The African grey parrot — as Congo African grey or Timneh — has grown vastly in popularity not only in the US and Europe but also in the MidEast and Asia. As in the past wild-sourcing supplemented legitimate supply, the African grey has been listed on CITES Appendix I since January 2017. [For the impact of the listing, see our article in HatchLine.] Affectionately denominated the “Einstein” of parrots for its vocal intelligence, the grey parrot in the domestic setting charms also with its playfulness. Grey parrots live between forty and sixty years domestically, but only about 27 years in the wild.

Jean Eckhart Pattison, one of the foremost US experts on African greys, describes the grey as “the proper Englishman, who doesn’t want his grey tweed suit mussed.” Among the best mimicry artists with the clear tone of the human voice, African greys rank amongst the most popular of avian companions. The African Grey Parrot site describes African grey parrots as “loving,” and “playful,” with “the intelligence [of] a five-year old [and] the temperament of a two-year old.”

The “African grey parrot” refers is a nominate species, the Congo African grey (Psittacus erithacus erithacus), or CAG, which has bright red tail feathers. Both the red-tailed CAG and the maroon-tailed Timneh (Psittacus erithacus timneh) are subspecies of the nominate species. Wikipedia, however, claims incorrectly that the Timneh is a separate species, Psittacus timneh. There is a also third subspecies, (Psittacus erithacus princeps).

“Congo African grey,” also “Cameroon grey,” only mean “grey parrot”, the terms do not constitute a claim about the country of origin. The CAG inhabits a wide African range, varying in both size and color due to a geographically diversified gene pool. [See diagram below.]

While initially grey parrots predominantly sourced from Congo/Zaire, Congo was first to outlaw its exportation. After that, grey parrots were trapped illegally in Congo/Zaire, smuggled to Cameroon, and legally exported from Cameroon, hence the name “Cameroon grey.”

Generally speaking, as indicated below in Jean Pattison’s diagram, the darker and smaller the CAG (i.e., around 12 inches in length and less than 14 ounces), the nearer the bird’s origin to a center located in or around Ghana/ Burkina Faso. The further the CAG’s origin from that center — indicated below by concentric arcs — the larger the CAG (i.e., closer to 14 inches in length). Moving eastward from the center — the light grey swathe — CAGs exhibit lighter color. Thus, CAG from northwestern Tanzania will likely be larger and lighter than a CAG from Ghana; conversely, a grey from coastal Angola will be both relatively dark and large (close to 1 lb).

Color and weight variation in African grey parrots (Courtesy of Jean Eckhart Pattison)

The Timneh, on the other hand, is only about ten inches in length, has a horn-colored upper mandible and a maroon tail. Timnehs typically originate from Western African countries like Sierra Leone.

According to Animal Diversity, greys typically dwell in lowland forest or wooded savannah, but also can be found at heights of as much as 2,200 m. Primarily fruit-eaters (frugivores), the African grey’s diet is also rich in nut and seed.

Grey parrots reach sexual maturity at between three and five years of age and in the wild breed once or twice a year. As avian reproductive hormone surges can disrupt the domestic ecosystem, in caring for your grey parrot or other bird, beware three factors in your bird’s environment to manage their hormones: light, soft food, and nesting material. The interplay of those three elements largely influences the triggered release of reproductive hormones.

Female greys typically lay between three and five eggs; incubation takes about 30 days; and chicks remain in the nest for approximately twelve weeks.

A partial ground-feeder, it flocks in trees above food, socializing and preening, only descending a few at a time, maintaining watch from above. The palm-nut vulture and hawks are its primary avian predators. Other predators may prey on greys while they feed on the ground.

African greys are selective in mating and bonding and are monogamous for life. Interestingly, aviary-raised greys in the typical domestic setting rarely reproduce: while courtship behaviors may occur, the males rarely consummate the courtship. Thus, expert animal husbandry is critical in preserving this increasingly domesticated species. Techniques such as flock-rearing and parent-raising optimize imprinting and so switch on gene triggers that lead to full fertility at maturity.

If you ever come to care for a grey, understand it has some special needs. African greys commonly become deficient in calcium so their diet must ensure adequate calcium intake. Their intelligence makes them prone to anxiety from boredom: plucking readily ensues. Expect to take additional care to establish foraging behaviors; expect to provide an abundance of toys that encourage the natural behaviors of shredding and destroying. Consider positive reinforcement (clicker) training as a way of developing challenges for your parrot as well. Acquire the largest TWO cages you can, one for indoors, one for outdoors so that they can get vitamin D from sunshine to help actuate the calcium.


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