African Gray Parrot
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Program and General Information
African Gray Parrots are native to the forests and savannas of Central and West Africa. They are Africa’s largest parrots with a 7-8 inch wingspan. The two main subspecies of the bird are the Congo African gray and the Timneh African gray. The Congo, the larger of the two subspecies, can reach up to approx. 13 inches, while their shorter relatives generally reach about 11.8 inches. Both subspecies are gray in color with white skin around the eyes and a black beak. The Congo has a more cherry red tail while the Timneh’s tail is darker red, or more maroon in color. African grays are herbivores and eat a variety of fruits, vegetation, seeds, and nuts. African gray parrots are monogamous and breeding usually coincides with the dry season. Females lay 2-4 eggs and incubate the eggs for about 21-30 days. After about 2-3 months the young will leave the nest, but they may still be cared for, for another month. Young birds will mature between 3-5 years old.
African grays are herbivores and eat a variety of fruits, vegetation, seeds, and nuts. They rarely come down to the ground and feed high up in the treetops. They are particularly attracted to the fruit of the oil palm tree.
Like all parrots, African grays have short, blunt, rounded beaks with a curved upper mandible that fits neatly over the lower. The parrot’s beak is a powerful tool for cracking nuts and seeds.
African grays are very social and live together in large flocks, especially when roosting. When they’re feeding, a couple birds may act like a sentry to ensure the safety of the flock.
Habitat and Range
African gray parrots can be found in lowland rainforests, mountain rainforests, forest edges, plantations, and farms, in central and west Africa from Guinea to Kenya, and Angola. In West Africa, populations of this species often make seasonal moves out of the dry areas in their natural ranges.
African greys are gregarious, social birds that roost together at night in large flocks sometimes numbering in the thousands. They disperse into much smaller groups during the day to feed. At dawn and dusk, they can often be seen flying high over the treetops on their way to and from feeding and roosting sites. They are also very vocal in flight.
They roost in trees or palms and use their toes – two facing back and two facing front on each foot – to help them balance and perch. They also use their beaks as a third foot for climbing and balancing.
Common Physical Features
African gray parrots are Africa’s largest parrot sporting an impressive 7-8 inch wingspan. They are a silvery-gray color with white around the eyes, black beak and red tail. Like other members of the Psittacine order, these parrots have zygodactyl feet, having two toes pointing forward and two backward, which allow them to easily move through tree branches to reach nearby fruits and flowers. Their short tails allow for moving around dense forests.
Adaptations: An African gray’s bight red tail has a few uses. Their tails can be used as an identifier. African grays live in large flocks and that bright red can help them to identify their flock members. Think about it like a school field trip where everyone wears a bright red shirt with their school name on it. If you were to get separated from your school group you could easily spot them in the crowd thanks to that bright shirt!
An African gray’s tail can also be used to attract a mate. The brighter the red, the more attractive that bird is to potential mates. Female’s prefer brighter shade of red in the males because it can indicate good health, meaning if they breed with males that appear healthier their offspring will be healthier and stronger. These parrots can see a wider spectrum of reds than humans.
To ward off predators, African grays can flash their brightly colored tail. Bright colors in the wild tend to indicate danger of some sort, typically venom or poison, and while the African gray parrot is neither, that bright red may trick some predators into thinking they are. The tail can also serve as a warning signal to other African grays that danger is near.
These parrots can be found in large flocks of up to 10,000 individuals, although feeding occurs in flocks closer to 30 in number. When they’re feeding, a couple birds may act like a sentry to ensure the safety of the flock. They will produce a loud screech to warn the flock of any threats. They travel regular routes and their flight is swift and direct, with rapid, shallow wingbeats.
Besides being one of the most popular pet bird species, African Grey Parrots are also one of the most intelligent. In recent years, much research has been done on the mental capacity of African Grey parrots by scientists around the world. Those few African greys that have been studied closely in a research setting have shown an ability to comprehend and discriminate between colors, numbers, and shapes, and to use language purposefully to provide the correct word in response to particular questions. It has been said that these impressive birds have the mental and emotional capacities of a 5-year-old human child.
Behavior and Life Cycle
African gray parrots are monogamous and breeding usually coincides with the dry season. They will make their nests in tree holes, often finding holes that were previously made by other birds, such as the woodpecker. Breeding pairs typically go off on their own to nest, although African greys have also been known to form loose breeding colonies of several hundred pairs.
Females typically lay 2-4 eggs per clutch. The eggs will hatch after an icubation period of 21-30 days. Both parents care for the nestlings until they fledge – i.e. start to fly and leave the nest – at about ten weeks of age. . Young birds will mature between 3-5 years old.
Purposeful Pet Ownership
African gray parrots are often viewed as these beautiful and intelligent birds. While many people will fall in love with exotic birds for that reason, most of these birds are considered vulnerable, threatened, or endangered out in the wild. As pets, these birds have a long lifespan and will often outlive their owners. Re-homed birds can develop behavior issues due to stress such as feather picking or screeching. It is a good idea to know where your bird is from, and to only purchase birds that are captive bred, and not trapped illegally. It is thought that up to 20% of the wild population is taken for the pet trade every year. By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade. One more exotic pet in captivity is one less animal in the wild which is resulting in species population numbers dropping drastically.
What can we do?: Be sure to fully research any pet before buying one. While you may think an exotic bird would make a cool pet, it’s important to know all of the care that goes into providing that animal with the best possible welfare, and often times these animals require a lot of extra care. It is important to make sure that if you do buy an exotic pet that you are buying it from a reputable breeder, someone who knows how to properly care for the animal and hasn’t taken that animal from its natural habitat.
Do not release an unwanted pet into the wild. While you may think that you are doing something good by releasing the animal back into the wild, animals that have been kept under human care often do not know how to survive on their own out in the wild and could end up getting hurt or dying if left to their own devices.
- This parrot is considered to be one of the most intelligent parrots. African gray parrots are considered to be non-domesticated.
- African gray parrots have been kept as pets throughout history by the Greeks, Romans, King Henry VIII, and by Portuguese Sailors.
- They form strong bonds with their owners and can be very noisy, messy, and demanding! You can have wonderful companionship with a parrot, but you need to know what you are getting into and be willing to take on the full responsibility.
- People often consider these birds pests, and will kill them if they threaten their crops. In some areas of their African home range, these birds are still hunted for bush meat.