You’ve heard amazing stories of their uncanny ability to talk, and how very smart they are. Now you’re almost ready to take the plunge and buy one. To help you to make your decision, here are 7 things to consider before getting an African grey parrot.
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Have You Successfully Cared for A Pet Bird Before?
An African grey is a very intelligent animal and requires plenty of socializing and attention. It needs regular stimulation to prevent it from becoming bored and frustrated.
It’s also better if the bird spends as much of its time on these activities while it is out of its cage.
You and your family will need to make plenty of time available for your parrot and to interact with it directly. Simply being in the same house or room as the parrot is not enough.
You will need to talk to it, touch it, allow it step up onto your hand, play with it, and occasionally share some of your food with it.
This degree of involvement could be unexpected and even a little overwhelming for a first-time bird owner but, without it, there is a strong possibility that your bird could develop behavioral problems.
Being bitten by an African grey is likely to happen on occasion, especially in the early days of ownership. Its bite can be painful, especially if you allow it to get a really good purchase on your finger.
Such problems could be challenging for the inexperienced bird owner to to deal with.
This is not to say that it is impossible to succeed in caring for a grey as a first bird. After all, Kokkie is the first bird that Corrie and I have owned.
We have certainly experienced our share of problems with him but we committed to spend time with him, learned from our mistakes, and were ready to adapt to his needs as soon as we realized what they were.
16 years down the line, both he and we are doing pretty well.
If you do not underestimate the time and effort that you will have to put in, it is possible to make it work. On top of that, a stable temperament and plenty of patience will help immensely.
Do You Have the Time and The Commitment?
Keeping an African grey requires a higher level of work and commitment than for most other pets. Here is some idea of what this commitment involves:
Food and water bowls should be cleaned and replenished at least twice a day. Fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement the bird’s dry diet must be washed and prepared. Do this daily, as a bare minimum.
Kokkie, our own African grey, gets his fresh food in the evenings.
You would have to clean the parrot’s cage regularly. A bird the size of an African grey can soil up a cage pretty fast.
Be prepared to clean droppings from the floor, or whatever surface the bird happens to be standing on when out of its cage.
Greys are messy eaters. It is normal for them to scatter food remnants on the floor around the cage while they eat. Do not for a moment think that your parrot will clean up any mess that it makes. Nope, that’s your job.
How you would feel if your African grey were to bite you? Would your attitude toward it change? Would your regard for it be diminished in any way? Dealing with a parrot that has started to bite requires patience as you learn to read its body language and teach it to change its behavior.
How would your relationship with your parrot change if a life-changing event were to take place? What if a new baby came along, for example? How would you ensure that your child gets enough attention from you without neglecting your parrot?
Remember that parrots live for a really long time. You should ask yourself whether you commitment will remain strong, even 20 years or more from the present.
Your African grey parrot’s cage should really be the biggest that you can afford, and that your available space allows.
As a minimum, though, we recommend that the interior dimensions should not be less than 34” (W) x 24” (D) x 36” (H). That’s roughly 86 x 61 x 91 cm.
A smaller cage will restrict movement.
There should be enough space in front for the door of the cage to open fully, and on the sides to allow easy replenishing of food and water bowls.
If your cage is equipped with wheels and you won’t mind moving the cage from its normal position to access the bowls then you could probably get away with a little less space on the sides.
Remember to make provision for the space at the back of the cage taken up by the seed guard, or moat, which normally comes with parrot cages of this size. This is usually a minimum of 4” (10 cm) deep.
Your grey should be let out of its cage on a regular basis so that it can get exercise, stimulation and social interaction.
If it is going to spend most of its time outside the cage then the minimum size I mentioned above should suffice.
However, if it will be spending most of its time in the cage then I recommend the largest cage possible. This will allow greater freedom of movement and space for more toys, and reduce the chances of your bird becoming bored and frustrated.
Now that you have an idea how much space your parrot’s cage will occupy; you should consider where in the house it will stand.
The easiest way to approach this is probably to eliminate a few places where your parrot’s cage should NOT stand.
Even if it was big enough to accommodate a cage, the changing heat plus the humidity and steam would not be a good environment for your parrot.
Damp would also get into the bird’s feathers and food and into the cage’s nooks and crannies. This would create a fertile environment for mildew and mold.
Air-fresheners are often used in bathrooms and contain ingredients that could be toxic to parrots.
This is an especially hazardous place for birds and we do not recommend that your parrot’s cage be placed in your kitchen.
High temperatures, open flames from gas hobs, fumes from cooking and steam. These are just some of the potential dangers that a parrot will encounter in a kitchen.
Laundry Room or Scullery
Tumble driers and washing machines create high temperatures and humidity.
Other Places Where You Should Not Place Your Parrot’s Cage.
Close to heaters or in the path of cold air from air conditioners.
Anywhere where the bird might reach plants, electrical cables or other hazards through the bars of the cage.
It should not be placed right against a window. This is the place in a room where the greatest temperature changes are likely to occur. Your parrot could be startled by passers-by, dogs and weather conditions like thunder, lightning or hail.
Your African grey will enjoy human interaction and socialization with other household members. Be aware though, that it will feel threatened and vulnerable if its cage is placed in the path of a lot of passing traffic in the home.
This is especially true when noisy children are playing or running by near to the cage. Be aware of this when choosing the spot where its cage will stand.
Your African grey will also feel more secure if its cage is placed with one or two of its sides against a wall.
You should now have enough information to know if you have enough space to keep a grey parrot in your home.
Are There Other Pets in Your Household?
Do you have other pets in your household that can move around freely?
The obvious examples are cats and dogs. Both are huge risks for a bird. Their presence will limit your options on how and when you would be able to release your parrot from its cage.
Your African grey should never be left unsupervised in a room with such potentially dangerous pets. Even if they are docile and appear to pose no threat to the bird.
Your grey might become startled by a sudden movement or noise and fall off its perch, or start fluttering around the room. Either of these events could be enough to trigger predatory instincts in a dog or cat, and cause it to attack the bird.
Even when you are present in the room, it’s always a good idea to position yourself somewhere between the bird and the dog or cat.
Make sure that you have plenty of time to place yourself in an obstructive position if something sudden and unexpected were to happen.
Even if these animals innocently approach the parrot, maybe with the intention of playing or socializing, there is a big risk.
African grey parrots are physically fragile creatures. They have to be if they are to be light enough to fly under their own steam.
The smallest adult dog or cat is bigger, faster, more powerful and more agile than an African grey parrot on the floor. Such a pet could cause serious injury to your bird, even if it has no intention of harming it.
It is certainly not impossible to keep an African grey parrot in the same household as dogs and cats. Just ensure that effective measures are taken to ensure the bird’s safety.
We’ve had as many as three dogs in our household at any one time, since Kokkie joined our family and, thankfully, we’ve never had a serious incident.
That’s because we have been prepared to adapt to the situation effectively. We either took time out to be with Kokkie in the same room as the dogs, or we separated dog and bird when we were not able to supervise them.
Once, I even constructed a simple barrier to ensure that the two were separated, but more on that in a future article.
If you are willing to make adjustments to your routine and lifestyle when necessary, there should be no reason why you cannot keep an African grey parrot when you have other pets in the house.
Can You Provide A Safe Environment for Your Parrot?
There are numerous other ways that your parrot can get itself into serious trouble in your home. You should be aware of them and be prepared to adapt appropriately to make your parrot’s environment safe.
We already mentioned some of the risks in the section “Do You Have Sufficient Space?” earlier in this post. That only covered some problems that different areas of the home pose for an African grey when it is confined to its cage.
When you release your grey parrot from its cage you expose it to a multitude of new dangers. Greys are curious creatures. If you allow yours to walk around, it will investigate almost everything that it encounters, usually by using its beak to handle any objects that it comes across.
It is likely to try to bite through electrical cables. It will try to chew on plants and other objects that it encounters, some of which may be toxic.
Be certain that your parrot only encounters household objects that you are prepared to let it handle.
If its wings have not been clipped it will be capable of flight and be able to reach elevated surfaces.
What this means is that, in an instant, a toilet or basin becomes a drowning hazard. Dressers, medicine and liquor cabinets may house containers with hazardous substances inside. Stove tops and open candle flames are burn risks.
Do not forget open windows. These allow a quick escape to the dangerous outdoors. They also provide easy entry to the home for unwanted intruders; the neighbor’s cat, for example.
In a nutshell, you should assess every area of your home that your parrot will have access to. Identify every potential danger, and take effective measures to remove the risk.
Owning an African grey often demands a degree of lifestyle change from the owner. You should be prepared to do this to protect your loyal companion.
Can You Afford an African Grey Parrot?
So, you have decided that you want to buy an African grey parrot, and now want to understand what the full cost of ownership will be. Here we will list what we think are the some of the more essential expenses that you are likely to incur.
By now, we hope we have made you realize that you really need a bigger cage than you probably anticipated, and you’ve made provision for that expense. Most cages should come equipped with perches, food and water bowls. If yours does not, make sure to account for these items too.
If you’ve shopped around, you’ll have realized that an African grey is likely to cost you anything from several hundred dollars to as much as $1500.
You’ve also decided to get your new parrot off to a healthy start. So, you have added parrot pellets and additional fruit and vegetables to your usual grocery list.
What other expenses should you make provision for? Like your other pets, if you have any, your bird should get a regular general examination by a vet, preferably an avian vet. This should be done once a year if your pet is not affected by illness or other issues; more frequently if it is.
If the costs of unplanned veterinary visits will be a concern, you could consider taking out pet health insurance for your parrot.
A travel cage is a necessity when you need to take your parrot to a vet, or for taking it out of the house for any other reason. This is a small cage which is used to transport the bird for short distances.
What will you be doing with your parrot when you let it out of its cage at home? Will it be sitting on your hand or shoulder most of the time? Will you be leaving your parrot in one room while you are in another?
You might consider getting a free-standing perch or play stand for these times. Alternatively, get a smaller, secondary cage, depending on your environment and circumstances. Any of these will be easier to move around than the large main cage
This could be placed in a room where you spend some time, and you want your bird to be with you during such times.
Depending on how much time you anticipate your bird will be spending on it, you may also want to get food and water bowls for the play stand or perch.
Finally, toys to keep your parrot stimulated and entertained are a necessary expense. Understand that many of them will not last for very long and will need replacement; often more frequently than you might imagine.
Bungees and perches made from wire covered with colored rope are popular parrot toys, and parrots enjoy playing with them. They also enjoy dismantling them by chewing through the rope, and stripping the rope from the wire, rendering them useless as toys.
We buy these regularly for Kokkie, and we consider it good value if one lasts as long as two weeks. Sometimes, though not always, they only last for a day or two.
There are other, more durable, toys for parrots that can last for much longer and you should get some of these too. Even these will need regular replacement, though, as your parrot will eventually become bored with them.
How Old Are You?
A healthy, well-kept captive African grey parrot can live for 40, or even 60, years. Give some thought to your age and consider whether your grey is likely to outlive you, uncomfortable as that thought might be.
If it is, can you identify a suitable home that it will go to in the event of your passing?
Are you still keen to own an African grey after reading this post? Are you committed to providing it with the best possible home for years to come?
If so, then congratulations on being a soon-to-be owner of an African grey parrot. Treat it right and it will fascinate you with its abilities and repay your care and attention with many years of entertaining companionship.