A lovely companion that can talk, play, act silly and love you, the grey parrot. But this parrot is not a bird for beginners for many reasons and will be like having a 2-year-old child for the rest of your life. If you are thinking of adding a grey parrot to your family, or recently got one, then keep reading.
About the Grey Parrot
The Grey Parrot, also called the African Grey Parrot, Congo Grey Parrot or Congo African Parrot, is a medium-sized grey parrot with a black beak and red tail. They are native to equatorial Africa where they mostly live in the dense forests. Their typical weight is 400g and their length averages at 33 cm. Both female and male parrots look alike. While in the wild the average lifespan of a grey parrot averages around 23 years, in captivity they can live for 40–60 years. Grey parrots are flock birds and not pair bond birds, which means they generally go to more than one person in captivity, but this is not always a given and if not enough effort is taken they can become “one person” birds.
The African grey is not a bird for beginners for many reasons. Many people are attracted to grey parrots as pets because they can learn to “talk”. Important to keep in mind though is that not all grey parrots will “talk” and some might never mimic a single word. Grey parrots are very noisy pets, and they might also mimic other pets and sounds, like the barking of your dog, a fire alarm, or the beeping of a microwave, and most certainly will try to be louder than the original sound. If you like peace and quiet, a grey parrot is not the right pet for you. Even if you don’t mind the noise, make sure that the sound your grey parrot makes won’t lead to noise complaints from your neighbors.
Having a grey parrot as a pet will require a lifestyle change and just providing them with fresh food and daily cleaning will not be enough to keep them happy and healthy. They are a pet that will require loads of your time and attention and as a flock bird will not do well in isolation. If they do not get the attention and stimulation they require they will get stressed and depressed, which can lead to feather damaging behaviours like plucking.
The grey parrot is a bird that is very set in its ways, panics easily and can be a tad neurotic. For example, a grey that has learned to be handled by a specific hand, might not want to be handled on the other hand. They can be stubborn and tend to want to be handled on their own terms. They don’t like to be taken out of their comfort zone and doing so might make them skittish. They hate change to their daily routine and environment. They will need to be conditioned to handle changes, else they will not cope well with them. New objects and people need to be introduced slowly to reduce stress. Providing your grey parrot with structure goes a long way in preventing unwanted behaviours. Their high IQ can make them very independent and punishing or trying to control your grey parrot might lead to feather damaging behaviours.
Grey parrots also empathic birds and a stressed-out owner might lead to a stressed-out bird. And last but not least, grey parrots can (and will) bite and they love to chomp and chew.
Grey parrots are one of the most cognitive birds and they love solving puzzles. They will need lots of enrichment materials to keep themselves occupied and engaged. Different types of toys like foot toys, toys to rip apart, chew toys, forage toys and puzzles will keep them stimulated, prevent boredom and reduce stress. Make sure that the toys you get are made of non-toxic materials. As grey parrots are extremely smart you can also teach them “tricks’ through force free training with positive reinforcement, which not only provides them with mental enrichment, but also strengthens the bond with your parrot if done right.
Opinions vary vastly on what the perfect diet is for a grey parrot, but commonly used and advised diets are that of a mix of high-quality pellets, like Harrisons, and “Chop”. Chop is a mix of fresh vegetables, like fresh corn, collard greens, turnip greens, peas, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and fruits like pears, peaches, grapes, cantaloupe, blueberries, blackberries, etc. As parrots can’t digest dairy it should not be fed to them. Grey parrots are prone to calcium deficiency so incorporate foods that are high in calcium in the daily diet of your grey parrot.
Grey parrots can be extremely picky eaters and changing their diet may take a lot of time, patience and persistence. Try feeding new foods, or foods they are usually reluctant to eat, in the morning when they are just up and hungry. Make sure to remove any old fruits and vegetables that didn’t get eaten.
A common mistake seen in diets of grey parrots is that they consist mostly of (sunflower) seeds. It’s also a diet usually favored by grey parrots, and they will often choose to eat sunflower seeds over other nutritious food. This is not an appropriate diet for a grey parrot and will lead to malnutrition and health issues, like fatty liver disease. If your grey parrot is on a sunflower seed diet, try reducing or eliminating sunflower seeds from their diet slowly.
When choosing an enclosure for your grey parrot you have to realise they need as much space as you do. The enclosure mostly will be for when you are not around, which in most cases will far outweigh the time than when you are there. When it comes to size, the bigger the better. If you have the possibility to get a walk-in indoor aviary, do so. The very minimum sizes for a cage are 42×42 as they need to be at least able to spread their wings in all directions. The advised bar spacing is 1.9-2.5cm and perches should be approximately 2.5 cm. Your grey parrot will need a minimum of 4 to 6 hours outside of the cage daily, the more the better. Place the main space of your grey in the center of everything so they can see everyone and everything. The cage of your grey should be their safe space. The cage can be lined with paper which needs to be changed daily. Food and water dishes also need to be cleaned daily to prevent bacteria. The whole cage can be cleaned weekly. Make sure to use non-toxic cleaners.
Additional to the cage it’s advised to get one, or more, play stand(s). These play stands can be used when cleaning the cage and will give them more and different places to explore and play at. Make sure that the places your grey parrot can reach are safe.
To set their biological clock, grey parrots need exposure to the twilight times at dawn and dusk. They need a minimum of 12 hours of light a day, and 10-12 hours of sleep in the dark. You can create an appropriate schedule by using artificial lights and covering their cage to make it dark. They will also need outside sun, but don’t keep them in the sun too long as they can overheat. When taking your grey parrot outside, take safety precautions to prevent them from flying away, like keeping them in a bird harness or a secure cage.
The grey parrot is a so-called “powder down” bird. Part of the physiology of powder down birds is that the feathers break down into a fine powder, kind of like talc, as part of their feather health and grooming. This dust goes everywhere and will make the surroundings very dusty. Once a week, or more often, you can rinse off this dust from their skin and feathers. You can either do this by misting through a misting bottle, or by rinsing them off by showering them in a tub. As they take several hours to fully dry, showering is best done in the morning to prevent them from still being wet in the evening and at night, which can lead to illness if they end up getting chilly. An important note is that “Powder down” birds, like the Grey Parrot, should not be housed together with New World birds, like Amazons, Conures and Macaws. This is because this feather dust will get into the lungs of the New World’s birds and eventually might kill them or lead to health issues.
Grey parrots are very susceptible to Atherosclerosis, a condition where the arteries harden over time, which is why you should never clip their wings. Fatty and salty foods should also be avoided. They are also susceptible to contract Aspergillosi which is a fungal infection of the lungs. Good ventilation, frequent cage cleaning, overall good hygiene and nutritious and fresh food all lower the chances of contracting this fungal infection. Peanuts in shells can also lead to Aspergillosi and should be avoided.
Grey parrots, like all birds, have extremely sensitive respiratory systems. Some fumes, like those that come from Teflon cookware, are toxic to them. Another common issue seen in grey parrots are feather damaging behaviours, which often start when parrots do not get the attention they need or when there are sudden and abrupt changes in their routine.
It’s advised to teach your grey towelling as at some point most likely they will need to be towelled for example at the vet. By teaching them towelling in a safe space, in a positive manner, it will make the actual procedure easier when required and they will see it as a game and not a bad thing.
If you are looking for a companion for life and have a lot of time on your hands, now and in the future, the grey parrot might just be the perfect pet for you. Through this guide we hope to have informed those interested about the basic care a grey parrot requires to stay happy and healthy.