African Grey Parrot

25th June 2010

Distribution: Overall, this species has an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 3,000,000 km2. The African Grey Parrot is endemic to western and central Africa and its distribution extends from Guinea-Bissau east through the moist lowland forests of West Africa to Cameroon , and thence in the Congo forests to just east of the Albertine Rift (up to the shores of Lake Victoria) and south to northern Angola. It has been recorded in the following countries: Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda

Two subspecies of African Greys are officially recognized: Psittacus erithacus erithacusand Psittacus erithacus timneh. Some aviculturalists recognize a third and even a fourth subspecies, but these are not distinguishable in scientific studies. The "Ghana African Grey," formerly recognized as subspecies Psittacus erithacus princeps , is described as similar to the Congo African Greys, but darker and slightly smaller, and originates from Fernando Po and Principé Islands. The "Cameroon African Grey," most often referred to as "the big silvers," is supposedly a larger and lighter form which actually has its origin in birds not from Cameroon but from today's Democratic Republic of the Congo .

Status: Preliminary calculations based on forest cover and country-level population estimates suggest a global population of between 680,000 and 13 million individuals.

The African Grey Parrot is listed on CITES appendix II, which restricts trade of wild caught species, because wild populations can not sustain trapping for the pet trade. There is a positive relationship between the status of the species and the status of primary forest :where the forests are declining, so too are populations of Grey parrots. Rarer than previously believed, it has been uplisted from a species of Least Concern to Near Threatened in the 2007 IUCN Red List. A recent analysis suggests that up to 21% of the global population may be taken from the wild annually, primarily for the pet trade.

The species has been heavily traded: between 1994 and 2003, over 359,000 wild-caught individuals were reported exported from range states. It is one of the most popular avian pets in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East due to its longevity and unparalleled ability to mimic human speech and other sounds. Demand for wild birds is also increasing in China, and increased presence of Chinese businesses in central Africa (particularly for mining, oil and logging) may increase illegal exports of this species.


Population declines have been noted in Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Prncipe, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda and parts of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In all of these declines, trapping for the wild bird trade has been implicated, with habitat loss also having significant impacts throughout West and East Africa. While there has been some domestic demand within range states, most impacts seem to be due to international trade, probably due to the high value of this species.

In response to the continuing population declines, exceeded quotas and unsustainable and illegal trade, CITES included the grey parrot in Phase VI of the CITES Review of Significant Trade in 2004. This review has resulted in recommended zero export quotas for several range states and a CITES Decision to develop regional management plans for the species.

In the United States, importation of wild-caught Grey parrots is prohibited under the U.S. Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992. In the European Union, an EU Directive of 2007 prevents importation of this and any other "wild-caught" bird for the pet trade.

Habitat: Although typically inhabiting dense forest -such as primary and secondary rainforests-, the African Grey Parrot is commonly observed at forest edges, clearings, gallery forest, mangroves, wooded savannah, cultivated areas, and even parks and gardens, but it is not clear whether these are self-sustaining populations.

Generally, this parrot tends to abandon deforested areas and will even settle near towns and villages, where it feasts on the the cultivated crop fields.

General habits: At least in West Africa, the African Grey Parrot makes seasonal movements out of the driest parts of the range in the dry season. It is also known to travel several kilometres to drink

The African Grey Parrot has zygodactyle legs with two toes facing forward and two facing backward. The upper part of its bill is articulated to its frontal bone and can thus rotate upward, while the lower part can move forward and backward. Thanks to those two particularities, the African Grey is an excellent climber. It is clumsy on the ground, though, and spends a minimum of time there.

Feeding habits: The African Grey Parrot feeds primarily on nuts and fruits, supplemented by leafy matter. It also consumes seeds in forests or on agricultural land. It's enthusiasm for cereals - notably corn -, bananas, peanuts, coconuts, cola nuts palm nuts, and the subsequent damage it causes to agriculture localy have made this parrot quite unpopular with peasants.

Breeding habits: The African Grey Parrot's courtship ritual is not intricate.

Nest: Grey parrots depend on large old trees for the natural hollows they use for nesting. Studies in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau have found that the preferred species of nesting trees are also preferred timber species.

Eggs: The female lays 2 or 3 eggs which will take roughly 29 days to hatch. During the whole period of incubation, the female only leaves the nest early in the morning and late in the evening to feed and drink. The rest of the time, it is the male's duty to feed her while she sits on the eggs.

Young: African Grey Parrot chicks are fed by their two parents and become independent at roughly 3 months.

One problem that often confronts people who acquire a baby parrot of a larger species is that they have a very long maturation cycle that makes them seem like eternal babies. African Greys, like cockatoos, macaws, Amazons and all large psittacines, go through approximately five years of "childhood" and then five years of "adolescence," during which they are relatively docile, tractable and affectionate. As they reach adulthood their personalities change, and the cute, cuddly baby may become a demanding, willful, destructive creature with an awkward mix of wild instincts and learned domestic behaviors, and his klutzy infantile behavior turns into powerful agility. An African Grey has a long lifespan of about 73 years.

Immature birds have tails with a darker, duller red towards the tip until their first moult which occurs within 18 months of age. These birds also initially have grey irises which change to a pale yellow colour by the time the bird is a year old.

Description:. The Congo African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) is the dominant subspecies, larger than the Timneh at about 33 cm (28 to 39) long for a weight of 400 to 500 grams. As the name implies, it is predominantly grey , with accents of white: They have dark grey wings and a pale grey rump. The head and neck feathers have paler margins, giving that part of the body a scalloped appearance. The tail is a conspicuous cherry red - as opposed to maroon for the Timneh subspecies-, the beak all black. A featherless rim of skin around the eyes is whitish to light grey.

Male and female look identical and breeders rely on either an ADN test or on endoscopy to sex the birds.

Did you know: The African Grey is the only species in the genus Psittacus, from the Ancient Greek psittakos, "parrot."

Several mutations occur naturally in the wild, like the F2 Pied Mutation, which results in a broad red band across the abdomen. 1998 saw the first created Grey mutation when South African bird breeder Von van Antwerpen and New Zealand partner Jaco Bosman selected F2 Pies 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 pigment in the tail), Parino (very light scalloping found in its feathers).

While comparative judgments of animal intelligence are always very difficult to make objectively, Psittaciformes are generally regarded as being the most intelligent of birds. African Grey Parrots are particularly noted for their cognitive abilities, which are believed to have evolved as a consequence of their history of cooperative feeding as largely tree-dwelling birds in central Africa.

Irene Pepperberg 's extensive research with captive African Greys, especially the one known as Alex, have provided evidence that these parrots are capable of associating human words with their meanings, at least to some extent. Another African Grey, N'kisi , has a vocabulary of around a thousand words and speaks in sentences. Although there exists a great deal of debate as to just how well these birds actually understand the meaning of the words they speak, there is little doubt that Greys and other parrots (especially macaws and cockatoos ), along with corvines ( crows ,ravens , and jays ), are highly intelligent in comparison with other birds -with a common vocabulary of over 200 words, they are considered the best talking parrots-, and some even believe that a young Grey (under a year) has the equivalent understanding of a human toddler or disabled and the cognitive ability of a 12-year-old human child.

The worst predator of African Greys is man. Entire local peasant families live from its trade; they jealously keep and transmit to their children the plots where parrot families live: for them this bird has become lucrative business and an integrated part of the local economy... African Grey Parrots are thus glued to the branches of trees, trapped on the ground, pulled out of their nests, to end up in a cloth bag and be transported back to the village. There, they are brutally taken out of the bag and their wings are clipped with the blow of a machette to stop them from flying. An unscrupulous man will buy them for 7 or 8 euros a piece, and pile them in crates to fly them to one of the import countries of the northern hemisphere.

The African Grey Parrot was already kept as a pet in Ancient Egypt (some hieroglyphs clearly depict this pet bird), Greece and Rome. King Henry VIII of England also had an African Grey Parrot, and Portuguese sailors kept them as companions on their long sea voyages. It is today the most popular parrot species in Europe.

In captivity, Grey Parrots are prone to behavioral problems if they are not provided with a stimulating environment and allowed plenty of time out of their cage each day. Lack of companionship, boredom and overuse of the cage can typically lead to problems such as self-plucking, where the bird damages or removes its own feathers, or a destructive behaviour. They can also become confrontational and attack the family dog and get killed in the process. Acquiring an African Grey or any large parrot species is a lifelong commitment and should not be done on a whim.

Dangerous foods items for an African Grey Parrot include:chocolate, avocado, caffeine, alcohol, apple seeds (they contain cyanide), garlic and onions, cooked or raw (they contain a chemical which kills red blood cells), salt (it increases thirst, water consumption and urination), rhubarb.

The African Grey Parrot is also called: Grey Parrot, Congo African Grey Parrot [English]; Grys papegaaie [Afrikaans]; Grijze Roodstaartpapegaai [Dutch]; Graupapagei [German]; Gris du Gabon, Perroquet Jaco [French], Pappagallo cenerino [Italian]; Loro Yaco [Spanish]; Kos, Koo [Bubi]; Kòs [Fang]; Kukulu, Kukuluo [Baka]; Kùsù, àkùsù [Teke]; Kusu, Bakusu [Dambomo]; Kuse [Sake]; Bàkòhò [Shamaye]; Kòhò [Benga]; Kòhò, Bàkòhò [Mahongwe]
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