African grey parrots are one of the most popular exotic bird species kept as pets in the UK. They are incredible looking animals, with long lives, intelligence, the ability to mimic human speech and understand it. There are two main types of African grey – the Congo African grey and the Timneh; the latter is smaller than its counterpart and do not have the red tail plumage like the Congo does. They favour dense forest habitats and in the wild they mainly survive off eating a diet that consists of seeds, palm nuts, fruit and leaves.
African greys are complicated birds and require a lot of commitment and knowledge to own and look after. They are often seen as the most intelligent species of parrot; some have even shown the same intelligence level of a toddler. These are social parrots and require a lot of time with their owner if they are to be kept in captivity and many become very attached to their owners but if these birds become bored or depressed they can be very unhappy and exhibit behaviours such as plucking and chewing at their feathers, among others.
African greys are not overly loud birds, they will talk and chatter, but they are ideal for those living in flats as they are not known for screeching, though as with all creatures some will be the exception to this. These are not cuddle-buddy birds, some will be happy to have their head stroked or scratched but they are not going to sit for hours of physical contact. Be aware that some African greys can become ‘one person’ birds, even if the best attempts have been made to socialise them with everyone living under the same roof.
Like their name, these birds are mostly grey with occasionally birds sporting dark grey almost black feathers, many also have an attractive light grey scalloped edge to their plumage. The Tinmeh grey sports tailfeathers of a deep maroon (sometimes dark grey or black) and have horn-coloured beaks, whilst the larger Congo greys have striking red tail feathers and black shiny beaks.
The appeal of these birds lie largely in their ability to mimic speech, which they develop within their first year, they are able to repeat phrases and words after hearing them a few times or even once (so it may be wise to watch what you say around your grey!) It’s not just words these birds can mimic and repeat, they can also imitate the sound of car and fire alarms, ringtones, microwave and oven pings, squeaky doors. Once these birds have learnt a word of sound, it is almost impossible for them to forget or ‘un-learn’ it, so do keep this in mind – You can turn your fire alarm off but you won’t be able to turn off your African grey.
African greys need a lot of mental stimulation and can become bored or depressed very quickly, they are susceptible to exhibiting self-mutilating behaviours at this stage which can include chewing or plucking their feathers, among other things. They require suitable living space and their cages should be two-foot x two-foot and three feet in height minimum, if you can provide a larger cage this is always preferable. African greys are sensitive and can become stressed, so it is best to make sure their cage is kept nearer to a wall or a corner, rather than out front and centre of the room.
These birds need plenty of toys to keep them occupied, like with young children, you need to make sure you are pushing them to challenge themselves and their intelligence, interact with you and learning new things. There are toys on the market that replicate foraging and others that are puzzle toys to keep them and their minds active. You should be looking at spending a fair amount of time each day with your African grey, upwards of several hours. As with a lot of mammals, it may be worth trying your African grey with the TV or radio on if you are leaving them alone.
Your African grey should be living on a balanced diet that consists of bird feed that is supplemented with fresh vegetables and leafy greens – this will mimic a lot of the diet they eat in the wild and also makes sure to balance up any vitamin deficiencies that could occur. Sweet potato, flaxseed, kale, mango, hemp, pomegranate as well as the occasional leftover salad or green beans. They will also enjoy nuts as treats and snacks.
In their natural habitat an African grey can travel up to 10 kilometres a day! This is something that you will not be able to replicate in your home, so your African grey should be able to spend, at minimum, 2 hours out of their cage a day. You should be providing them with chew toys for them to exercise their beak muscles (make sure these are bird-safe) and allowing them to fly around your home and interact with you to keep them mentally stimulated and happy.