Classification Order Psittaciformes, Family Psittacidae Scientific Name Psittacus Erithacus Other Common Names African Grey Parrot
Species Description This is the dominant subspecies, larger than
the Timneh at about 33 cm (13 in) long, with light grey feathers,
cherry red tails, and an all black beak. Immature birds of this
subspecies have tails with a darker, duller red towards the tip
(Juniper and Parr 1999) until their first moult which occurs within
18 months of age. These birds also initially have grey irises which
change to a pale yellow colour by the time the bird is a year old.
The Congo grey parrot is found on the islands of Pr�ncipe and Bioko
and is distributed from south-eastern Ivory Coast to Western Kenya,
Northwest Tanzania, Southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
and Northern Angola. In aviculture, it is often called a "CAG".
Timneh African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh):
These are smaller in size, have a darker charcoal grey coloring, a
darker maroon tail, and a light, horn-colored area to part of the
upper mandible. The timneh grey parrot is endemic to the western
parts of the moist Upper Guinea forests and bordering savannas of
West Africa from Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Southern Mali east
to at least 70 km (43 mi) east of the Bandama River in Ivory Coast.
In aviculture, it is often called a "TAG".
comparative judgments of animal intelligence are always very
difficult to make objectively, Psittaciformes are generally regarded
as being the most intelligent of birds. African grey parrots are
particularly noted for their cognitive abilities, which are believed
to have evolved as a consequence of their history of cooperative
feeding as largely tree-dwelling birds in central Africa.
Irene Pepperberg's extensive research with captive African greys,
especially the one known as Alex, have provided evidence that these
parrots are capable of associating human words with their meanings,
at least to some extent, though these conclusions are disputed.
Ambitious claims of language use have been made for another African
grey, N'kisi, who has a vocabulary of around a thousand words and
speaks in sentences. Although there exists a great deal of debate as
to just how well these birds actually understand the meaning of the
words they speak, there is little doubt that Greys and other parrots
(especially macaws and cockatoos), along with corvines (crows,
ravens, and jays), are highly intelligent in comparison with other
It is widely believed in the parrot-keeping
community that Greys understand their human companions at various
human intelligence levels. For example, some believe that a young
Grey (under a year) has the equivalent understanding of a toddler
and the cognitive ability of a six-year-old child.
Habitat Found in the primary and secondary rainforest.
Distribution West and Central Africa.
Captivity The history of African Grey parrots kept as
pets dates back over 4,000 years. Some Egyptian hieroglyphics
clearly depict pet parrots. The ancient Greeks also valued parrots
as pets. This custom was later adopted by wealthy Roman families who
often kept parrots in ornate cages. King Henry VIII of England also
had an African Grey parrot. Portuguese sailors kept them as
companions on their long sea voyages.
Today, many African
Grey parrots are hand-reared by breeders for the pet trade, and they
can make wonderful and very affectionate companion parrots; however,
the methods used to produce the birds for the pet trade greatly
affects their behavior and "pet quality" once the birds are mature
at 2 to 4 years old. The hand-rearing process deprives the birds of
parental interactions, which results in the birds becoming imprinted
on humans at maturity. This is done primarily to produce tamer
birds, as they learn how to interact with other animals from their
parents' behavior, and the often untamed breeder birds may imprint a
fear of humans. The degree to which a bird was hand reared may vary
depending on the breeder's method - some are hand-reared from the
point of (artificial) incubation, while others may be left with
their parents for a few weeks. The degree to which a bird has been
deprived of its natural parents can adversely affect its behavior
once it is an adult; birds which have been raised at least partially
by natural parents tend to show fewer behavioral problems (such as
plucking or fearfulness) upon maturity, though birds raised entirely
by their parents may be less tame. Some breeders may hand rear
babies in the presence of tame adult pet Greys that may serve as
role models for the babies. Also to be considered is how a baby grey
is weaned and fledged. A baby Grey should be abundance-weaned
(allowed to wean at its own pace) and be allowed to learn to fly.
Force-weaning and clipping a baby before it learns to fly are
believed to occasionally cause development of fearful behaviors and
lowered dexterity when the grey reaches several years of age. Some
grey parrots may not be compatible with small children. African Grey
parrots are very strong and can inflict serious wounds on human
flesh with their powerful beaks. Their nails are naturally sharp and
can scratch, though the birds do not use them aggressively. Pet
owners often liken the experience of keeping an African Grey to that
of raising a young child - not only because of the birds'
intelligence, but also from the substantial time commitment
required. While captive-bred birds usually assimilate into their new
households with relative ease, wild-caught African Grey parrots
(which are no longer legally available in the US or EU) can find it
difficult or impossible to adapt to life in a cage as a pet. They
may show great fear of humans, emit a growling sound as a fear
response, and may panic when approached. Unlike more common pets,
African Grey parrots have not been greatly "modified" by selective
breeding; they are only available as wild-type birds. As opposed to
the many color varieties available in budgies and Rose-ringed
Parakeets, the closest African Grey Parrots get to a color variant
are the "Cameroon African Greys" which are a natural variation of
the normal wild bird's color.
African Grey parrots, like
most pet parrots, are considered by many bird owners to be very
high-maintenance pets, as they require a good deal of personal
attention and many hours each day out of their cages. While numbers
vary with each source, most African Grey owners agree that three
hours out of cage daily and 45 minutes of physical interaction is
the minimum attention required for good mental health. African
Greys, particularly Congo African Greys, are known to be wary of
strangers, and tend to bond solely with their main carer if they do
not interact with different people regularly. While interspecies
friendships with other parrots are uncommon, as African Greys are
essentially social animals, they will benefit from being kept in the
company of other birds.
Grey parrots are prone to
behavioral problems if they are not provided with a stimulating
environment and allowed plenty of time out of their cage each day.
They should be given a range of regularly changed toys to keep them
occupied, including destructible ones made from natural materials
such as cardboard, wood, or natural fibers.
also include "puzzle toys" or "foraging toys," which hold food
treats that the bird must learn how to extract from the toy. Boredom
and overuse of the cage can typically lead to problems such as
self-plucking, where the bird damages or removes its own feathers.
Many Greys are traditionally kept in cages too small to allow the
bird to fly, and occasionally for young, clumsy or very nervous
Greys (often Greys that have been clipped at a young age), a smaller
cage may indeed be necessary for a time to avoid the bird from
falling and injuring itself or becoming frightened. However, most
Greys will benefit greatly from a large cage which allows more space
for different perches, toys, and exercise. Provided the bird spends
several hours each day out of the cage, interacting with its
caretaker and/or other birds and people, a cage which is 4 feet long
by 3 feet deep and 3 feet high is adequate. The bar-spacing should
be � inch to 1 inch. The height of a cage is typically not
important, except in the case of playtop cages that are taller than
the owner, in which case the bird may show some aggressive
behaviors. Grey parrots kept as companion animals should have access
to a range of other places within the room in which they are kept,
including a playstand holding a range of perches and further toys. A
companion African Grey should be kept in a bird-safe environment and
placed in a fairly 'busy' part of the home, such as the living room,
to allow the bird to be occupied with observing the household
activities. However, the cage should always have a solid back or be
placed against a solid wall, as this helps to give the bird a
feeling of security not otherwise available due to the "goldfish
bowl effect" of being in a cage.
Grey parrots should be
trained to accept some requests or "commands" from their carers,
including flight requests; this ensures most birds can fly safely
and removes the 'need' for wing-clipping. Wing clipping is very
controversial. Some owners prefer to clip to prevent potentially
dangerous indoors flying. However, wing clipped birds are no safer
than full-winged birds, but merely subject to different risks as pet
birds. African Greys are heavy-bodied birds and more prone to
clipping-related problems than some other parrots. Incorrectly
clipped birds may crash and injure themselves, often on the sternum.
Incorrectly clipping birds may also damage new "blood" feathers, as
these grow down in the moulting process, which can result in painful
persistent bleeding. Severely clipped birds may have balance
problems and fall often. Preferably, Greys should not be clipped at
all. If a Grey is clipped, it must be done by someone who
understands the moulting sequence of the bird so as to avoid damage
to blood feathers when these grow down on a clipped wing during the
bird's moulting period. A clipped Grey should still be able to fly
or glide short distances to avoid injury. Birds with clipped or
damaged flight feathers can have flight restored immediately by a
specialist avian vet imping (splinting) donor feathers back onto the
bird's clipped feathers.
One reason that many owners
choose to clip their birds' wings is the reflex center located at
their shoulders. If a bird is startled, the wings may start flapping
autonomously in an evolutionary response for escaping from danger.
Before the bird regains conscious control over his movements, he may
find himself in a treetop two blocks from home with no idea how he
got there. If a parrot is not given regular outdoor flight exercise
so he knows his way around his neighborhood, and his wings are not
clipped, great care should be taken to ensure that he can never fly
involuntarily out of an open door or window in a panic. This is
particularly important for African Greys, who are wary of strangers
and may exhibit a fatal reluctance to beg for food and shelter.
One problem that often confronts people who acquire a baby parrot of
a larger species is that they have a very long maturation cycle that
makes them seem like eternal babies. African Greys, Cockatoos,
Macaws, Amazons and all large psittacines go through approximately
five years of "childhood" and then five years of "adolescence,"
during which they are relatively docile, tractable and affectionate.
As they reach adulthood their personalities change, and the cute,
cuddly baby may become a demanding, willful, destructive creature
with an awkward mix of wild instincts and learned domestic
behaviors, and his klutzy infantile behavior turns into powerful
agility. A parrot without adequate companionship and an extremely
stimulating environment can disassemble his own cage from the
inside, chew through walls and doors, destroy art, furniture,
appliances and musical instruments, and electrocute himself. Parrots
can become confrontational and attack the family dog, who does not
understand how delicate their hollow bones are when he fights back.
Many parrot breeders attest that more of their birds have been
killed by dogs than by cats, who shy away from confrontations.
However, cat attacks can result in fatality due to infection from
the bacteria on the claws.
Acquiring an African Grey or
any large parrot species is a lifelong commitment and should not be
done on a whim.
Summary Parrots, also known as psittacines, are birds
of the roughly 372 species in 86 genera that make up the order
Psittaciformes, found in most warm and tropical regions. The order
is subdivded in three families: the Psittacidae (true parrots), the
Cacatuidae (cockatoos) and the Nestoridae. Parrots have a
pan-tropical distribution with several species inhabiting the
temperate Southern Hemisphere as well. The greatest diversity of
parrots is found in South America and Australia.
Characteristic features of parrots include a strong curved
bill, an upright stance, strong legs, and clawed zygodactyl feet.
Most parrots are predominantly green, with other bright colors, and
some species are multi-colored. Cockatoo species range from mostly
white to mostly black, and have a mobile crest of feathers on the
top of their heads. Most parrots are monomorphic or minimally
sexually dimorphic. Extant species range in size from the Buff-faced
Pygmy-parrot, at under 10 g (0.35 oz.) in weight and 8 cm (3.2
inches) in length, to the Hyacinth Macaw, at 1.0 meter (3.3 feet) in
length, and the Kakapo, at 4.0 kg (8.8 lbs) in weight. They are the
most variably sized bird order in terms of length.
most important components of most parrots' diets are seeds, nuts,
fruit, buds and other plant material, and a few species also eat
insects and small animals, and the lories and lorikeets are
specialised to feed on nectar from flowers, and soft fruits. Almost
all parrots nest in tree holes (or nestboxes in captivity), and lay
white eggs from which emerge altricial (helpless) young.
Parrots, along with crows, jays and magpies, are some of the most
intelligent birds, and the ability of some parrot species to imitate
human voices enhances their popularity as pets. Trapping of wild
parrots for the pet trade, as well as other hunting, habitat loss
and competition from invasive species, have diminished wild
populations, and parrots have been subjected to more exploitation
than any other group of birds. Recent conservation measures to
conserve the habitats of some of the high-profile charismatic parrot
species has also protected many of the less charismatic species
living in the ecosystem.