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Will your bird get a holiday gift this year?

Q. Why does my African grey chew on his toenails?

By Lisa A Bono

There are two main reasons why a grey would chew on their toenails. The first reason would be part of the natural grooming process. African grey parrots are ground feeders and forage for food near swamp areas in their native land. After a good scratch in the dirt, they will groom, clean and chew on their nails to keep them in shape. Sharp nails are better for climbing, landing, scratching and holding food. While grooming toenails, the grey will also groom their legs and preen feathers in a relaxed and somewhat peaceful manner.

The second reason it a bit more ominous and usually reserved for pet African grey parrots vs. their wild cousins. A wild or flighted grey will instinctually flee from whatever is making them nervous. When we chose to clip and cage, we took that hardwired option to flee away from them. When an African grey parrot is nervous or overwhelmed, very often it will resort to chewing on its toe nails. There is a definite difference in the grooming (as mentioned above) and the nervous aspect. A grey showing signs of nervousness will often lift its foot to its mouth and chew on one toe nail in a quick and hard manner. This may happen after a growl has failed to serve as a warning. An extremely nervous grey may lift its foot to its beak, droop its wings a bit, and actually pull on its lower beak. The grey may shift from leg to leg and repeat the same action. If the nervous warnings aren't heeded, you may end up with a grey who will throw themselves to the floor to get away.

Remember to watch body language and keep your grey feeling safe and secure. If you see your pet African grey is chewing on his toe nails, take a step back, look around and see what could be causing this nervous reaction.

Q. What common non-talking sounds should I expect from my grey?

By Lisa A Bono

Greys are notorious for learning sounds and being able to repeat what they have heard. Some learned sounds are just for fun while others have meaning behind them. Because there are so many different sounds my own greys have mastered, I thought I would ask people on my grey forum to see what the most common learned sounds are.

Many greys were quick at learning simple beeps such as an answering machine, microwave, video games and a phone being dialed. Greys that lived in multiple species households often learned the language of another species, such as a dog, cat, chicken or duck. Many greys will learn other bird species calls as well.

When African grey parrots live with humans, they also learn our noises, and I mean ALL of them. Many grey owners reported their greys copied the noise which made them sound as if they had coughed, sneezed, cleared their throats, burped, sniffled, laughed, passed wind, was blowing their nose or spitting. Some noises would not make it past the editor's desk, so I urge you to be aware of the words and noises you are using around your incredibly intelligent little grey. Some may come back to haunt you over a holiday dinner.

Everyday household noises seem to be favored by greys as well. Many have learned to reproduce a knock on the front door, simulate the phone ringing, coffee pots brewing, water dripping, soda cans opening, cabinets closing or squeaky shoes on the floor.

According to Dr Irene Pepperberg, associate professor at the Dept. of Psychology at Brandeis University, even Arthur the youngest bird at the Alex Foundation ( has a favorite sound. Arthur makes a "water" sound, just like the faucet!

Some of the outdoor noises that catch their attention and are often repeated are police cars with sirens blasting, fire trucks, car alarms, barking dogs or the occasional blue jay. You may ask why the blue jay? Because our greys like to play with sounds and more often than not sounds are amplified. Imagine the noise from a 100lb blue jay echoing through your house. Believe me, it's not pleasant.

Most of the noises I mentioned are learned and used for fun. There are sounds that are learned and remembered so our greys can use them to communicate with us.

Many people reported kissing noises from their greys as they were put to bed, or when their beak touched the owners face. Some greys will make chewing sounds as their owners are eating to remind them they too, would like some.

Taboo is a Congo grey on my forum who likes to add noises to human movement such as whenever anyone sits down or bends over to pick something up he will grunt for them. If you happen to take a drink in front of him, Taboo will make a gulping sound as well as finish it off with an "AHHHHHHH" after the drink is done.

Jennifer who resides in Jordan with Congo grey Ku-Ku, responded that "Ku-Ku makes a tsk, tsk, noise that people in the Middle East use to show displeasure about something & his timing is remarkable!"

My own little grey, Emma Lynn, has her own set of sounds she uses as a way of communication with family members. Emma does not talk. Perhaps because of her twisted neck the syrinx (organ at the end of a parrots windpipe that produces sound) or the tubes that push air into the syrinx are constricted. Emma has short sounds or screams she uses and I understand them all. She will bob her head up and down for "yes" and throw a raspberry sound to show displeasure or to answer "no". Emma has a click that I have determined to mean I love you, because she will lean in to me and click, when I say "I love you" to her. She has a scream when they boys, Stirling and Sydney, are misbehaving and another one for when my husband wanders off the couch and out of her view. So with that said, keep in mind if your grey never learns to say a word, there are many other ways they will and can communicate with us.

Why does my grey like to put his beak in the corner of the cage and kick behind him?

By Lisa A. Bono

We see African grey parrots of all ages and both sexes do this strange little maneuver. When African greys are babies, we often see them in a corner and believe they may be attempting to scratch their way out of their enclosure. As adults in the wild, they would be using this to forage for food near the swamp areas. When they are ready to mate, they will use this technique to clear out holes in trees and make nests. This also comes in handy when cleaning out soiled nests.

During a recent conversation about "scratching" with Maggie Wright, creator of the "Grey Play Round Table" magazine and author of "African Grey Parrots" (Barron's) commented, "It's probably for other things, too. Whatever their smart brains can think of to use it for, just like the crow."

Within my own home, Stirling, my African grey that is in his late twenties, seems to be the most active with his digging. He will forage around his cage to eat, and when he has his fill, he will wander out to venture down onto the floor. He squeezes himself into the corner of the room and starts kicking. So with that said, he is not looking for food. He is not attempting to get out of his enclosure. My thought is he's trying to dig his way to China. All joking aside, I do not believe any of us really have a definite answer as to why African grey parrots do this little chicken scratch other than they can.

How do African greys like to forage?

By Lisa A. Bono

Foraging ideas are as unlimited as your imagination. There are puzzles, acrylics, woods and shredables. After polling several African grey owners, acrylics and items that can be shredded come out on top as most enjoyed by the African grey parrot.

If your pet African grey is not used to foraging, start slow. If you overwhelm your pet African grey with a difficult task, it will lose interest quickly. If your pet African grey does not show interest in one, try another, or forage together.

An easy way to start your grey out on foraging is to let your pet African grey parrot observe you hide a favorite treat in something that is easily shredded, like a paper towel or untreated coffee filter. Place the foraging toy in a favorite dish for your pet African grey to explore. Once your pet African grey figures out the foraging toy challenge, you can add another step. Place the treat inside the paper towel and then inside a small paper bag. From there you can move on to multiple foraging areas with varying stages of difficulty within a cage or play area.

Last April, I was able to attend a "Foraging Lab" hosted by the Mid Atlantic States Association of Avian Veterinarians. The key note speakers were Brian Speer, DVM, ABVP and Scott Echols, DVM, ABVP. When I returned back to my store, I shared what had been taught with my clients and set up my own little experiment. Starting out slow with simple foraging ideas has had positive results, has reported by several of my clients. All the African greys have since moved on to more complex acrylic toys and keep their owners occupied with filling their various foraging stations.

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