African Greys aka Grey Parrots

African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are endemic to primary and secondary rainforest of West and Central Africa.
African Grey Distribution Map

They have the reputation for being amongst the most intelligent of all birds. Their human-like ability to mimic speech and gentle nature have made them popular pets.

Several sub-species have been named (please refer to this page for information), but only the first two are universally accepted:
  • Congo African Grey Parrot or CAG (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) - The nominate subspecies
    • Identification: Larger than the Timneh at about 33 cm (13 in) long. Light grey feathers, bright red tails, and an all black beak
    • Range: Naturally occurs on the islands of Príncipe and Bioko and is distributed from south-eastern Ivory Coast to Western Kenya, Northwest Tanzania, Southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Northern Angola
  • Timneh African Grey Parrot or TAG (Psittacus erithacus timneh)
    • Identification: Smaller than the Congo African Greys. The plumage is a darker charcoal grey coloring. The tail is a darker maroon-color. They have a light, horn-colored area to part of the upper mandible.
    • Range: Naturally occurs in the western parts of the moist Upper Guinea forests and bordering savannas of West Africa from Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Southern Mali east to at least 70 km (43 mi) east of the Bandama River in Ivory Coast.
  • Ghana African Grey or Princeps African Grey (Psittacus erithacus princeps)
    • Identification: Similar to the Congo African Greys, but darker and slightly smaller
    • Range: Naturally occurs on Fernando Po and Principé Islands.
  • Cameroon African Grey - also known as "the Big Silvers"
    • Identification: Larger than other African Grey species and the plumage is lighter / more silvery.
    • Range: The general perception is that this species came from Cameroon -- but it is now generally believed that it originated in today's Democratic Republic of the Congo.
African Grey in flight

African Gray Overview
Provided by Dr. Rob Marshall
Originating from central Africa, the African Grey is a highly intelligent parrot and requires a committed and patient owner. Alongside the Eclectus, these birds are one of the most intelligent parrot species and possess the ability to develop a large vocabulary and communicate efficiently with their owner.

The African Grey Parrot is a medium-sized parrot between 10 to 14 inches/30cm long (Congo subspecies) of the genus Psittacus.
Average Weight & ID:
    • Congo African Grey: 380 to 554 grams (light grey plumage - red tail)
    • Timneh African Grey: 300 to 360 grams (darker / charcoal grey plumage - maroon tail)
As the name implies, the African Grey parrot is predominantly grey, with accents of white and a red or maroon tail depending on the subspecies, and the area around eyes is usually white.
Greys, like all parrots, are zygodactyl, having 4 toes on each foot—two front and two back.
African Grey head detail

African Grey BeakAfrican Grey Head Detail: Lores, Forehead, Ceres

Congo African Greys - also known as CAGs - please note the unusual red feathers on the back of the neck Possible Mutations / Different Colorations:
African Greys with red feathers scattered throughout the plumage are occasionally seen. Such birds are often referred to as " Kings "or "King Greys" and are marketed as more exotic and desirable. However, such red feathers scattered in areas where you wouldn't expect them can be an indication of damaged feather follicles (usually because of feather plucking), medication (for example administration of antibiotics at the time a bird is molting has caused temporary changes in feather coloration - these feathers are usually replaced with normal coloration feathers at the next molt). There is also a good possibility of sickness, malnutrition or over-supplementation (please refer to african grey nutrition), liver disease or kidney problems. Although it is possibly that genetics is involved and that it is a mutation. It is easy enough to differentiate that -- depending on whether an African Grey developed these red feathers over time (which would be an indication of health problems), or whether they were born with it, which would point towards genetics / mutation.
However, several recognized mutations occur naturally in the wild, such as the F2 Pied Mutation, which results in a broad red band across the abdomen. In 1998 the first Grey mutation was created when South African bird breeder Von van Antwerpen and New Zealand partner Jaco Bosman selected F2 Pieds and created the first red African Grey.
Other mutations include:
  • Albino (no pigment)
  • Lutino (yellow pigment)
  • Incomplete Ino (mostly white, but with small percentage of melanin)
  • Grizzles (soft pinkish scalloped found in its feathers)
  • Blues / White-tailed Mutation (white pigment in the tail) - A white-tailed mutation has been bred in New York City - please refer to the below photo. i will email you some photos. The blue mutation turns the red tail and rump white. Since greys are grey and hence lack psittacine, they don't actually turn blue (information provided by Lien Luu - breeder of this mutation.
  • Parino (very light scalloping found in its feathers)
Mutation Photos:
A Red African Grey was bred by breeder Hennie Diedericks from South Africa.
For additional information on african grey species, please visit this webpage.
Chart provided by Dr. Rob Marshall
African Grey
Psittacus erithacus
Size: Up to 45cm
Pet Status: Excellent
Talking Ability: Excellent
Noise Level: High
Lifespan: 40-60 years
Breeding Ability: Good
Number of Eggs: 2-4 eggs
Incubation: 21-30 days
Compatibility with other species: Good with other equally intelligent birds (ie. Eclectus)
Feeding: Seed and Fruit Eaters
Health Programmes: Follow the Parrot Health Programme.
Sexing: Cock is often larger than the hen. Surgical or DNA sexing is required. .

Gender Identification: Male or Female
Generally, males are bigger than females being about 12-14 inches at length. There are certain differences between sexes with females having a more slender neck and a narrower head.
  • Avianweb Notes: It has been hypothethized that the bare patch around the eye of the female is rounded posteriorly, but ends in a point in the male.

African Greys as Pets
African Greys are beautiful, intelligent parrots, that would make a wonderful addition to any family who fully understands their capabilities and provides them with a stimulating, interactive environment. Building a relationship takes lots of love, time and patience.
Congo African Greys and Timnehs share many personality traits, although the Timnehs are said to begin speaking earlier than Congos, and are often said to be less nervous around strangers and new situations. Timnehs are often more social than Congo African Greys who may bond more to one person. Individual personality differences do exist -- and much of it may depend on the level of socialization an African Grey got during its early stages of development as well as continued socialization throughout its life.
Due to their highly intelligent nature, the African Grey can become easily bored and inactivity may quickly lead to behavioural problems such as feather picking. African Greys that are bored have a tendency to chews things and consistent training and a diligent owner are a must for this vivacious bird.
TAG - Timneh African Grey Parrot These intelligent birds are best suited to people who have experience with pet birds and are familiar with their ongoing care requirements.
If you fulfill his or her needs, you will have a lifelong friend - as the lifespan of an African Grey is up to 60 years. A big commitment, however, if you are a true parrot lover you will appreciate having a true friend for life.
African grey parrots are particularly noted for their exceptional talking and cognitive abilities. Irene Pepperberg's extensively published research with captive African greys, including Alex, has shown that these parrots are capable of associating human words with their meanings.They also mimick sounds and voices quite accurately. (This chart lists other good and bad talkers, and respective care requirement.)

Training and Behavioral Guidance:
African Greys are amongst the easier parrots to keep. This being said, they do present challenges, such as excessive chewing - especially at certain stages in their life. They do discover their beaks as method of "disciplining us" once they are out of the "baby stage" and they can generally be somewhat naughty, and it really is important to learn to understand them and to guide their behavior before an undesirable behavior has been established. Undisciplined parrots will chew on electric wiring potentially causing house fires. They regard anything in your home as a "toy" that can be explored and chewed on; destroying items that you may hold dear or are simply valuable. Even a young bird that has not been neglected and abused requires proper guidance; this becomes even more challenging when it involves a rescued bird that may require rehabilitation.
    • Web Resources: I put together web resources for you to help you understand your pet bird and properly direct him. Please visit this website for valuable tips on parrot behavior and training.
    • If you are, as I am, a visual learner and prefer step-by-step instructions to train your pet, I recommend:
Feather-plucking African Grey

African Grey eating a fruitDiet:
In the wild, they feed primarily on palm nuts, fruits and seeds, supplemented by leafy matter. They have even been observed eating snails.
However, captive-bred African Greys are often fed a diet of seeds, grain, pellets* and fruits / veggies. African Greys are often inflicted with calcium deficiencies, and I found it challenging to get my African Greys to eat from their cuddlebones. My solution was to scrape it over their daily soft food. This method worked well for me. Grinding up egg shells and mixing that in with the soft food is also a great way to increase your Grey's calcium consumption.
*Please note: When feeding pellets to your pet, please be aware of the fact that overly feeding citrus fruits (including oranges) or vitamin-C-rich foods to your birds can lead to "Iron Overload Disease" as vitamin C increases the amount of iron absorbed from foods.

African Grey chickBreeding African Greys:
African Greys are generally easy to breed as long as they are happy with their breeding set up. They are not shy, bond relatively easily and generally make good parents. African Grey chicks are easier to raise than say cockatoo, cockatiel or eclectus chicks.
In the U.S., there are enough domestically raised birds to easily satisfy the demand for pets, so support for a black market in illegally imported African Greys is not strong.
African Greys are amongst the most popular companion birds because of their talking / mimicking ability that is endearing to pet owners. The life expectancy for an African Grey is sixty to ninety years and they continue to produce for their lifetime.
As males and females look alike, it's best to have them DNA sexed to ensure that you set up true pairs. Some breeders state that they can visually sex african greys by the shape of their heads and size of the beak, but these are educated guesses at best. DNA sexing is inexpensive (around $20) - it really isn't worth taking wasting time by potentially setting up incompatible pairs.
Most breeders agree that an L-shaped box set up in a quiet area of the breeding cage / aviary works best. Suspended California breeding cages - (minimum dimensions: two feet wide by three feet high by six feet deep) - are a good choice. Visual barriers between the cages are recommended - unless there is at least two feet of space between the cages. Any closer spacing without barriers results in territorial competition with constant sparring between the males. Securely fastened and stable perches are necessary for mating. These can be 3/4 of an inch to 3 inches in diameter. The variation in width provides for exercise for the birds' feet. Also install at least one cement-type perch to help keep their nails trimmed. Place this grooming perch in an area the parrots spend a good part of their time (maybe by the feeding station).
Congo African Grey exercising with his harness on
African Greys normally mate several times a day for several weeks before the first egg is laid. A clutch may average 2 to 5 eggs. It's best not to bother the parents too much; maybe check the nesting box once a day when the parents are eating. You don't want to risk abandoned or broken eggs. The chicks should hatch 28 to 30 days later. Just before hatching, breeders note that the food consumption of the parent birds drastically increase as they physically prepare themselves for the demanding job of raising the chicks and are “stocking up” on food reserves that will be needed for feeding the chicks.
You may want to pull the chicks for hand feeding when they are about 15 to 21 days old. All chicks must be removed together. African Grey parents will not care for a single chick left in the nest. Also, they are very protective of their chicks, therefore, special precaution have to be taken when removing the chicks as the parents will be aggressive. The best way may be to use a bird net to scoop up the babies.  Maybe use a magazine or books to separate the parents from the chicks.  If the parents were outside the nest box (which is the best scenario) – close the nest box entrance hole off with a magazine or piece of wood, while scooping up the chicks.   Weang gloves to protect the hands from the parents' attacks is not recommended, as the chicks require gentle handling and you need to be able to touch and feel them or risk dropping or accidentally hurting them in other ways.



Christa Noort said...

It's illegal in the Netherlands (Europe) to remove chicks from the parents before they leave the nest. It really screws up their wellbeing not to be able te learn "how to parrot" and leads to a lot of problem behaviour.
They get just as tame & trusting if you seperate them later.
Of course this will lower the productivity of the parents in the breeding farms... quality over quantity!

Sexing is actually surpisingly easy (over 85% accuracy for beginners): just check out the onderside of the tail. Females will have a white middle part of the feathers as wel as a grey outher edge, males have dark grey center-shaft and no grey lining (solid red).

To be 100% sure get a test done of course, just as you test your birds on the well known diseases before you even think about placing them together...
(all common sense)

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