Order: Psittaciformes (parrots)
Family: Psittacidae (family of true parrots)
Subfamily: Psittacinae (Old World parrots)
Species: P. Erithacus
Wingspan: 18 – 20in / 46 – 52cm
Appearance: The African Grey Parrot is a medium-sized bird, coloured mostly in grey, with tail and undertail in red and a black beak. Their eyes are greyish. The male and female look similar in size and pigmentation.
Procreation: Monogamy is typical for the African Grey they have only one partner for life. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs which she incubates for a month. After being hatched, the young birds are able to leave the nest at the age of 3 months. The male takes part in raising the juveniles.
Temperament: African Grey Parrots are some of the most popular pet birds, they are wellknown with their high level of intelligence, this means they can easily get bored. They need daily brain stimulation, to avoid behavioural problems developing. Because of their intelligence and friendly personality, African Grey Parrots are often chosen to play roles in film and video clips.
Talkativeness: African Grey Parrots are capable of learning and recreating words and phrases, but not all of them will do it. Even if they don’t want to talk, these birds are so smart that they can definitely find another way to communicate with people.
Environment: The African Grey Parrot is extremely adaptable. Today there are more parrots living with people than in the wild. They do prefer quiet and calm homes, loud noises can make them nervous.
Preferred Food: fruits, nuts, leaves, bark and flowers, also insects.
Relationship with People: African Grey Parrots have an extremely sensitive nature, but they are really good companions, mostly because of their ability to understand and use human words and phrases. They can live happily with people, even families with children for years.
Common Health Problems: vitamin A and D and also calcium deficiencies, atherosclerosis, heart and weight problems. African Grey Parrots need physical exercise.
Lifespan: 50 70 years.
How to Train African Grey Parrot
- Your African Gray Parrot is a quick learner and has a level of intelligence which allows it to understand basic commands and comprehend new information easily. Training your pet parrot can be a fun bounding experience but should be done carefully, as they have short attention spans and tend to get bored easily.
- When you take your pet bird out of the cage, allow it some time to perch its wings and lose some steam. An irritated bird is much harder to train as it can even chose to disobey your commands intentionally.
- Building trust comes first: don’t yell at your bird, neither punish it for negative behaviour.
- Keep their minds engaged with short training sessions: 10 to 15 minutes is ideal for a session, and you can conduct several sessions per day. The key is not to go over 15 minutes, as African Grey Parrots tend to get bored easily.
- Keep all distractions away. Turn music and TV down, and remove any jewellery or colourful clothing. This will keep your pet focused on the session instead on the various shiny objects in the room. Their short attention spans are no sign of lack of intelligence. In reality, African Greys are very intelligent birds and new stimuli can get their attention with ease. If your bird doesn’t pay attention, take a quick break from the session, and renew it after several minutes.
- It is a good idea to start your training with what experts call “the earthquake”. Assure your parrot has a good grip on your fingers, and quickly lower your arm as your bird sits on it. This will teach your bird how to hold a firm grip and keep balance, as well as trust you when it sits on your arm. It is also a good physical exercise for the parrot.
- Once your African Grey has gotten the hang of “the earthquake”, you can proceed with wordplay. You can start with whatever words you want to teach as commands, but it’s better to begin with “flap”. Flapping the wings is part of the natural behaviour of the parrot, so it is easier to teach it as a command. Later on, you can proceed with “Eagle”, or “Step Up”.
- When your bird follows your commands, never forget to give a treat. It is better to reward positive behaviour with positive reinforcement and ignore negative behaviour. Never yell at your parrot, as this may cause it to lose respect for you, become irritated and even bite. If your bird does not follow your commands, say “no” firmly. With time, your bird will learn to distinguish between “yes” and “no”, especially if you use “no” as a command to stop unwanted behaviour.
- Do not expect your African Grey to begin talking immediately. Most African Grey do not develop “speaking” habits until one year of age. Also, keep in mind that in nature they use this ability to divert attention away from them. Do not expect your parrot to do so for your amusement whenever you feel like showing your pet to your friends.
Causes of Biting
If your African Grey keeps biting you, you must keep in mind this is not the norm. In nature, Greys rarely bite each other. This is a learned behaviour and should be corrected for both the safety of the bird, and your own. To do so, we need to understand what causes African Grey Parrots to bite.
- Fear: often African Greys bite out of fear, as a “fight-or-flight” response to a stressful situation. In the wild, most birds take the flight response but in captivity, they have nowhere to flee to. Make sure your bird isn’t hurt, or afraid of the sound of any of your household appliances. Microwaves, TV sets and vacuum cleaners can be quite stressful for your pet.
- Territorial Dominance: another simple explanation for biting is your bird may be protecting his territory. This includes not only the cage and his toys, but other birds and pets in your property, and even the human that he has bonded to.
- Hormonal: just like in humans (especially teenagers!) birds experience hormonal changes. During moulting periods or breeding season, your African Grey may become irritable, moody and tense which could lead to biting. Be respectful of their moods during these periods and leave your bird alone when they don’t want your attention.
- Medical and Hormonal: often your bird might want to be left alone. As with humans, this is normal behaviour when your parrot is feeling unwell, or when it experiences hormonal changes during moulting periods or the breeding season. If your bird starts biting and expressing irritation, have him examined by an avian veterinarian.
- Playing: occasional biting might occur when your parrot is overexcited, or unexpectedly grabs some part of you to keep his balance.
The African Grey Parrot originates from west-central part of Africa. There are two recognised subspecies of African Grey Parrots:
- The Congo African Grey: endemic to Congo and the west-central parts of Africa, this parrot is also known as the Red Tailed Grey. The tails are darker, red towards the tip, and the irises become pale yellow by the time is an year old. It can reach the size of 33 cm.
- Timneh African Grey Parrot: the habitat of the Timneh Grey Parrot includes Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the western parts of Ivory Coast. It’s darker than its Congo cousin, with pink pigmentation on the upper third of the upper mandible. It is also smaller than the Congo Grey Parrot, reaching no more than 30 cm.
The species was first described as pets in the 19th century by Dr. W. T. Greene, who is the author of several works on birds. However, the history of African Greys probably goes back to Biblical times. Dr. Greene believed the bird was known to ancient Hebrews in 2000 BC, and there are enough evidence to support his theory. In the early days of its history as pets, African Greys were frequently called “Jaco” birds. The etymology of this name was rooted in the natural cry of the bird, and was probably given by Portuguese seafarers who kept them as company on long voyages.
Recently it was discovered African Greys are more rare then previously thought, and today there is a ban on international market trading of both Congo and Timneh wild parrots. If your bird is less than ten years old, it was probably bred domestically, which is far better for both you and your bird. Should you suspect the bird you are about to buy is smuggled, do not go through with the purchase. This not only encourage illegal trade, but can also result in spread of disease. Always buy from a reputable breeder or bird shop.
- You should provide your African Grey with a large cage, with enough space for it to spread its wings. The minimum recommended size is 3 ft by 2 ft by 3 ft tall but bigger is always better. Bar spacing should be 3/4 to 1 inch. Don’t forget to add horizontal bars to allow the parrot to climb on the sides of the cage.
- Place the cage in a part of the house where your pet will have enough contact with people, but avoid the busiest areas (such as in front of the TV). Keep away from windows and direct sunlight, as your bird might overheat, but make sure there’s enough natural lighting, as the birds requires full-spectrum light. Also keep away from draughts, heat vents, or air conditioning ducts.
- Provide new toys regularly to engage his mind as well as his body. Teach and encourage play and forage, and spend some time socialising with your pet on a daily basis. Give enough attention, and don’t forget to include a selection of perches with the toys. Avoid slippery perches, as well as sandpaper covered ones.
- Allow your bird some time out of the cage on a daily basis. This way the annual physical examination and clinical testing will give better results, and you won’t have to worry about your pet’s health.
Quality and Quantity of the Food
- Give high quality, nutritious food. Include seeds, figs and fruits. Your African Grey requires a varied diet.
- Pelleted foods should be used only as a foundation.
- Although African Greys are prone to calcium deficiency, avoid calcium supplements to the food, unless advised by a veterinarian. However, it is a good idea to include leafy green vegetables, such as kale, mustard greens, spinach and Swiss chard.
- It goes without saying, but fresh water should be available at all times, and all dishes should be washed daily to prevent bacteria spread and food poisoning.