African Grey Parrots

General Information

The African Grey (Psittacus erithacus) from central Africa is a highly intelligent bird commonly encountered in captivity. This elegant medium-sized bird is entirely grey with a strikingly red short blunt tail. The African Grey has a charming personality and is recognized as one of the best talkers among all the pet birds. With this extraordinary ability to imitate, some African Greys develop extensive vocabularies of words, songs, verses, whistles, sneezes, coughs and electronic sounds such as telephones and microwave ovens. Some individuals, especially if wild or improperly socialized, may have unacceptable vocalizations. The sound that a frightened, defensive or timid African Grey makes is a characteristic, loud growl. African Greys bond readily, often with one member of the family or specifically with males or females. This bond occasionally leads to aggression towards others. Most are generally interactive and affectionate. They will often persistently solicit petting and head scratches. African Greys are very playful and enjoy climbing and chewing. It is important to keep these smart birds busy as boredom can lead to problems such as feather picking. Providing non-toxic, washed, fresh branches and pet-safe toys will afford many hours of entertainment and exercise for this inquisitive pet.

There are two types of African Grey parrots, the Congo African Grey and the smaller duller colored Timneh African Grey parrot that has a maroon colored tail.

Purchasing an African Grey Parrot

African Greys may be purchased from a pet store or a reputable breeder. When selecting an African Grey, try to choose a young bird, as it may be easier to tame and train. Older, wild, colony or parent raised birds may prove difficult to tame. Hand raised babies often make better pets since they have been completely socialized with humans. Young birds are easier to tame and adapt readily to new environments and situations. Your new bird should be exposed early to different events (young and old people, males and females, other pets, car trips, visits to the veterinarian, etc.) to help promote a calm, well-adjusted pet. After purchasing your new bird, have it examined by a veterinarian familiar with birds.

Veterinary Care

African Greys require regular, routine veterinary health check-ups. Your veterinarian can perform a physical examination, grooming (beak, nail or feather trim) and laboratory tests as needed. During these annual check-ups, health, nutritional, and maintenance issues can be identified and addressed. Veterinary check-ups help prevent disease and will aid in the maintenance of a long lasting, healthy relationship between you and your bird.

Color

Mature:
In general the body feathers are light grey, the wing feathers dark grey, and tail feathers red Iris (eye) is pale yellow Legs grey

Immature
Tail feathers dark red towards tip Iris is grey Legs darker grey and smoother

Sexing

Generally no reliable external sex differences

Weight

Average 12 - 19 ounces (350 - 550 grams)

Size

Average 13.5 inches (33 cm) in length

Life span

20 - 25 years (maximum 65 years)

Breeding

Sexual maturity at 3 - 6 years

Prolific breeders require lots of space

Brood Size

2 - 4 eggs hatch in 17 - 31 days, young leave the nest in 9 - 10 weeks

Cage

Minimum 3 ft x 3 ft x 4 ft (60 cm x 90 cm x 120 cm) per bird

Feeding/Diet

Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition plus increased research. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Different species of birds often require different foods.

Should I be concerned about what my African Grey eats?

Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet birds. Too often owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their African Grey when in fact they are not. This is a common reason for many health problems. It is important to continually strive to improve your bird’s diet. This involves constantly educating yourself and a certain degree of common sense. It is not sufficient to feed an African Grey just to maintain life; instead, your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird’s health depends on how well it is fed.

Discuss nutrition with your veterinarian!

What does an African Grey parrot naturally eat?

African Grey Parrots eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries and vegetation in the wild. They will clamber from branch to branch while feeding instead of flying. They especially treasure the fruits of the oil palm. African Greys are vulnerable to calcium and vitamin A deficiencies and obesity. A well balanced diet must be maintained at all times.

What should I feed my African Grey Parrot?

Seeds

Wild African Grey Parrots would have limited access to tropical seeds but a greater variety of seed types in the wild as different plants come into season. A commercial all seed diet tends to be high in fat and provides a decreased or imbalanced source of many nutrients that could lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life of your African Grey. Often, your bird will pick through a large bowl of commercial seed mix and selectively eat 1 or 2 “favorite” types of seeds. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are often chosen preferentially but are particularly high in fat and deficient in calcium, vitamin A and other nutrients. This leads to malnutrition. Seeds are highly palatable, preferentially sought after but nutritionally they are like giving candy to a child.

Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet, never the entire diet. A couple of nuts can be offered daily as well.

Pelleted Diets

Pellets have been developed to meet all your bird’s nutritional needs. Different formulations are available for different life stages and for the management of certain diseases. Hand raised babies are the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. Pellets are the ideal diet, therefore you are encouraged to slowly wean seed eating birds onto a pelleted diet. Pellets should ideally represent approximately 75-80% of the bird’s diet. There are many good brands of pelleted foods in the market place. Pellets come in different flavors, colors and shapes. Avoid highly colored pellets; food coloring is added to visually appeal to owners, it adds nothing to the nutritional value of the pellet, and occasional birds may develop allergies to these artificial coloring ingredients.

How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?

Converting seed eating birds (seed-aholics) onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Initially, pellets are not likely even identified as food. Slowly wean the bird off seeds over a period of 4-8 weeks while having pellets constantly available in a separate dish. Some people mix the pellets in a reduced amount of seed to aid its acceptance in the cage, but be aware that the bird will not accidentally eat a pellet. It may take days, weeks or months to modify a bird’s diet. NEVER withdraw seeds entirely without first being certain the bird is eating the pellets plus some fruits and vegetables. Birds are stubborn, but can be trained. This can be a stressful time for you and your African Grey.

Consult your veterinarian if encountering any problems with this transformation or the health of the bird.

Remember that you train the bird, do not let it train you.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits, vegetables, and greens should account for approximately 20 - 25% of the daily diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic.

Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals. Cut them into manageable pieces depending on the size of the bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. Offer fruits and vegetables in a separate dish. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one food item, reduce its volume or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the eating of other foods.

Treat your bird like a small child; offer a small piece of a variety of food items daily and never stop trying.

Water

Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, consider the use of bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.

What about people food?

As a general rule any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat, your bird can eat. Follow the general guidelines discussed above and use your common sense. Some birds even enjoy a small amount of lean cooked meat, fish, or egg occasionally. Dairy products should be consumed only in moderation, if at all. It is common sense that junk food, chocolate, products containing caffeine, and alcoholic beverages be avoided.

Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?

Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs, or raising young may have certain special requirements. There are specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific nutritional requirements. Consult your veterinarian regarding these situations.

Do I need to use a vitamin-mineral mixture?

Does your bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids? The powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Mix these supplements in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately end up on the bottom of the food dish and not in the bird. A bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of pelleted food may not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird’s life (e.g. egg laying requires calcium supplementation). Calcium supplements are available if your African Grey is determined to be deficient.

Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird’s diet and its particular needs.

Does my bird need gravel or grit?

Controversy exists over the need for gravel. It was once believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard as an aid to digestion, but most birds do fine without grit. Some birds will in fact have problems if grit is over eaten.

Tips

  • Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
  • Offer fresh water every day.
  • Offer a variety of fresh foods every day.
  • Offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day
  • Clean all food and water dishes daily.
  • “No” to a food item one day does not mean “no” forever – keep trying!
Some suggested food items include:
appleapricotsasparagusbanana
beetblueberrybroccolibrussel sprouts
cabbagecantaloupecarrotcarrot tops
cherries (not the pit)bok choycoconutcorn
cucumberdandelion leavesdatesendive
figgrapesgrapefruitkale
kiwimelonsmangonectarines
orangepapayaparsnippeaches
pearpeaspeppers (bell and hot)pineapple
plumpomegranatepotatopumpkin
rappiniraspberryrice (cooked brown)romaine lettuce
spinachsprouted seedssquashstrawberry
sweet potatotomatozucchini
beans (cooked)
chic peaskidneylentilslimamungnavysoy

For general questions, or to sign up for email reminders for your pet's vaccinations, please feel free to contact us at inquiries@chewelahveterinaryclinic.com.

This client information sheet is based on material written by Rick Axelson, DVM & Shawn Messonnier, DVM © 2005 Lifelearn, Inc. Used with permission under license.