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African Grey Parrots
African Grey Parrot Information
The African Grey Parrot, Psittacus erithacus, is a medium-sized parrot native to the primary and secondary rainforests of West and Central Africa. Its mild temperament, clever mind and ability to mimic sounds, including human speech, has made it a highly sought after pet for many centuries. Certain individuals also have a documented ability to understand the meaning of words.
African Grey Parrots TaxonomyKingdom: Animalia
Species: Psittacus erithacus
The African Grey Parrot is the only recognized species of the genus Psittacus. The genus name “Psittacus” is derived from the word ψιττακος (psittakos) which means parrot in Ancient Greek.
There are two recognized subspecies of African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus):
- Congo African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus)
- Timneh African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh)
Congo African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus), commonly referred to as “CAG” by parrot keepers, is larger than the Timneh African Grey Parrot and normally reaches a length of roughly 33 cm. It is found from the south-eastern Ivory Coast to Western Kenya, Northwest Tanzania, Southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Northern Angola, including the islands of Príncipe and Bioko in the Gulf of Guinea. Adult members of this subspecies are light grey with red tails, pale yellow irises, and an all black beak. Pet Congo African Grey Parrots usually learn to speak quite slowly until their second or third year.
Timneh African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh), commonly referred to as “TAG” by parrot keepers, is smaller than the Congo subspecies and is endemic to the to the western parts of the moist Upper Guinea forests and nearby West African savannas from Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Southern Mali to at least 70 km east of the Bandama River in Côte d’Ivoire. Adult specimens are charcoal grey with dark maroon tails. The upper mandible sports a characteristic light, horn-colored area. Some bird keepers report this subspecies being able to mimic human speech at a younger age than the Congo subspecies.
On the islands of Principé and Bioko you can find African Grey Parrots that are darker and slightly smaller than other greys. They were earlier recognized as a separate subspecies (Psittacus erithacus princeps) but aren’t any longer. Among bird keepers, they are commonly known as Ghana African Grey Parrots.
You may also encounter the names Cameroon African Grey Parrot or “Big Silvers” when researching greys. Unlike the name suggest, these birds originate from birds captured in Congo, not in Cameroon. They are somewhat larger and lighter than other greys, but are not a subspecies.
African Grey Parrot Care
Important information for prospective African Grey Parrot owners
Always research current national and international legislation before purchasing an African Grey Parrot. Do not rely on old information and don’t forget that legislation may affect not only international but domestic transactions as well. To make things more knotty, national and international legislation are not always synchronized.
All species of parrot are protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Parrot species are placed in Appendix I or II, depending on their conservational situations. Import, export and trade in wild-caught specimens of appendix I species is illegal, but can be permitted with a licenses in exceptional circumstances. Captive bred animals of appendix I species are considered appendix II specimens when it comes to trade, and you can therefore trade them as long as you follow the rules of Appendix II.
As of 2009, the African Grey Parrot is listed on CITES Appendix II. In 2004, CITES included the African Grey Parrot in Phase VI of the CITES Review of Significant Trade in 2004, a review which resulted in recommended zero export quotas for several range states due to continuing population declines, exceeded quotas and unsustainable and illegal trade. The review also pointed out the necessity of regional management plans for the species. The African Parrot is one of the most heavily traded CITES-listed bird species.
In 2007, the African Grey Parrot was moved from “Least Concern” to “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since new research showed it to be rarer than previously believed.
In the United States, only captive bred African Grey Parrots are allowed to be imported to the country (see U.S. Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992). In the European Union, a EU directive from 2007 prohibits import of all wild-caught birds for the pet trade, including of course the African Grey Parrot.
Caring for an African Grey Parrot
The African Grey Parrot is considered one of the most intelligent birds in the world and it needs a lot of mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy in captivity. This is not a low maintenance pet; it is a highly social creature and you need to spend a great deal of time with it and interact with it a lot each day. If you do, you will be rewarded with a caring and devoted companion for many years to come.
The African Grey Parrots should ideally be let out of its cage each day to exercise and explore the surroundings. Even with daily exercise, it needs a large cage filled with interesting toys and things to chew on.
If you fail to provide your African Grey Parrot with enough stimulation in captivity it can easily develop mental problems and may for instance engage in feather plucking or excessive screaming. Boredom also weakens the immune system which makes the bird more susceptible to disease.
African Grey Parrots are quite noisy birds so don’t place their cage where they may annoy neighbours. This species does not only imitate human speech and appliances (alarm clocks, phone signals, the beep of the microwave oven, etc) but will also click, squeak, whistle, shriek, etc. They also generate an impressive amount of waste so be prepared for frequent cleanings.
Feeding African Grey Parrots
Wild African Grey Parrots feed chiefly on seeds, palm nuts, fruits, and leaves. They have also been observed supplementing their vegetarian diet with protein rich snails. In captivity, it is important to keep them on a varied diet to ensure optimal health and prevent boredom. You can for instance feed your bird a parrot seed mix combined with fresh fruits, vegetables and leaves. Occasional protein rich servings are beneficial but it doesn’t have to be snails, boiled egg whites will work just as well.
Breeding African Grey Parrots
African Grey Parrots use natural hollows formed in large old trees as breeding sites and the survival of this species is therefore dependant on the existence of old hollow trees in the African rainforest.
African Grey Parrots are relatively easy to breed in captivity, provided of course that you have enough space to comfortably house and exercise a couple. Instead of a hollow tree, you can give them a nesting box.
African Grey Parrot Health
Visible signs of illness in African Grey Parrots:
- feather plucking
- plumage looks ruffled
- plumage looses its former lustre
- bare spots visible in the plumage
- slit eyes instead of round eyes
- discharge can be seen oozing from the nostrils
- the African Grey Parrot sneezes more than just occasionally
- the bird screams in an (for this particular individual) unusual fashion
- loss of appetite
- changed faeces
- the parrot seems tired and sleeps more than normally
African Grey Parrot Facts
African Grey Parrot fact # 1
The African Grey Parrot has fascinated humans for centuries and there is a long recorded history of this species being kept as a pet. Both the ancient Greeks and, later on, the Romans are for instance known to have held African Grey Parrots.
African Grey Parrot fact # 2
The African Grey Parrot is considered one of the most talented parrots when it comes to mimicking sounds, including human speech and man-made devices. It is also the only parrot species documented imitating the calls of other species in the wild.
African Grey Parrot facts # 3
A famous African Grey Parrot named Alex has a documented ability to associate human words with meanings. He can also tell the difference between various colors, shapes and numbers and accurately communicate this to humans.
African Grey Parrot facts # 4
Several color mutations occur naturally in the wild, such as the F2 Pied Mutation which makes the African Grey develop a wide red band across its belly. In 1998, South African bird breeder Von van Antwerpen and New Zealand partner Jaco Bosman used F2 Pied specimens to develop red African Grey Parrots.
African Grey Parrot fact # 5
Since African Grey Parrots can grow so old, it is a good idea to decide beforehand who will become the owner of your parrot if you die. Many parrot keepers make arrangements with fellow bird aficionados in advance and have their names listen in their wills to make sure that their parrots ends up in suitable hands instead of being inherited by someone who might not have the capacity to provide the birds with a good home.
African Grey Parrot Lifespan
The average life span of an African Grey Parrot is 50 to 65 years, with some specimens becoming considerably older.