African grey parrots have been pets for thousands of years—there are records of these birds as household pets in biblical times. It has a fascinating ability to reason and an uncanny talent for accurately mimicking words and phrases. It can also understand human speech, which has helped to catapult this bird to stardom in research circles and the pet trade. A well-trained African grey can learn hundreds of words, phrases, and sounds.
The African grey parrot’s ability to talk and mimic sounds makes this medium-sized parrot a captivating companion. African grey owners often report that their greys oftentimes talk in context and seem very attuned to their people’s emotions. The African grey parrot is not just a top talker — this bird is also known for its extreme intelligence, which gives them the moniker “The Einsteins of the Bird World.”
Speech and Vocalizations
Pet African greys pick up on words and sounds very quickly. One African grey has even “blown the whistle” on a woman’s love affair by repeatedly calling out the other man’s name in front of her husband and using the cheating wife’s voice.
Like toddler children, African grey parrots have a reputation for repeating everything they hear. So, it’s wise to watch your language around these birds. Greys are adept at picking up and repeating any sounds they like, including squeaky doors, vehicle back-up chimes, fire alarms, microwave alert bells, and telephone ringtones. Owners need to be vigilant about what these birds hear—once a sound is learned, it is difficult or impossible for the bird to “unlearn” it.
The African grey is not known as a loud screamer. It can be suitable for owners living in apartments or condos, although neglected birds may scream their dissent for being ignored and can get noisy.
African Grey Parrot Colors and Markings
The African grey, true to its name, sports mostly grey feathers, some with a beautifully thin, pale edging. There are two subspecies, Congo and Timneh greys. Congos are about a third larger than Timnehs. Congo African greys boast shiny black beaks and bright red tail feathers, while Tinmeh greys have horn-colored mandibles and deep maroon tailfeathers.
You can tell males and females apart once the birds reach adolescence, at least 18 months of age. A male African grey’s tail will remain solid red, while a female’s red tail feathers become tipped with silver. The undersides of a male’s wings become dark, while a female’s remain light. Other subtle sex differences include: a male will have a more slender, narrower head, while females tend to have longer necks, with larger, rounder heads. If these differences are too subtle for you, you can get a definitive answer with a surgical sexing procedure or a DNA test.
Care & Feeding
There’s a reason why the African grey is often considered the poster bird for parrot intelligence — not only is this bird inclined to amass a large vocabulary, African greys also demonstrate an aptitude for recognizing the meaning of words and phrases.
African greys need plenty of toys that challenge their intelligence, such as foraging and puzzle toys. Nutri-Berries by Lafeber Company are perfect for foraging. This complete food blends a balance of grains, seeds, and other nutrients in the shape of a berry. Because the grains and seeds are mostly whole and formed into a berry shape, it encourages African greys to hold, nibble, and even play with the Nutri-Berries. This mimics the foraging that African greys do in the wild.
African greys seem especially affected by stress and commotion in their environment and can be put more at ease by placing one corner of the cage against a wall as opposed to in the middle of a room.