African grey parrot

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Profile

The African gray parrot is a medium-sized bird living in central Africa. These birds have a gray back and wings with a white face, black beak, and red tail. Their belly and parts of their feet are white. The whole tail is not red though, just the underside. African gray parrots are highly intelligent for birds, making them one of the most popular pet birds. it is even said that King Henry VIII had a pet African gray parrot! Male and females look almost exactly the same on the outside. Previously there were thought to be three subspecies of African gray parrots, but two of the subspecies were given their own species. The one remaining group became the only subspecies of African gray parrot, and is therefore no longer considered a subspecies but a species. The timneh parrot, which used to be an African gray parrot subspecies, looks a lot like the bird above, except their tails are a dull red instead of the bright red of the African gray parrot.Congo_Grey_Parrot_range

Size

These birds can grow up to 16 inches (41 cm) from beak to tail, making them the largest parrots in Africa. Their average size is closer to 13 inches (33 cm). Their wingspan is from 18 to 21 inches (46-52 cm).  The timneh parrot is slightly smaller than the African gray parrot. Although they are so big, they weigh hardly anything at just 0.9 to 1.1 pounds (400-490 g). Most individuals are in the lower parrot this range.

Diet

African gray parrots are mainly herbivores, eating seeds, nuts, and fruits. Their favorite foods are the outer layer of an oil palm nut and the red berries of certain Kola trees. They also like corn and other grains and can do a lot of damage to corn crops in Western Africa. Occasionally, they have been seen feasting on snails. When eating on tree, instead of flying from branch to branch, they just climb on the tree. This might help them not miss and delicious morsels. Sometimes these birds have been seen eating mud, This is thought to help counteract the ingesting of toxins from increased pesticide use.

Intelligence

African gray parrots are considered one of the most intelligent birds. The Knoxville zoo has one of these birds named Einstein that knows a lot of commands. He can even “sing” Happy Birthday on command! There is a smarter African gray parrot than Einstein however. Griffin is parrot that has been trained for twelve years to determine shape, color, size, and material. Griffin’s predecessor Alex was even smarter, being able to tell which color was bigger, and even being able to read some. Sadly Alex died in 2007 leaving Griffin to carry out the research of their owner. This first video shows Alex showing off his skills. This video shows Griffin and his skills. And this last video shows Griffin facing off against some 3-5 year old kids in an intelligence contest.

Habitat

Although rainforests are the most common place for African gray parrot to be found, that is not the only place they live. Wooded savannas and even gardens and agricultural fields can be home to these birds, if only for a short time. They inhabit both primary forests (forests that have grown undisturbed for a long time) and secondary forests (forests that are regrowing from a major disturbance such as a forest fire).

Social life

These parrots are highly sociable, and their everyday life occurs in loose colonies. It is not uncommon when it is not breeding season to see over 100 birds perched on a single tree! They communicate among themselves using high-pitched screams and whistles.

Status and threats

The African gray parrot is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss is one of the main threats on the African gray parrot population. The largest threat from habitat destruction is actually the loss of suitable nesting trees. The international pet trade is also harmful to these animal’s numbers in the wild. It is estimated that around one fifth of the global population is captured and sold into the pet trade. This number may be higher, however due to the number of animals that die in transport and the ones that are illegally captured. The heads and tail feathers of these birds have alleged medicinal value, and this also contributes to their population loss. Natural predators or the adults include vultures, hawks, and even terrestrial predators, such as snakes and large cats,  can kill and eat these birds when they are feeding on the ground. Monkeys sometimes eat the eggs of these birds as well.

Conservation

Despite being listed as “Vulnerable,” the African gray parrot is still numerous throughout its fairly large range. The reason it is still listed as vulnerable is because their threats outweigh their ability to reproduce. Their range includes some protected areas, however. Political instability in much of this bird’s range makes it hard to protect. The import of wild-caught African gray parrots is banned in the United States and Europe. This means than any of these birds that are legally sold have been captive bred.

Mating, eggs, and young

Breeding season varies by location, but it seems to coincide with the dry season. Each pair occupies its own trees and will stay with each other for life. Only a little bit is known about this animal’s courtship in the wild. Courtship is done around the nest holes, and starts with the male feeding the female. Next both male and female sing soft notes to each other. After mating, the female will sleep in the nest hole while the male guards her. Females lay from three to five roundish eggs with two to five days in between laying each egg. Only the female  incubates the eggs while the male gather all her food for her. Thirty days after being laid, the eggs hatch. Within twelve weeks the young are able to fly, and at two to three years of age they are completely independent.In captivity, African gray parrots can live up to 50 years.

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • African gray parrot – David De Hetre
  • African gray parrot range map -FunkMonk
  • Mystery animal – Rosenzweig
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