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African Greys: The Einstein of Birds
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African Greys: The Einstein of Birds

Jack, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Oct 22, 2020

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African grey parrots, also known as grey parrots or simply "greys," are truly unique pets. They're wonderfully intelligent, thought to be similar mentally and emotionally to a five-year-old child. Greys are also remarkable conversationalists and never seem to tire of playing and exploring.

It's easy to understand why so many people are intrigued by African grey parrots. However, it's important to know just how big of a commitment getting one as a pet can be. For starters, domesticated African greys live anywhere from 40-60 years on average, making them a true lifelong commitment.

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1

There are two subspecies of African greys

A Congo African grey parrot sitting on a tree branch Enrique Aguirre Aves / Getty Images

It's a little-known fact that there are two unique African grey parrot species: the Congo African grey and the Timneh African grey. While both species are native to Africa, the Congo grey has more distinctive features that set it apart. Congos are typically slightly larger than Timneh greys, plus they have solid black beaks and striking bright red-orange tails. For this reason, Congo greys are commonly referred to as Red-tailed greys.

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African greys need a lot of interaction

An African grey parrot perched outside its cage WhitneyLewisPhotography / Getty Images

Both Congo and Timneh African grey parrots are extremely active, social birds. They're fun-loving and fun to be around, but African greys are demanding in that they need a lot of interaction and time outside their cage. If they don't get that stimulation, African greys are known to become mischievous.

Before deciding to get an African grey as a pet, be certain you're willing and prepared to give it sufficient time and attention.

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African grey parrots are exceptionally smart

African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) - medium-sized, predominantly grey, black-billed parrot. African greys are also highly intelligent, having been shown to perform at the cognitive level of a 4– to 6-year-old child. Hailshadow / Getty Images

With vocabularies that can far exceed 1,000 words, there's no question about why African greys are widely considered one of the most intelligent bird species in the world. At around 6 months old, African grey parrots start to learn words. Within a few months, they're able to form sentences and can soon carry on conversations. Congo greys are even capable of impersonating voices.

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Keep greys busy

An African grey parrot playing with a ball JillLang / Getty Images

Because African grey parrots are so intelligent, they need a number of varied activities and toys to keep them engaged. Your grey should have access to perches and swings placed at different heights and of varying thicknesses, as well as some different-sized balls.

Without this much-needed stimulation, African greys can quickly become bored and distressed, which can lead to behavioral problems.

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5

Foraging

An African grey foraging in grass suriya silsaksom / Getty Images

Nearly all African grey parrots exhibit a distinctive behavior called foraging. While foraging, greys explore the ground, rummaging as if they're searching for food. Greys forage even in their native rainforests, so it appears to be something innate. African greys should be given opportunities to forage at home, whether on the floor or in a foraging box. Hide toys and nuts in shredded paper inside a large plastic box.

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6

What do African grey parrots eat?

An African grey parrot eating a coconut Adrian Black / Getty Images

Decidedly vegetarian, African greys feed on a wide variety of seeds, nuts, and fruits. Domesticated pets should be offered primarily fruit, as greys will almost always pick out seeds when offered and these aren't nutritionally well-balanced. As an alternative, offer pellets that include a blend of fruit, seeds, and green vegetables.

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Do African greys get along with other animals?

African grey parrot perched on a branch Naked King / Getty Images

Many animals are natural enemies – such as cats and birds – but that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't get along. In the case of African grey parrots, they can live harmoniously with other household pets so long as they are introduced early on and slowly.

Owning two greys as pets, however, is a different story. With very few exceptions, they generally do not get along well.

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8

Bonding

Beautiful male African Grey Parrot sitting outside cage toutler / Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that African grey parrots are capable of forming intense bonds with humans. Fascinatingly, Timneh greys have the ability to form multiple human bonds but Congo greys generally do not. Instead, Congos bond with one person and reject others – sometimes even within the same household. Because of this, Congo greys may not be ideal pets for families with children.

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9

Behavioral issues

An African grey with its feathers ruffled egon69 / Getty Images

African grey parrots are prone to some behavioral problems, particularly when they don't get enough attention or mental stimulation. These include picking at their feathers, commonly referred to as plucking, as well as using their beaks to destroy things in their environment.

Greys also don't handle change well and cannot be left alone for long, so they don't make great pets for people who travel frequently or work long hours.

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Common health problems

An African grey parrot on the floor of a home Adrian Black / Getty Images

Aside from the behavioral issues, African grey parrots are susceptible to, they're also prone to a few common medical problems. Respiratory issues are among the most prevalent, but they can often be prevented with a well-balanced diet and maintaining a clean cage and water supply.

Greys also tend to suffer from calcium and vitamin A and D deficiencies, largely because they don't get sufficient sunlight. Providing a high-quality artificial light can counteract this.

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