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Poicephalus cryptoxanthus (Brown-headed parrot) 

Bruinkoppapegaai [Afrikaans]; Yhokwe [Tsonga]; Bruinkoppapegaai [Dutch]; Perroquet à tête brune [French]; Braunkopfpapagei [German]; Papagaio-de-cabeça-castanha [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Psittaciformes > Family: Psittacidae

Poicephalus cryptoxanthus (Brown-headed parrot)  Poicephalus cryptoxanthus (Brown-headed parrot)

Brown-headed parrot, Mpumalanga, South Africa. [photo Neil Gray ©]

Brown-headed parrot, Lower Sabi, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

The Brown-headed parrot occurs in woodlands from east Africa through to Mozambique and northern KwaZulu-Natal. It feeds mainly on fruit and seeds, with the rest of its diet largely made up of Lepidoptera larvae and tree shoots. It nests in old woodpecker holes in trees, laying 2-4 eggs from April-May in South Africa. Incubation is done solely by the female, with the male doing the foraging. The chicks are fed only by the male, but always with the female present. The brood stay in the nest for 50-54 days before leaving for a "nursery area", where they stay for 28 days before becoming fully independent.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from southern Kenya and Tanzania to Malawi, Mozambique, south-eastern Zimbabwe and eastern South Africa. It generally prefers open woodland with fruit or seed-bearing trees, especially Knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens) and Mopane (Colosphermum mopane). It occasionally moves into mangroves, but avoids sparsely wooded savanna and dense woodland.

Distribution of Brown-headed parrot in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Parasites
    • Protolichus megamerus (feather mite)
    • feather lice
      • Mimemammenopon zumpti (only found on the Brown headed parrot)
      • Psittacomenopon impar
      • Neopsittaconirmus africanus


Its diet varies greatly in different regions, doing most of its foraging in tree canopies, grabbing food with its bill. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plants
    • seeds
      • Cassia abbreviata (Long-tail Cassia)
      • Erythrina lysistemon (Sacred coral tree)
      • Trichilia emetica (Forest Natal-mahogany)
      • Acacia nigrescens (Knob thorn)
      • Acacia tortilis (Umbrella thorn)
      • Albizia gummifera (Smooth-bark flat-crown)
      • Eucalyptus grandis (alien Saligna gum)
    • fruit
      • Combretum (Bushwillow)
      • Terminalia (Cluster-leafs)
      • Diospyros mespilliformes (Jackal-berry)
      • Ficus sycomorus (Sycomore fig)
      • Kirkia acuminata (White kirkia)
      • Lannea schweinfurthii (False-marula)
      • Mystroxylon aethopicum (Kooboo-berry)
      • Manihot esculenta (alien Cassava)
      • Strychnos (Monkey-orange)
    • flowers
      • Erythrina lysistemon (Sacred coral tree)
      • Trichilia emetica (Forest natal-mahogany)
      • Cocos nucifera (Coconut)
    • nectar of Aloe marlothii (Mountain Aloe)
    • green shoots of trees
  • Insects


  • It typically nests in old tree holes of woodpeckers, 4-10m above ground. It often has to compete with Grey-headed parrots, Meyer's parrots, squirrels and hornbills for nesting sites.
  • Egg-laying season is from April-May in South Africa. (other laying dates unknown)
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for 26-30 days, while the male feeds her at the nest.
  • The chicks are fed only when both adults are present, who first clean the nest before handing over the food.
  • The chicks stay in the nest for 50-54 days before leaving for the 'nursery area', which usually is an area with densely leaved trees with water nearby. During this time the chicks are silent and largely immobile, becoming fully independent about 28 days later.


Not threatened, although its distribution has contracted since 1990, largely due to illegal trapping for the cage bird industry.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.