The best-known bird from the African continent is the African grey parrot, often referred to as "grey” for short.
Having lived with and worked with African greys for more than 35 years, it is clear to me that their personalities vary almost as much as their owners. Greys have a reputation of being somewhat clumsy, sedentary, sensitive birds that are excellent talkers. While this may be true of a few African grey parrots, it is certainly not true of most of them, particularly if they have been well-socialized as babies. After watching videos of wild African greys, I noticed that greys are not innately sedentary or clumsy. In fact, healthy greys can be quite acrobatic and love to hang upside down in the cage and bash their toys around.
In the wild, African greys live in large flocks and, according to people who have written about animal behavior and intelligence, this type of social interaction encourages intelligence. It also seems to create a certain amount of sensitivity or even empathy toward other flock members. While a well-raised grey will love some cuddling and physical attention, greys are also observers and spectators of the world around them.
An African grey will feel much more secure if its cage is where the household action is. These birds thrive on ambient attention and love it if their owners talk to them as they walk by the cage or from the other side of the room. Greys learn to talk through social interaction, and the more verbal attention they get, the more likely they are to become good talkers.
Greys are often smart enough to make up their own games without always sharing the rules of the game with us. A classic grey game is to refuse to come out of the cage until it has finished its special routine. When I ask my grey, Whodee, to come out of his cage to step on my hand, he climbs to the ceiling of his cage and climbs around upside down. After a minute or so of this, he climbs out onto the door and then steps on my hand. This is his routine, and I decided a long time ago that it was not up to me to change it.
While Congo African greys continue to be the most popular, the smaller timneh African grey has its share of fans who believe their birds are steadier than the bigger greys. While this certainly may be true with some individuals, I believe it does a disservice to both potentially wonderful greys to make such generalizations.
Greys have some nutritional sensitivities and, therefore, I believe they need a varied diet with a high level of fresh, natural foods for optimal health. With a healthy start, an African grey on a good diet with excellent care could potentially live to be more than 50 years old.
African greys are parrots that need knowledgeable caregivers who know how to meet their physical and emotional needs. The more attention and instructional interaction that an African grey receives from the people in its life, the better companion it will be.