African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) - Wiki
African Grey Parrot
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[Photo] Congo African Grey Parrot, Psittacus erithacus erithacus. Photo by Jason L. Buberal http://buberel.org/gallery/ Date: 30 May 2004
The African Grey Parrot is a medium-sized parrot of the genus Psittacus, native to Africa. As the name implies, they are predominantly grey, with accents of white. Some of their feathers are very dark grey and others are a lighter grey colour. They have red or maroon tails depending on the subspecies. They feed primarily on nuts and fruits, supplemented by leafy matter.
There are two subspecies:
- Congo African Grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus erithacus - these are larger birds (about 12 inches/30cm long) with light grey feathers, cherry red tails and black beaks.
- Timneh African Grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus timneh - these are smaller in size, have a darker charcoal gray coloring, a darker maroon tail, and a light, horn colored upper mandible.
Some avian enthusiasts (incorrectly) recognize a third subspecies, Ghana African Grey (Psittacus erithacus princeps). This bird is described to be similar to the Congo African greys, but darker and slightly smaller; however, scientifically this subspecies has not been found to be recognizable. Among breeders, there is said to be a fourth subspecies, the Cameroon African Grey, most often referred to as the big silvers.
Mimicry and intelligence
While comparative judgements 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 on the ground in central Africa.
Irene Pepperberg's extensive research with captive African greys, especially the one known as Alex, has shown that these parrots are capable of associating human words with their meanings, at least to some extent. Ambitious claims of language use have also been made for another African grey, N'kisi, who has a vocabulary of over one thousand words and has demonstrated an impressive knowledge of half a dozen Congolese dialects. 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.
African Grey Parrots as Pets
The history of African Grey parrots kept as pets dates back over 4,000 years. Some Egyptian hieroglyphics clearly depict pet parrots. The ancient Greeks also valued parrots as pets, and this custom was later adopted by the Wealthy Roman families often kept parrots in ornate cages, and parrots were prized for their ability to talk. King Henry VIII of England also had an African Grey parrot. The Portuguese sailors kept them as companions on their long sea voyages.
Today, many African Grey parrots are hand reared by breeders for the pet trade and they make wonderful and very affectionate companion parrots; however, because they can be unpredictable at times, they may not be compatible with small children. African Grey parrots are very strong and they can bite with their powerful beaks. Their nails are naturally sharp and can scratch, although they don't use them aggressively. Pet owners often liken the experience of keeping an African Grey to raising a young child, both due to the birds' intelligence and the substantial time commitment which they require. While captive-bred birds usually assimilate into their new households with relative ease, wild-caught African Grey parrots require considerably more time to adapt to living with humans, and have a tendency to growl and panic when they are approached. Unlike more common pets, African Grey Parrots have not been greatly "modified" by selective breeding, and are genetically identical to their relatives in the wild. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, regulates the export of African Grey Parrots from the wild. Currently (2006) the species is listed as Appendix II in the CITES species database. Tens of thousands of live African Greys are exported to the pet trade each year. Importation of African Greys is illegal in America, and Europe.
African Grey parrots, like most pet parrots, are very high-maintenance pets, as they require a great deal of personal attention. While numbers vary with each source, most agree that three hours out of cage daily and 45 minutes of physical interaction is the minimum attention required for good mental health. African Greys ??? particularly Congo African Greys ??? are known to be shy around strangers, and tend to bond solely with their main caretaker if they do not interact with different people regularly. While inter-species friendships with other parrots are uncommon with African Greys, they require socialization with other parrots of any species.
African Greys require plenty of stimulating toys to keep them from becoming bored while confined to their cage. These toys should be rotated and switched out regularly so as to maintain the bird's interest. For an African Grey spending most of its day in the cage, 36"W x 24"D is a good cage size. The height of a cage is typically not important, except in the case of playtop cages that are taller than the owner, in which case the bird can become territorial. An African Grey who spends most of its time on a playstand and uses the cage solely for sleeping only needs a cage large enough so that the bird's wingspan doesn't touch the cage's sides and its head and tail do not touch the cage's top and bottom, respectively. The bar-spacing should from be ¾ inch to 1 inch. A companion African Grey should be kept in a bird-safe environment and placed in a busy part of the home, such as the living room, where the bird can occupy him- or herself in watching the household activities.
African Greys have special dietary requirements and should be fed plenty of calcium- and Vitamin A-rich foods, such as almonds, small amounts of cheese, or leafy greens like mustard greens, broccoli, etc. It is usual to give African grey parrots carefully calculated quantities of calcium and vitamin supplements. An excess of these added vitamins and minerals in an African Grey’s diet can lead to health problems. In order to prevent free flight, which could lead to loss or possible injury, only a few feathers need to be clipped from the wings of an African Grey, since they are heavy birds. Clipping too many feathers can severely impair flight and may lead to injuries as they may have a tendency to crash to the ground. If very young birds are wing clipped they may never gain full coordination and agility in flight. Finally, feather clipping should never be attempted by those inexperienced at it, as serious injury could result. African Grey parrots' lifespans are up to about 50 years (or more) in captivity.
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