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5 Things You Need To Know About African Grey Parrots

Before you bring your African grey home, find out everything you need to know about this smart, sensitive parrots.

Amanda Lafond

Congo African grey
Of the two African grey species, the Congo African grey is more popular as a pet.

With their well documented high level of intelligence, African grey parrots prove we’ve been using the term "bird brain” wrong. As their name implies, this gorgeous gray birds come from the rainforests of Africa. Though they are unfortunately becoming rarer in their native forests, they have become popular pet birds. However, these are not your average birds and require a lot of understanding and research before bringing one home.

To start off, here are five things to know about African greys:

1) There are two species of African greys. First there is the Congo African grey, which is probably the bird most people picture when they think of African greys. They are distinctive for their bright red tail, and black beaks.

The other species, the timneh African grey is a bit smaller and has a tail that is much darker. Their beaks are also lighter in coloration. Both have powder-down feathers that cause these birds to have more dander than most parrots. Asthmatics should take this into consideration.

2) Not all African greys talk. Although many are capable of learning numerous words and phrases, not every bird will talk simply because it is an African grey. Lisa Bono, associate certified parrot behavior consultant for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owner of the Platinum Parrot supply store said, "One should never buy a grey with that expectation [that they can talk]. If you do, you are setting your relationship up for disappointment and perhaps failure. Even if your pet grey does not use human language, they can and will communicate in other ways.”

After an African grey named Alex, a parrot that was part Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s Avian Learning Experiment that studied animal intelligence, became widely known, African greys have been regarded as one of the smartest parrot species.

3) African greys are intelligent birds that need to be respected and treated as such. After an African grey named Alex, a parrot that was part Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s Avian Learning Experiment that studied animal intelligence, became widely known, African greys have been regarded as one of the smartest parrot species. This means that greys need to be stimulated intellectually to avoid boredom and subsequently behavioral problems.

Bono added, "I usually tell people that greys do well in quieter homes with calmer environments. They are not suited for homes with a lot of commotion or confusion. They are cautious, smart and sentient beings. Even though I have lived with birds for nearly 39 years, I waited 15 years before I brought a baby grey home. I wanted to make sure the environment was suited to raise a well-adjusted baby and that all family members were on board.”

Timneh African grey
The timneh African grey is darker than the Congo African grey, with a lighter-colored beak and maroon-colored tail.

4) Supply a healthy diet and living space to avoid common illnesses in African greys. Greys are prone to some vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin A, D, and calcium. Greys are also susceptible to a few illnesses and diseases. "Atherosclerosis — the buildup of plaques inside the blood vessels — seems to occur most often in African grey parrots, but can occur in any parrot species. So remember to foster a heart healthy diet, monitor weight and allow for exercise,” Bono said.

5) Due to their popularity and intelligence, African greys have appeared in a variety of popular media. From novels, to movies and more, greys have played many roles onscreen and off. There is even a death metal band called Hatebeak whose lead singer is Waldo, an African grey.

Want to learn more about African greys?

All About African Grey Parrots
Top 10 Pet African Grey Parrot Questions Answered



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Posted: March 10, 2014, 4:30 p.m. PDT

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5 Things You Need To Know About African Grey Parrots

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Reader Comments
I would be pretty shocked if you could "find out everything you need to know" about an African Grey Parrot in this short generic article. As a bird owner and a person who is always learning about parrots, accurate journalism is appreciated, there is nothing wrong with quick hit reads on parrots, but reporting them as more than what they are is disappointing.
Michele, International
Posted: 7/11/2015 1:04:47 PM
I adopted my grey 10.5 years ago when she still needed occasional hand feeding. I read the books, but she has been a delight. She is gentle and affectionate and talks a blue streak. My only issue is she considers my dogs her flock as well as the humans. One is way too hyper for her to play with, so of course he is the one she taunts and calls all the time, and tries to touch when I let her on top of her cage. Any advice on getting her to stop?
joyce, falling waters, WV
Posted: 12/19/2014 2:45:58 PM
We have an African Grey and he is a joy! Our home is fairly quiet and calm and he has flourished since we brought him home as a rescue. His previous owner worked too many hours and Tonga has a sinus problem we have to take care of so he needed someone to be there all the time.

In the beginning his cage was around the wall from the kitchen and I would talk to him as I worked and he picked up many words and phrases. He now will repeat almost anything you say! He is so much fun to have around, but as the article states....he can be hesitant when interacting with people he doesn't know or even sometimes with us.

We have never regretted taking him (although it was our first experience with a medium sized bird)! Actually, he is a beloved part of our family and I wish everyone could have one just like him!
Marie, Jacksonville, FL
Posted: 12/19/2014 6:09:42 AM
That's so cool! I love reading these little tinbits of info on parrots of any species. It's so cool!!!
Sonja, International
Posted: 3/17/2014 7:58:45 AM
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