If you are interested in owning a pet bird, you might have come across the grey parrot. This is a beautiful bird that can learn more than a hundred words and use them to speak in context.
Moreover, the parrot has been reported to become attuned over time to its owner’s emotions. It is an understatement to say that the grey parrot is among the most intelligent pet birds you can own.
The grey parrot is also called the African grey parrot, Congo African grey parrot or Congo grey parrot. It is one of the oldest pet species with a record in biblical times. The parrot belongs to the Psittaciformes order, Psittacidae family and Psittacus genus.
Its scientific name is Psittacus erithacus. Though most of the birds look similar, there are two distinct subspecies of African grey parrots. These include the popular Congo African grey and the Timneh African grey that was recognized in 2012.
The following are facts on the grey parrot that will help you discover what makes the bird special.
Grey Parrot Origin and Natural Habitat
The Congo grey parrot is a native of equatorial Africa including Kenya, Uganda, the Congo, Gabon, Angola, Cameroon and Ivory Coast. The Timneh African grey lives in small populations along Ivory Coast’s western edge and southern Guinea.
There are currently estimated to be about 630,000-13 million grey parrots globally. Unfortunately, the bird’s numbers are rapidly dwindling because of illegal pet trading that sees most of them die on transit and the destruction of natural habitats.
The birds are also hunted for their meat along with their body parts that are used in traditional medicine. These practices have led to the grey parrot’s inclusion as an endangered species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list.
The grey parrot favors dense forests though it can also be found in mangrove forests, forest edges and places with open vegetation like the savanna. Occasionally, the bird has been found in gardens and cultivated areas.
In the wild, the diets of grey parrots primarily comprise fruits, seeds, palm nuts and leafy plants. Here, they forage in groups of fifty birds at most. The birds supplement their diet in the wild with bark, flowers and invertebrates like snails and insects.
Grey Parrot Appearance
As the name suggests, the African grey parrot is primarily grey with its feathers sporting a thin pale edge. Its silver-grey color is dark on the wings and head then lightens around the belly.
The feathers on the head and tail have white edges that give the bird a scaled-like look. The bird’s tail feathers are bright red though older birds feature random bright red body feathers as well.
Some South African breeders have selected the older birds for breeding leading to the creation of an all-red grey parrot species that is quite expensive.
The face of an African grey parrot has bare white skin that might blush when the parrot is agitated. On hatching, its iris is black then lightens to a yellowish silver tint with the bird’s maturity.
The beak of the Timneh grey parrot is a darker steel grey compared to that of the African grey parrot. The Timneh parrot also has a maroon tail and a horn-colored upper mandible, unlike the black one in the African grey parrot. Despite the differences in their appearance, both types of grey parrots make excellent pets.
Grey Parrot Food and Diet
The ideal diet for a pet grey parrot is one primarily comprising a high-quality pelleted feed because this delivers a balanced diet and does not allow selective feeding. It should be not less than 75% of your parrot’s diet.
Supplement the pelleted feeds with fruits like melons, oranges, papayas, apples, mangoes and pomegranates. It would be best to also give your pet parrot plenty of vegetables like watercress, green beans, broccoli, carrots, sprouts, kales and arugula. This can be 20-25% of the bird’s diet.
You can start with a half cup of parrot-based pellet feeds with a quarter cup of vegetables and fruits daily then increase the portions as per your bird’s appetite. Always chop up the fruits and veggies before feeding the bird.
Leftovers should not be left in the parrot’s cage for too long because they might cause grave digestive issues if your bird feeds on them. Healthy seeds like flaxseed and hemp will go a long way in boosting your grey parrot’s well being.
Most bird owners assume that a mixed seed diet is the best choice for their pets. Though this works in some instances, grey parrots often pick their favorite seeds from the mix.
This places them at a considerable risk of getting nutritional deficiencies because they avoid certain seeds. Treats for your bird should make up a maximum of 5% of its diet. The treats can be nuts or healthy table foods like salads, green beans and breakfast toast.
African grey parrots are susceptible to vitamin A deficiency. They will thus benefit immensely from a diet that is high in vitamin A/beta-carotene.
Fresh kales and cooked sweet potatoes are good options for preventing the deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is often an issue for parrots that have been raised on an overall poor diet.
Grey Parrot Weight and Size
The Congo grey parrot is somewhat sexually dysmorphic. The male is, however, larger than the female measuring 12-16 inches long and weighing 400-650 g.
Its wingspan is 18-20 inches. The Timneh grey parrot measures 9-11 inches in length and weighs 250-375 g.
What is the Lifespan of Grey Parrots?
On average, African grey parrots live for 40-60 years in captivity. Even so, there are instances of the parrots living for 80 years in captivity with optimal care. As such, you should commit yourself to a lifetime of caring for the bird.
You might assume that this is not an issue because you can always give the bird to someone who can better take care of it if you, for any reason, cannot do so. Even so, African grey parrots are quite emotionally sensitive and will not thrive when they are bounced off from one owner to the next.
Your best choice when you are unable to take care of the parrot is to give it to someone that has formed an emotional connection with the bird for some time.
Grey Parrot Breeding
Grey parrots are monogamous and will form lifelong bonds with their partners. In the wild, they breed in colonies with each pair having its nesting tree. The nests are in tree cavities where female parrots will lay 3-5 eggs then incubate them for thirty days.
During the incubation period, the male parrot will feed the female. Both parents will defend their hatched chicks until they are mature enough to go off on their own.
The chicks leave the nest after 12 weeks and will be fully independent when they reach 2-3 years. African grey parrots attain reproductive maturity at 3-5 years old.
In captivity, grey parrots are not so difficult to breed provided you meet some conditions. The birds should feel secure, have enough privacy, have a good nesting box and be given a proper diet.
Since the males and females look alike, you will need DNA sexing to differentiate the birds so that you get true pairs. An L-shaped nesting box is an ideal choice for breeding grey parrots. The parrot usually mates multiple times daily for several weeks until the female lays the first egg.
Its clutch averages 2-5 eggs. The food consumption of parent grey parrots will increase as hatching nears because they are preparing themselves for the physically demanding task of taking care of their chicks. The ideal diet at this point should be 30% of a good seed mix and 70% pelleted feeds to give them enough fat.
You can start hand feeding the chicks when they are 15-21 days old. Chicks that are handled by humans while still in their parents’ cages have been shown to have fewer behavioral issues when they mature than those that are not.
If you opt to remove the chicks from the parents’ nest, remove all of them. This is because parent grey parrots will not take care of one chick left in their nests after getting several chicks. Be careful when removing the chicks because the parents are quite protective and might attack you.
Grey Parrot Talking Ability
The talking ability of a grey parrot is its primary attraction as a pet. This is among the best talkers among the parrot species and can repeat phrases and words after only hearing them once or twice.
Most birds attain full talking ability when they turn a year old. Alex, the most famous grey parrot, had about 150 words in its vocabulary and knew how to add small numbers.
Like toddlers, grey parrots often repeat what they hear. In fact, their intelligence levels have been likened to those of five-year-old babies. Therefore, it is wise to watch what is said around the parrot because when they learn a sound or phrase, getting the birds to “unlearn” it is challenging.
If you want to teach your parrot to speak, repeat the sounds you are teaching and praise the bird when it correctly vocalizes them. Talk to the parrot regularly for it to grasp the words and phrases you want it to.
It is a myth that if you whistle with your parrot, you are hindering its speech. Parrots naturally love fitting in and will strive to learn human vocabulary so that they connect with the members of your household. When your grey parrot develops its speech, it will increase its vocabulary as it grows older.
Cage Size for Grey Parrots
The grey parrot is a medium-sized bird that needs enough living space. Its cage should be at least 2 x 2 feet with a height of 3 feet. The enclosure should be as spacious as possible so that your pet bird can fully extend and flap its wings without touching the walls. Grey parrot cages should be secure, clean and safe.
A grey parrot that is bored or alone is often depressed and angry. These emotions will affect its speech. Aim for plenty of interactions in the cage for your pet to remain active and in an optimal mental state.
You can boost mental stimulation in the cage by providing perches of different widths, textures and sizes. These perches do not just keep your bird busy, but will also help to maintain its toenails and reflect the bird’s natural habitat, thus boosting its comfort.
Do not place the perches over food bowls and water bottles because you will contaminate your bird’s food.
In the cage, include some chew toys as well to exercise the bird’s beak. Your pet bird should have some time outside its cage to exercise. Take the grey parrot out of its cage for 1-2 hours daily for vigorous exercise.
The room for exercising should be “bird-safe” to minimize the risk of drowning, electrocution and toxin ingestion for your parrot.
Are Grey Parrots Noisy?
In the wild, African grey parrots are sociable and noisy more so at night when they gather on tall trees in groups. The birds communicate with each other using high-pitched whistles and screams.
Fortunately, in captivity, grey parrots are not loud screamers. You can also train them to stop screaming and whistling when keeping them as pets.
They are thus good options for those who live in condos and apartments. However, neglected birds can start screaming to voice their dissatisfaction and prove quite noisy.
The above information is enough to make you the best possible grey parrot owner. You can get the bird from a breeder or pet store. Before getting your bird, check local laws on any licenses and restrictions concerning grey parrots.
Take time to study the bird’s health and origin histories so that you do not end up with a sick parrot or support illegal bird trade. When you get the bird, stick to routine vet exams every 6-12 months.
During the visits, the vet will conduct periodic fecal examinations for bacteria, yeast and parasites. Your grey parrot will also be vaccinated against polyomavirus while the nails and wings will be trimmed as needed.