The African grey parrot is one of the most recognisable bird species on the planet and has been regarded as one of the smartest bird breeds in the world. This intelligent bird has the uncanny ability to mimic human speech and is capable of learning more than 1,000 words and use them in context. Learn more about this incredible bird species to find out if it’s a suitable bird to keep as a pet.
Description and Appearance
The African grey parrot is amongst the oldest parrot species with its existence dating back to biblical times. This medium-sized bird is predominantly grey in colour with a distinctive bright red trail. Its feathers may exhibit white edging.
What Does an African Grey Parrot Look Like?
The African grey parrot is a medium-size bird. Generally, it weighs around 0.4 kg and can grow up to 33 cm. Its wingspan is approximately 46 cm–51 cm.
It has yellow eyes and its feathers are predominantly grey, whilst the surrounding plumes are short and white. Due to selective breeding, the African grey parrot has red feathers on the base of its tail.
There are two kinds of African grey parrot: the Congo African grey and the Timneh African grey. The most well-known and common type is the Congo. Although the two breeds nearly share the same features, there is a distinction between them. The Congo is the largest amongst all African grey parrot breeds. This bird has a solid black beak and plumage with lighter grey colours. The Timneh African grey parrot, on the other hand, has a smaller build compared to the Congo. It sports a darker plumage colour and possesses a horn-coloured upper beak instead of black.
Since there’s more than one type of African Grey parrot, its size and weight may vary. The male is larger than the female and it grows anywhere from 12 to 16 inches long and weighs 0.8–1.4 lbs. Its wingspan measures 18–20 inches.
The Congo African grey is larger of the two grey parrots and sports a solid black beak. On the other hand, the slightly smaller Timneh African grey has a horn-coloured beak.
How to Identify Male and Female African Grey Parrots
When an African grey reaches around eighteen months, there will be subtle signs that will help you identify its gender. A female African grey’s red tail feathers will be tipped with silver. The male’s solid red tail feathers will have no changes. However, its wings will turn dark. Meanwhile, the female will continue having light-coloured wings.
Another sign to look out for is the size of its head and neck. The male tends to have slimmer and thinner heads, whilst the female has a longer neck and a bigger, rounder head. A male African grey parrot is observed to be taller than its female counterpart.
How Long Do African Grey Parrots Live?
The lifespan of an African grey parrot is forty to sixty years in captivity and thirty to fifty years in the wild. Its extremely long lifespan is one of the reasons why it is desirable as a pet. The downside to this is that it is likely to outlive its owners, which means it may have to be rehomed which can be a traumatic experience for bird
READ: 8 Best Pet Bird Breeds
Distribution and Habitat
Where Do African Grey Parrots Come From?
The wild African grey is known to be native to West and Central Africa. The species is found in Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Ghana, southern Guinea, western border of the Ivory Coast, southeastern Ivory Coast, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Coastal mangroves, woodlands, savannahs, and lowland forests abundant with greeneries are the most common locations the African grey parrot inhabits. Other African greys live in highly elevated places that are 7,200 feet above sea level.
African Grey Parrot Conservation
In the wild, the most common and natural predators of the African grey parrot are raptors and palm nut vultures. Meanwhile, monkeys target the eggs and the hatchlings of the African grey parrot. These wild greys are also known to be susceptible to blood worms, psittacine beak and feather disease, fungal infections, malignant tumours, nutritional insufficiency and bacterial infections.
Are African Grey Parrots Endangered?
The African grey parrot is the most traded wild bird globally and is considered an endangered species. Currently, the global population of the African grey parrot is estimated between 630,000 and 13 million birds. To protect the breed from illegal trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations were made.
These regulations ensure that the sought-after parrot species and other animals are legally owned. Thus, the owner must have the proper paperwork to guarantee that their exotic pet is not acquired through unlawful means. To comply with the regulations, an issued export permit is needed. It serves as proof that the bird is legally obtained.
Is It Legal to Own an African Grey in the UK?
After the latest CITES conference held in October 2016, the regulations surrounding the African Grey might be bound to change.
Due to Brexit, Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is still waiting for instructions from the EU if the European Union authorities will or will not call for an additional type of European licence for birds held in captivity. This requires current buyers, owners, and breeders of the African grey parrot to follow the new regulations that will be set during the imminent changes in status.
Temperament and Behaviour
The African grey parrot is a sociable and highly intelligent bird that needs constant attention, social enrichment, and behavioural enhancement; otherwise, it may become distressed in captivity. One common sign of distress amongst parrots is feather plucking. If you happen to own an African grey parrot, you need to be on the lookout for this behaviour so you can take necessary interventions.
Are African Grey Parrots Good Pets?
The grey parrot makes a great pet if you invest time in looking after it. It enjoys receiving lots of love and attention; thus, it should be able to interact with its family for many hours every day. If it gets constantly cooped up in its cage, it will be bored and lonely.
It is also sensitive to little changes in routine, so it’s best not to disrupt its habits. This is to prevent the development of behavioural issues such as plucking and chewing off feathers.
Despite the grey parrot’s need for attention, it is not a cuddle bug. However, it may enjoy a little bit of head-scratching. It is also important to note that the breed only bonds with one person. It may tolerate snuggling if it comes from its favourite human companion. When it comes to meeting strangers, the African grey can be wary and aloof.
Baby African grey parrots that are handled by humans are less likely to exhibit behavioural problems. Be sure to socialise you parrot at an early age. By getting it accustomed to various sounds, sights, smells, and people, it will mature into a well-rounded pet bird. It will also be less likely to exhibit unwanted behaviour.
African grey parrots are known to be monogamous breeders and they need to have their own tree for their nest. A female African grey parrot can lay three to five eggs, which are then needed to be incubated for thirty days. During that period, the female African grey parrot will be fed by her mate.
African Grey Parrot and Its Relationship to Humans
The African grey parrot can be kept as a companion or pet, prized for its impressive ability to mimic human speech accurately. This bird species is one of the most popular avian pets.
The African grey parrot is also prone to behavioural problems because of its sensitive nature and personality. As a sociable bird, social isolation may trigger ageing and stress.
Captive African grey parrots are also known to display a trait called communicative competence. This means that they do not only use human language correctly, but they can also use it in a way that is appropriate for the social situation that they are in.
Cognition and Intelligence
How Smart Are the African Grey Parrots?
The African grey parrot is considered to be one of the most intelligent species of psittacines. There have been several studies where African grey parrots have shown cognitive intelligence equivalent to a four- or six-year-old child.
A number of studies and experiments have also shown that African greys can actually learn number sequences and associate or match voices with the humans who create them. One noted American scientist, Irene Pepperberg, has published her experience with Alex the parrot. In Pepperberg’s work, Alex the parrot exhibited an impressive cognitive ability, differentiating between shapes, colours, and objects.
Pepperberg spent decades working with Alex the parrot, and in one study, she found out that the bird had the concept of zero and learned to add numbers.
The African grey is famous for his ability to mimic human speech and having an extensive vocabulary. It also shows the amazing ability to understand the meanings of words and phrases. Moreover, it is one of the best talkers amongst all the parrot breeds.
Most grey parrots learn to mimic words at an early age. When they reach one year old, they are more likely to have completely developed their talking ability.
Unlike other parrot breeds, the African grey prefers to talk than to scream. However, it doesn’t mean that it is more reticent. It may not be as boisterous or as tenacious, but it tends to mimic various sounds repetitively.
If your grey parrot talks almost nonstop, it is advised that you cover its cage or leave the room until it stops. Never shout or punish it as it will only lead it to lose its trust in you.
African Grey Parrot’s Diet
The African grey parrot is a frugivore, which means that its diet mainly consists of a variety of fruits, seeds, and nuts. It also eats snails, insects, palm fruit oil, tree bark, and flowers.
If in captivity, the African grey parrot may be fed premium-quality bird pellets and a variety of fruits and vegetables such as green beans, celery, fresh kale, apple, pomegranate, orange, pear, banana, sweet potatoes, and peas. It also needs a reliable source of calcium.
About 65 to 85 per cent of its daily food must be made up of pellets, whilst fresh vegetables cover 15 to 30 per cent of its diet. Meanwhile, 5 per cent should be allocated for fruits and nuts. Be sure to remove the seeds or pits of fruits before serving it to your African grey.
Give it a healthy and balanced pellet diet to prevent vitamin D deficiency. The grey parrot is also highly prone to beta-carotene or vitamin A deficiency.
Make sure to provide it with vegetables that are packed with essential nutrients. Fresh kale and cooked potato are options you can try. Avoid purely seed-based and pellet-based diets as these don’t offer enough nutrients and minerals for your African grey parrot.
Care for an African Grey
How to Care for African Grey Parrot
The African grey parrot needs at least one to two hours of exercise outside its cage every day. Provide your parrot with many bird-safe toys that fit its size.
Slowly introduce your African grey parrot to its new toy. Avoid rushing it or else its interest to play will not be piqued. To prevent it from getting bored with its toys, change and rotate it every two weeks.
Its feathers will accumulate excess dirt and oil over time, so it needs a bath at least once a week. Before washing it, make sure to clean your hands properly with soap and water. Doing so prevents any chemicals or bacteria on your hands from getting transmitted to its feathers.
Fill a shallow ceramic bowl with lukewarm water and let your African grey parrot start bathing. Once he is done, make sure to completely dry it off. Do not let it sleep with wet feathers or bathe it during night-time. This is to prevent the risk of developing health problems. Avoid adding bathing products such as shampoo to the water since the chemicals can be harmful.
Cleanliness and proper hygiene are extremely important for your African grey to stay healthy. An unkempt cage is a breeding ground for bacteria, therefore, its food and water bowls need to be washed every day with warm, soapy water.
Leftovers and droppings underneath the cage must be cleaned daily. Steer away from using harsh household cleaners and stick to special bird disinfectants.
How Long Do African Grey Parrots Live?
The African grey parrot’s lifespan is between twenty-five and thirty years, but some are known to live up to sixty or eighty years if properly cared for. Providing it with a spacious cage, sufficient exercise, a happy and peaceful home environment, and a healthy and balanced diet will help extend his life. Due to the breed’s long lifespan, African grey owners must be fully committed to looking after their pet birds.
The grey parrot is susceptible to several diseases. Knowing what these diseases are will help you set preventative measures to ensure that your pet doesn’t develop any of them. Below are the most prevalent health issues of the breed:
- Respiratory infection
- Proventricular dilatation disease
- Circovirus (PBFD virus)
- Hypocalcaemia syndrome
- Psittacine beak
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
Be on the lookout for early signs of illnesses. These include lethargy, weight loss, increased sleep, unkempt plumage, and lack of vocalisation. If your African grey parrot is showing any of these symptoms, bring it to the vet straight away.
African Grey Parrot Cage
A full-grown African grey parrot weighs an average of 0.4 kg and grows around 33cm. It has a wingspan of 46 cm–51 cm. Provide your parrot with a spacious cage that has enough room for it to move around and stretch its wings. The minimum recommended cage size for a grey parrot is 30″ H x 30″ L x 30″ W, but a bigger cage is always better.
Place a perch inside the cage that is around 75″ to 1″ in diameter. Avoid putting it right above the water or food to prevent contamination. The cage should be placed in a room with natural light.
Consider investing in a UV light, which prevents feather picking. Make sure that the location is also free from too much human activity as it can cause stress to the grey parrot.
Cost of Ownership
How Much Is an African Grey Parrot?
The price of an African grey parrot varies depending on the age, gender, and health of the bird. Expect to pay anywhere from £800 to £1,000 to acquire one of these fascinating birds. Food expenses are around £300–£400 a year. Purchasing its cage may cost you £100–£300. The cost of getting its basic items such as carrier, food bowl, and water bowl is about £40–£70.
Total costs for purchasing toys, perches, and stands are approximately £40. Fees for vet check-ups will require you to pay around £30. Meanwhile, microchipping costs £20. Opting to get your African grey parrot insured will add about £7–£9 on your monthly bills.
African Grey Breed Fun Facts
- African grey parrots are monogamous birds. They share a strong bond with only one mate forever. This also means hand-reared African greys are permanently bonded to their owners.
- An African grey named Alex was known for learning many words and recognising what they mean. Identifying around fifty objects, understanding numbers up to six, and pointing out five shapes and seven colours are just some of her many impressive feats.
- Their cognitive abilities are equivalent to that of a 3- to 5-year-old child.
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