Many people are surprised to learn that South Africa has a few indigenous species of parrot occurring within our borders. Most of these have limited distributions, some are threatened, and they’re all far less colourful than those occurring in more tropical environments. The Brown-headed Parrot is one of the more frequently encountered local parrot species and is found mainly in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, principally covered by the Kruger National Park where the population numbers approximately 2,500, and extending marginally into the north of Kwazulu-Natal with most records there coming from in and around uMkhuze Game Reserve. They’re also found through Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania to coastal Kenya.
Brown-headed Parrots inhabit woodland and riverine forests, and follow a varied and mainly vegetarian diet, feeding on fruits and berries, seeds and nuts, flowers, nectar and fresh new shoots as they clamber through the branches in the canopy and occasionally being considered a pest in orchards. They need to drink fresh water on a daily basis.
Gregarious by nature, Brown-headed Parrots keep in small flocks numbering between 4 and 12 (sometimes up to 200!) and form monogamous pairs in the autumn breeding period (some sources indicate that the pair-bond lasts throughout the year). Their preferred nests are holes in trees, usually quite high above the ground and often used year after year, in which the female incubates a clutch of 2 – 4 eggs over a 4-week period while being cared for by the male. The chicks leave the nest at about two months old, though they can’t really fly yet and hide-away in dense foliage near the abandoned nest. They only become independent from at least another month onwards. Fully grown, Brown-headed Parrots measure about 23cm in length and weigh about 140g.
Presently, the IUCN lists the Brown-headed Parrot as being of least concern. Sadly though their populations are declining through habitat loss and an escalation in trapping for the cagebird trade and they are now uncommon outside of the large conservation areas within their range.