The African Grey (Psittacus erithacus) is a parrot found in the rainforests of West and Central African and one of the most well known birds in captivity. They are also regarded as one of the most intelligent birds in the world and have terrific mimic abilities and a generally gentle nature.
In their native areas, the greys have recently listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, and this is made worse by around 20% of the population being stolen from the wild each year for the illegal bird trade. Greys live in primary and second rainforests and rely on old trees for natural nesting hollows. The downside of this is that the trees they prefer are also the ones taken regularly for timber. So where deforestation occurs, the population of greys also drops.
There are two subspecies in the wild; the Congo African Grey, which is around 33cm in length with light grey feathers, cherry red rails and a black beak; and the Timneh African Grey which is slightly smaller and has darker grey feathers with a maroon tail and light patch on its beak.
In the wild, African greys whistle, click and make other sounds and in captivity this translates to mimicking a wide variety of noises they hear; the microwave, the telephone, alarm clock, computer games even a dripping tap. They will also mimic words from their owners and the sounds of other birds and animals around the home.
African Greys can be dedicated and affectionate pets who need this to be returned to them. They need interaction with humans and plenty of time out of their cage, if this is their home. They also need plenty of entertainments to avoid self-destructive behaviours.
No matter how well behaved, these are large birds which can make a large amount of noise and quite a bit of a mess. They will chew anything they come across as this is the parrot’s way of understanding their environment so can be destructive just as a run of the mill behaviour.
The cage for a bird of this type is a night time refuge or a quiet place where they will feel at their safest. Therefore, it should be made of smooth, thick bars that the bird cannot chew through or bend and also needs to be non-corrosive, as flakes of metal can be dangerous as well as messy. Easy grip, strong perches are needed as well as water and food bowls ideally of stainless steel or ceramic for ease of cleaning. The cage needs to be placed in an area where the bird can see as much of the house as possible and feel part of the house.
Toys are vital importance for the happiness of an African Grey so they can remain stimulated and avoid boredom. It is worth remembering that toys will be destroyed; this means they are doing their job and chewing up wood, cardboard and paper is a fun exercise. Even toys as simple as bundles of newspaper, pieces of cardboard or plastic straws can be enormous fun for the bird.
There are also huge amounts of shop produced toys available, and these include puzzle toys which will reward the bird with a treat for completing a task such as moving a lever. There are also noisy toys but whether these are a good idea or not is another matter!
Remember to rotate toys around and introduce new things for your grey to occupy their time with. But new items should be introduced slowly and showed from a distance first so the bird can be sure they pose no harm to them before adding to the cage.
A varied diet is an important for an African Grey as for anyone. There are pellet diets, and special seed mixes for greys as well as adding fresh fruit and vegetables. These can include carrots, squash, broccoli, kale, peppers, celery, cucumber and peas as well as fruit such as melons, apples, mango, grapes, oranges and berries.
A common diet deficiency can be a lack of vitamin A or beta-carotene so it is important to make sure you have you bird checked regularly to make sure supplements are not needed.
Fresh, clean water is also very important.
If you are lucky enough to have a suitable situation to have a pair of these wonderful birds then, there are a few tips to remember.
If you have bought a bonded pair, who preen each other and have either bred together before or are showing signs of doing so, don’t expect instant results. When moving to a new home, it may take a couple of breeding seasons to feel settled enough to nest. A good diet leading up to this will help produce healthy chicks and the birds usually lay 1-3 eggs. They do not have a set breeding season so may produce more than one clutch per year with adequate rest time between.
The chicks hatch after around 30 days and the family should be given as much privacy as possible. One of the most crucial development stages of a parrot is when it is weaning from its parents. There are numerous specialist articles available about this subject but to keep it short, it is essential that they are not taken from their parents too early as this can lead to serious behavioural problems in later life. Weaning in parrots is not merely learning to feed themselves but also emotional development, as well.
Super intelligent, excellent mimics, loving and great fun to live with, the African Grey justifies it’s position as one of the top parrots to keep as a pet or to have as a breeding bird. Like any large bird, these are not an inexpensive purchase, nor one that should be undertaken lightly. Get to know your breeder and the bird from a young age and learn to understand him or her as you would any other member of the family as that is exactly what they will be.