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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
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
All parrots deserve the most mentally stimulating environment we can provide in a home setting. This requires work and should be understood before obtaining one as a pet.
Carol, Silver Spring, MD
Posted: 3/16/2014 11:27:49 AM
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