African grey parrots have been kept as pets for thousands of years—there are records of these birds as household pets in biblical times. Its fascinating ability to reason and an uncanny talent for accurately mimicking human speech—as well as understanding it—has helped to catapult this bird to stardom, in both research and the pet trade. It's not uncommon for a well-trained African grey to learn hundreds of words and sounds.
The African grey parrot is also known by the names of the recognized subspecies: the Congo African grey parrot or CAG; and the Timneh African grey parrot, or TAG.
The taxonomical name for the African grey parrot is Psittacus erithacus. Traditionally, the species has been divided into two subspecies: Psittacus erthacu erithacus (for the Congo grey subspecies) and Psittacus erithacus timneh (for the Timneh grey subspecies). However, recent reclassification has placed the Timneh grey as its own speces—Psittacus timneh, with Psittacus erthacus reserved for the Congo grey. In the pet trade, both species are known as African grey parrots.
Origin and History
The African grey parrot is native to the equatorial regions of Africa, including the nations of Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. The species' favored habitat is dense forests, but it is also frequently found at the edges of forests and in open savanna areas.
The African grey parrot grows to a mature adult size of approximately 12 to 13 inches from beak to the tip of the tail. The weight ranges from 10 to 20 ounces, with the Congo greys being the larger birds.
African grey parrots, when properly cared for, typically live about 50 years. There are, however, individuals that have lived as long as 75 years.
African greys are widely regarded as the most intelligent of the parrot species, a fact which becomes evident upon observing their behavior. Many grow to be extremely sweet and affectionate toward their owners, and the species is known for being quite sociable. But an African grey that is bored or neglected is an unhappy bird, and it will not hesitate to air its grievances when given the opportunity.
This is a complex bird, given to contradictions. Although it is very social and demands interaction, it is not necessarily a cuddly bird. And some birds have a tendency to become "one-person" birds, even if owners make every effort to socialize them with all members of the family.
The African grey is not known as a loud screamer, reserving much of this instinct for talking and chattering. It can be suitable for owners living in apartments or condos, although some individuals will prove problematic in this environment.
African Grey Parrot Colors and Markings
The African grey, true to its name, sports mostly grey feathers, some with a beautifully thin, pale edging. Congo African greys boast shiny black beaks and bright red tail feathers, while the Tinmeh greys have horn-colored mandibles and tailfeathers of deep maroon. Congo African grey parrots are about a third larger than Timnehs.
Caring for the African Grey Parrot
The African grey is a medium- to large-sized parrot and must be provided with adequate living space. A minimum cage size will have a 2 x 2-foot footprint, with 3 feet in height. Larger cages are preferable.
The African grey parrot is widely considered the most intelligent of parrot species, and while this means the bird is capable of learning dozens or even hundreds of words and phrases, it also means you must provide the bird with lots of mental stimulation. Without plenty of interaction and training, an African grey parrot may become depressed and exhibit self-mutilating behaviors, such as feather-plucking.
These birds thrive when they have lots of opportunity for playing with toys, interacting with their owners, and learning words and tricks. Expect to spend several hours each day interacting with and training your African grey. Many owners report that African greys enjoy having television or radio playing when they are left alone.
Pet African greys pick up on words and sounds very quickly. One African grey has even been credited with "blowing the whistle" on a woman's love affair by repeatedly calling out the other man's name in front of her husband using the cheating wife's voice.
Much like small toddlers, African grey parrots have a reputation for repeating everything they hear, so it's wise to watch your language around these birds. Greys are adept at picking up and repeating any sounds they like, including squeaky doors, vehicle back-up chimes, fire alarms, microwave alert bells, and telephone ringtones. Owners need to be vigilant about what these birds hear, as once a sound is learned, it is difficult or impossible for the bird to "unlearn" it.
African greys are said to be somewhat sensitive and easily affected by stress and commotion. They may be more relaxed if the cage is placed in a quiet corner of the room rather than in the center.
Feeding the African Grey Parrot
Fruits such as pomegranate, organic mango, and melon supplemented with a quality formulated pelleted feed is the best base diet for the African grey. Many greys also enjoy a variety of treats and snacks, such as nuts. Healthy table food, such steamed green beans, breakfast toasts, and the occasional bit of your leftover salad, is nirvana for these beautiful birds.
As with most exotic bird species, African grey should be supplemented with fresh vegetables, including leafy greens such as arugula, watercress, kale, sprouts, and healthy seeds such as hemp and flax seed. Chop will help keep your African grey parrot healthy and thriving.
Adequate amounts of exercise are crucial to maintaining the health of an African grey parrot Pet greys should be allowed to spend at least one to two hours out of their cages daily in vigorous exercise, and make sure to provide them with plenty of bird-safe chew toys to help exercise their powerful beaks.
Common Health Issues
African greys can be prone to feather picking, calcium deficiency, vitamin-A and vitamin-D deficiency, respiratory infection, psittacosis, and psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD).
Vitamin deficiencies can be prevented by making sure your bird eats a wide selection of fruits, as well as vegetables high in beta-carotene, such as cooked sweet potato and fresh kale.
Feather-picking is normally the sign of a bored bird that is not receiving enough stimulation.
More Pet Bird Species and Further Research
If the African grey parrot interests you, you may want to also consider one of these other pet bird species: