The African Grey Parrot, Psittacus erithacus, is the largest parrot found in Africa. Wild greys range throughout Central and Western Africa, and can be found in western sections of East African countries. They live in primary and secondary rainforest, forest edges and clearings.
There are two types of African grey parrots; some authorities consider them different “races”, others consider them sub-species, while still others classify them as different species.
The Congo, P. e. erithacus, is the larger of the two birds, with bright red tail feathers and a black beak. Congos are generally characterized as slightly more intelligent, but also more high-strung than Timnehs.
The Timneh, P. e. timneh, is smaller, its tail feathers are more of a maroon-grey mixture, and its beak includes tints of a reddish-beige color. These birds are characteristically less high-strung and more mellow than Congos.
Some evidence indicates there may be a third sub-species, P. e. princeps, found only on the islands of Princpe and Bioko. It is reported to be larger and darker than P. erithacus; however, it may also be the same sub-species with a regional adaptation of colors restricted to those locales.
Greys feed on the fruits, seeds, nuts and berries of several native rainforest species, including the flesh of oil-palm trees. They usually gather food by climbing into the top branches of trees. Although they can fly, they are very adept climbers, often showing more skill maneuvering through tree canopies than while flying through the air.
African grey parrots nest in tree holes. Their preferred nest sites are in trees or palms over water or on islands in rivers. After hatching, the three or four nestlings stay in the nest for almost three months.
Greys are prized as pets because of their ability to learn to speak like humans. They are very vocal in the wild, communicating with a large repertoire of shrill whistles, squawks, and screams, while flying or perching. They often mimic other birds and mammals. This is evident in many pet parrots, as they imitate cats, chickens, owls and other domestic and wild animals.
The African grey’s talent to mimic is not restricted to human speech; they readily and skillfully imitate many other “human” sounds like microwaves, doorbells, telephones, coffee grinders and percolators, computer modems and water faucets, to name just a few.
This talent made greys one of the first parrot species to be imported to Europe as a caged bird. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, (CITES), it is illegal to import wild greys into North America. It is still legal to import them in Europe, but conservation groups like the World Parrot Trust are working to change that.
Like many other parrot species, African grey parrots can live to be very old. The average age of greys living as pets ranges between 40 and 50 years old; it is not unusual for them to live longer.
Because of this, and because they are flock animals that crave company, it is important to think long and hard before deciding to purchase a grey or any other parrot, for that matter. Hand-raised African greys will develop a very close partnership with their keeper. This means the keeper has to be prepared to devote a great deal of time towards “his” or “her” bird, otherwise it soon will show neurotic behaviors, like plucking out or chewing feathers.
African grey parrots are very intelligent, sensitive, loving creatures, but their avian nature drives them to try to dominate any flock of which they are part, including human-avian flocks.
Your relationship with your parrot must be based on mutual understanding, respect and communication, NOT dominance. Try to dominate a bird, and you will probably end up with a great deal of grief. They have to know what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior in the home – but you also have to know and respect their limits, how far you can go when dealing with them.
– John Geary