African Grey Parrot

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African Grey Parrot
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African Grey Parrot

Congo African Grey Parrot
Psitticus erithacus erithacus
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Psittacus erithacus
Linnaeus, 1758

The African Grey Parrot is a medium-sized parrot about 12 inches/30cm long (Congo subspecies) of the genus Psittacus, native to Africa. As the name implies, the African grey parrot is predominantly grey, with accents of white and a red or maroon tail depending on the subspecies. Greys, like all parrots, are zygodactyl, having 4 toes on each foot—two front and two back. They feed primarily on nuts and fruits, supplemented by leafy matter. Both wild-caught and captive-bred African greys are kept as pets.


Mimicry and intelligence

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While comparative judgements of animal intelligence are always very difficult to make objectively, Psittaciformes are generally regarded as being amongst 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 research with captive African greys, including Alex, have 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 called N'kisi, who has a vocabulary of over a thousand words; assertions that this bird has also exhibited powers of telepathy are more controversial. However, there is little doubt that Greys and other parrots (especially macaws and cockatoos) are highly intelligent in comparison with other birds.

Greys captured in the wild need time and effort to adapt to human presence, and have a tendency to growl. Hand-fed Greys generally make wonderful and very affectionate companions. They are generally thought to be the best mimics of all parrots. While this is probably true, the apocryphal reports of some Greys learning the "ultrasonic sounds" of TV remote controls are almost certainly false; most, if not all, remotes use infrared light rather than any frequency of sound to communicate with the TV.

Greys will, however, quickly become bored unless provided with stimulating toys and interaction with their owners. Pet owners often refer to their relationship with them as being "like having a five-year-old child". Their lifespans are 40+ years in captivity.


There are two subspecies:

  • Congo African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus erithacus
  • Timneh African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus timneh

Congo African greys (CAGs) are larger birds with light grey feathers, deep red tails and black beaks. The other subspecies, Timneh African greys (TAGs), are smaller in size, have a darker charcoal grey coloring, a darker maroon tail, and a lighter horn colored beak. A few authors recognize a third subspecies, Ghana African grey (Psittacus erithacus princeps), which is similar to CAG, but darker and slightly smaller.


The history of African greys 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 Romans. 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.


  1. Julie Rach; (1998) The African Grey : An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet Howell Book House. ISBN 0876054432
  2. W.T. Greene; African Grey Parrots Beech Publishing House. ISBN 1857360273
  3. E. J. Mulawka; (1984) African Grey Parrots TFH Publications. ISBN 0866229752
  4. Tony Juniper and Mike Parr; (1998) Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World Yale University Press. ISBN 0300074530

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