Scientific Name: Psittacus erithacus
Adult Size: 11 to 14 inches (28 to 36 cm), depending on subspecies
Weight: 10 to 23 ounces (275 to 650 g)
Life Span: 50 years or more
Talking Ability: excellent
Of the larger parrots, the African grey is one of the most popular pet birds, and it's no wonder why. They are amazingly intelligent and possess the ability to talk and bond with their human companions. Let's learn a little more about them to help you decide if an African grey is right for you. If you already live with one, I'm sure you will learn something new.
There are two subspecies of African greys—the Congo grey (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) and the Timneh grey (Psittacus erithacus timneh)—and they differ slightly in size and color. The more common of the two is the Congo grey, which is also the larger subspecies, reaching a total length of 13 to 14 inches (33 to 36 cm). While both subspecies are predominantly colored shades of gray, the Congo is lighter overall. The tail is bright red, and the beak is black (An immature Congo has dark gray tips on the tail feathers.) A Congo's feathers have a highly scalloped appearance. Very large, light-colored Congos are sometimes called Cameroon greys because it was once thought that they were found only in that country.
Timneh greys reach lengths of about 11 inches (28 cm). The feathers are a much darker gray, and the tail varies in color from maroon to dark gray to black. The beak is horn or ivory in color.
Both Congos and Timnehs are stocky parrots with short tails. There is an area of bare skin around the eye that is white in color. The feet are gray with black toenails. An African grey's eyes change color as he gets older, starting out gray and eventually becoming light yellow after about three years of age.
Like all parrots and parakeets, African greys are part of the large group of birds called Psittaciformes, and parrots are sometimes called psittacines [SIT a seens]. Parrots are also called hookbills for their strongly hooked bills that the birds use for climbing, digging, cracking open seeds, and preening their feathers.
In the Wild
The African grey has a wide range on the continent of Africa, with Congos and Timnehs coming from different areas. Congos range from southeastern Ivory Coast to western Kenya, northwestern Tanzania, and northern Angola. Timnehs are found in West Africa from the western part of Ivory Coast to Guinea-Bissau and Mali. They live in rainforests and the savannahs that border them. These highly social birds live in flocks that can number up to 200 individuals, although most flocks are much smaller. They spend their days eating, preening each other, napping, flying from one feeding area to another, and avoiding predators. African greys eat a wide range of food in the wild, including leaves, fruits, nuts, twigs, seeds, and the occasional insect or small animal.
African Greys as Pets
An African grey can make a wonderful pet for the right household. However, these are sensitive, intelligent birds who have some exacting requirements. A person who adopts a grey without understanding his needs is likely to end up with a depressed and neurotic bird who screams, bites, or self-mutilates. In this situation, both human and bird will be miserable. To the person prepared for the responsibility of caring for a grey, he will be a loyal, loving companion who will accompany that person for quite possibly the rest of his or her life.
African greys need large, sturdy cages—the bigger the better. Make sure that the bars of the cage are spaced so that your bird cannot stick his head out between them. He also needs perches in a variety of sizes and materials to keep his feet healthy. Provide numerous toys to keep him mentally stimulated when you aren't around; rotate the toys regularly so that he doesn't get bored.
No matter how large your grey's cage is, he needs plenty of time outside of it interacting with you. Remember that greys are social birds, and you are now a member of his flock. Plan to spend two hours or more training, petting, grooming, and just being with your grey.
Your grey will need fresh food—a variety of fruits, vegetables, cooked grains and beans, and healthy human food—two times a day. He should have pellets available all day. Provide a small amount of seeds and nuts once a day. A grey requires fresh, clean water available at all times. Like other parrots, greys can be messy eaters, so be prepared to clean the water bowl, cage, and surrounding area regularly.
African greys may very well be the most intelligent birds—perhaps even the most intelligent pets. They learn tricks easily and are one of the best talkers of all the parrots. Several studies have confirmed that these parrots often have some idea of what words mean and will use them in proper context. They are one of the few pets who can actually talk to their humans.