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Choosing a Brown-Headed Parrot

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Brown-headed parrots are small, stocky, green birds with brown heads and a playful personality. The beak is a study in contrast: the upper portion is dark and the lower is pale. The birds go by the Latin name Poicephalus cryptoxanthus, which refers to the bright yellow patches under the wings, visible only when the birds are in flight. Although they are not common in the marketplace, they make good pets.

In the wild, brown-headed parrots are found in southeastern Africa, from northeastern South Africa to eastern Tanzania. They inhabit lowland forests from dry savannah to woodlands and secondary growth, preferring baobab trees. Their diet consists of fruits, nuts and seeds, but they are sometimes crop pests. Wild birds are generally found in pairs or small groups and are shy and wary.

The birds can live up to approximately 30 years but are more likely to survive only 15 to 20. They are playful, outgoing and can be affectionate, but they do not crave attention. They tend to become more independent as they reach sexual maturity (around 2 to 3 years old) and adult males may become aggressive during breeding season. While they are not great talkers, they have some limited mimicking ability.

Young brown-heads adapt readily to new surroundings and should be well adapted to many novel experiences at a young age. Adult birds are less adaptable to unfamiliar environments or dietary changes.

Brown-headed parrots are very energetic. They should always be provided with toys, wooden blocks that can be chewed, and branches from non-toxic trees. Young birds should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations such as new cages, toys, visits to the veterinarian, handling by friends, wing and nail clips, etc. to avoid fear of new situations.

Feeding

Brown-headed parrots, as well as African greys, appear to use calcium differently than other species. Birds kept as indoor pets especially tend to develop signs of calcium deficiency, which can be a serious health threat. Natural or full-spectrum light may be helpful in treating the condition.

These parrots should be fed a pelleted or extruded diet. Birds should be fed approximately 1 heaping tablespoon of food supplemented with approximately 1 tablespoon of fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety. Treats may be given in small amounts, especially as rewards for good behavior. Fresh, clean water must be provided every day. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds eating a formulated diet.

For birds fed a seed diet, vitamin supplementation is necessary. Vitamins should be added to soft foods rather than water as vitamins and their accompanying sweeteners promote bacterial growth in water.

Poicephalus are very difficult to hand-rear from the egg. Ideally, they should be fed by the parents for approximately 1 to 2 weeks or they must be fed very often. They will fledge or wean at approximately 7 to 9 weeks.

Grooming

Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or dried with a blow dryer. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively as heavy-bodied birds may fall and injure themselves. Clip only enough so the bird will glide to the floor.

Housing

Brown-headed parrots are very active and should be provided with as large a cage as possible. Cage size should be at least 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet or 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet. The cage should have two perches so the birds can move between them. Toys and activities should be provided. Ideally, pet birds should have an outdoor cage to provide some sunlight and fresh air in good weather.

Breeding

Brown-headed parrots breed well in captivity. Some prolific birds breed year-round but most breed in the winter and early spring. Clutch size is usually three to four eggs. Brown-heads will use a vertical 10 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches or an L-shaped nest box.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Brown-headed parrots are relatively healthy birds. The following diseases have been reported in this species:

  • Chlamydiosis (Psittacosis)
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease
  • Feather picking
  • Fatty liver syndrome
  • Respiratory diseases - Aspergillosis
  • Bacterial, viral, fungal diseases
  • Calcium deficiency disorder

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