Poicephalus Parrots:
A Few Basics ...   

by Sally Blanchard                                                              
When I talk to caregivers about their companion Poicephalus, the people often describe them as being cuddly and curious, often adding that they have a lot of spunk. Most of these parrots are generally quiet but there are certainly exceptions. In order to stay tame and happy, Poicephalus need to be handled in  a consistent gentle nurturing manner. Parrots who have been left without attention for long periods of time may need to be patiently re-tamed. Some Poicephalus have a tendency to be one-person birds so it is important for each person in their lives to spend time both individually and with the other people in the human flock handling the parrot in a gentle, playful manner. 

My experience with wild-caught Poicephalus was limited to a few Senegal Parrots. I found it difficult to win their trust and one of them seemed to be desperately afraid of just about everything. I talked to his new caregiver about the ways that I had gradually changed my grey, Bongo Marie, from a terrified parrot into a trusting parrot. I did talk to the young man during the time he worked with the bird's behavior and he had been able to successfully win the bird’s trust so that the Senegal would step on his hand. 

It wasn’t until the early '90s that I started working with hand-fed Poicephalus. One thing became very clear with these parrots. If they came from an aviary or bird shop that placed an importance on early socialization, the birds were out going and adventurous. However, if they came from a production-type situation, they were very timid, some to the point of becoming phobic. It was actually work with the African parrots (including the greys) that made it clear to me how important early socialization was to the emotional health of a parrot. In fact it was so obvious to me that I couldn't believe that anyone would dismiss the concept unless they simply had other priorities. No parrot proved my theories more clearly than the Red-bellied. These were the first truly phobic birds that I worked with and when I lived in the S.F. Bay Area, I could almost tell where the bird had been purchased by its behavior in its new home. I knew that it was froma breeder who didn't believe that parrots learned. She erroneously thought that their behavior was all instinctive so she just fed them and put them back in the cage with NO solialization.

With several species of Poicephalus, individuals who have bad to endure traumatic handling or have had an experience that frightened them may have a serious phobic response. They may thrash around the cage when approached and refuse to allow their previously beloved caregiver to handle them. Don’t take it personally and don’t get angry. The key is to realize that for some reason the bird has gone into prey mode and is terrified. The way for people to get their delightful little birds back is to become very submissive with them. This includes minimal direct eye contact or demands. I recommend sitting next to their cage with the door open. Just lean into the cage a bit and read a magazine. Don’t make any eye contact; if you do slowly lower your head and look away. This gives the bird the chance to come back to you and most of them do. The more submissive you are, the less threat you present to them and the more likely they are to relax and accept you as a friend again.




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