are wearing a vest! These parrots cannot be sexed visually, so DNA testing is the only sure-fire method.
As hand-reared pets, Senegals are one of the most popular types of parrots. They are less noisy than some of their cousins with high pitched whistles and squawks being their main vocalisations. However, wild caught bird, which are not as common in this country, do not make good pets and will rarely tame, so check the background of the bird before buying. They are not the best at mimicking human speech, and their sounds are more like those of a parakeet.
Time out of the cage is vital to the happiness of any Senegal as they enjoy time interacting with their humans and the larger environment. Play areas for this time is a good idea otherwise everything in the room will become a toy to be played with and chewed, although this may happen regardless!
Senegals, as with any parrot, need as much room as you can give them, and a minimum cage should be 20x20x28 inches high. They seem to thrive in square cages, and they should be of solid construction to withstand their attentions.
Location of the cage is also important as they are intelligent bird who like a well-structured life. Ideally the cage should be away from the noisy and chaotic areas of the house, a place where they can have a little quiet when in the cage, or feather plucking can become a problem. Also placing it against a wall gives them a feeling of security. Doors of the cage should be well secured as these intelligent birds will figure out a way out if escape is not prevented.
Inside the cage should be a range of toys and different branches so they can occupy themselves when in there. Problem solving toys, chewable toys or one which they can climb are ideal. Showers are also enjoyed, either with a spray bottle or even a special parrot perch in the shower cubicle on a gentle setting.
They are very affectionate birds who will often learn to have a tickle on the head and some play dead, lying on their back in the hand with the legs in the air. They can learn basic instructions and comply with tasks from those instructions
In their natural environment, Senegals eat seeds, grains, fruits and leaf buds. Their favourites include figs and locust tree seeds, millets, peanuts and maize.
As well as a good combination of seed and pellets, a large portion of the Senegal’s diet should consist of fruit and vegetables. They will enjoy apples, pears, bananas, melon as well as vegetables such as carrots, peas, corn and greens such as kale and spinach.
There are also some ‘human’ foods they can enjoy such as cooked rice, chicken or lean fish even low-fat cheese and wholegrain bread. Clean drinking water should always be available to them.
In the wild, the Senegal nests in trees, often oil palms, where holes are large enough to accommodate them. Their clutch is usually 3-4 white eggs which are incubated by the female for 27-28 days. The chicks hatch with a fluffy white down feather and the mother stays with them at night until they have grown sufficient proper feathers to insulate themselves. Their eyes open at around 2-3 weeks of age. They fledge at around 9 weeks and are independent at around 12 weeks of age.
In captivity Senegals are viewed as relatively easy to breed. They can start breeding from the age of 3-4 years and will use a variety of different nest boxes. One example is one around 18inches high by 10 inches square featuring a hole around 25 inches in diameter, though the bird will often chew this somewhat. A good idea is to have a side access door to do nest inspections, although this should only be done when the birds are out feeding. If breeding in a cage, the nest should be as near the to top of the cage as possible or in an aviary, in a high place with natural shading.
Non toxic saw dust or wood shavings can be added to the bottom of the breeding box once in place to a depth of around 2 inches. Any more than this and the female may spend more time housekeeping than laying eggs.
One potential problem during breeding is male aggression towards his mate or other birds so this should be monitored.
Like many of the medium and large parrots, they are not the best birds to start keeping without prior experience but once you understand the basics of keeping parrots, they are a good species to go for. They are less noisy than some of their relations, but every bit as intelligent and will keep everyone entertained with their antics. If the opportunity to breed is available, they are good parents once happy with their environment. All in all, a fascinating medium-sized parrot with a big personality and a definite excellent addition to your family.
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