African grey parrots are highly playful and highly intelligent birds – and are among the best talkers. Those qualities make them attractive pets, but they also make the African grey a bird that needs more attentive care than some other species. They are easily bored, so they should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks or other objects that can be chewed, and branches from non-toxic trees.
Young African greys adapt readily to new surroundings, but adult birds are less adaptable and may resort to feather picking in response to changes in routine. In fact, these birds have a higher incidence of feather picking and feather chewing than most parrots. Note: African greys produce a powder that helps clean and protect their feathers. This powder may be allergenic.
Timneh African greys are one variation of the African grey parrot. The bird’s scientific name is Pisittacus erithacus timneh. They are originally from western equatorial Africa – from the Ivory Coast to Western Kenya, Angola, Tanzania and South Zaire. They inhabit primary and secondary rainforest, forest edges and clearings, mostly in lowland areas. Timnehs grow to 10 to 11 inches in length with a weight of 280 to 360 grams. Their weaning or fledging age is nine to 11 weeks; their age at maturity is three to five years; and their life span ranges possible up to 40 to 50 years but probably averages 15 to 25 years.
Appearance and Personality
African greys exhibit varying shades of grey and have a powdery white facial patch extending from the beak to around the eye. Timnehs are stocky, short-tailed birds with maroon-colored tail feathers. Their upper beak is a dark horn color with a black tip. Immature birds have dark brown eyes, which change over time to gray and to yellow-gray in adults.
In the wild, African greys are gregarious, roosting in colonies of up to 10,000 individuals and feeding on seeds, nuts, palm nuts, fruits and berries. Birds caught in the wild have an extraordinary repertoire of whistles, clicks and calls. They often sing and whistle during the night – especially on nights with a full moon. At home, the African grey’s verbal talents are rivaled only by those of some Amazons – although they don’t usually speak well until they are approximately one year old. Typically, they learn to mimic sounds first and are amazingly good at it, reproducing sounds such as the telephone, microwave, car horns – even individual voices.
African parrots should be fed approximately 1/4 cup of a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet. The diet should be supplemented with approximately 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables (mostly vegetables) daily. Seeds and other treats may be given in small amounts especially as rewards for good behavior. Fresh, clean water must be provided every day.
Birds kept as indoor pets especially tend to develop signs of calcium deficiency, which can be a serious health threat. Natural or full spectrum light seems to be important in helping them maintain calcium balance.
Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet. Pretty Bird manufactures a special diet for African parrots with a more readily utilizable calcium source to help prevent calcium deficiency. African greys love peanuts, but they should be shelled prior to feeding as they are often contaminated with Aspergillus fungus, which can lead to aspergillosis, a respiratory disease. Timnehs are easy to hand-rear and do well on hand-rearing formula.
Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Routine bathing will also reduce feather dust. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or dried with a blow drier. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively as African greys often fall and injure themselves, sometimes requiring surgery. Clip only enough so the bird will glide to the floor.
African parrots are very active and should be provided with as large a cage as possible. The cage should have two perches so the birds can move between them. Toys and activities should be provided.
African greys breed well in captivity. Some prolific birds will breed year round but most breed in the winter and early spring. Clutch size is usually two to four eggs. Some breeding greys are very shy and need privacy to breed well. Some pairs spend virtually all their time in the nest box if humans are nearby. Very shy birds may breed better in shady areas or in boxes with partitions to reduce light in the interior of the box.
Common Diseases and Disorders
African greys are relatively healthy birds but are susceptible to the following: