Want to know more about one of the most talented and intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom? In this post you will find some basic information about the African grey parrot.

What Is An African Grey Parrot?

African grey is a name used to refer to two medium-sized grey parrots with red tails that are native to Central and West Africa. These are known as the Congo African grey (CAG) and the Timneh African grey (TAG).

Until recently, the Timneh was regarded as a sub-species of the grey parrot but, in 2012, the Timneh was declared a species on its own.

For those who care about such things, the scientific name of the Congo African grey is Psittacus erithacus, and for the Timneh it is Psittacus timneh.

African grey parrots are known for their ability to mimic human speech and their intelligence, and are prized companion pets.

What Is The Difference Between The Congo And Timneh African Grey?

There are several differences.

For me, the easiest way to tell that a parrot is a Congo African grey is by the black coloring of its beak. The Timneh has a lighter horn-colored patch on its upper beak.

Physically, the Congo is a little larger than the Timneh with a body length around 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 inches) compared to the Timneh’s 23 to 28 cm (9 to 11 inches), and a body weight between 400 and 650 grams (0.8 to 1.4 pounds) vs the 250 to 375 grams (0.6 to 0.8 pounds) of the Timneh.

The feathers of the Timneh African grey parrot are a dark, almost charcoal grey color, compared to the lighter grey of the Congo parrot, and its tail feathers are maroon-coloured whereas the Congo’s tail is bright red.

Mimicry – Look Who’s Talking

The African grey is famous for its outstanding ability to reproduce sounds that it picks up from its environment. Even more impressive is its ability to mimic human speech. In the case of the Congo grey, it does so in the voice of the human that it is copying. The Timneh grey, however, speaks in its own voice.

African greys are even capable of singing.

Numerous examples exist on television, online media, and elsewhere, of African greys demonstrating vocabularies of several hundred words, and the ability to replicate almost any sound.

The African Grey Parrot Habitat

The African grey is native to equatorial Africa. The Congo grey is found in large areas of central Africa ranging from the west coast and reaching countries like Uganda and Kenya in the east. The Timneh is confined to a much smaller area, ranging from Guinea-Bissau and reaching as far as the Ivory Coast in the south.

There is almost no overlap between the habitats of the two species.

African Grey Lifespan

The lifespan of the African grey parrot in captivity is said to be in the range of 40 to 60 years. Some sources suggest that a life expectancy of even 80 years is possible.

In the wild, life expectancy is dramatically lower at around 23 years.

What Do African Grey Parrots Eat?

A Congo African Grey On A Branch Eating An Orange
African Grey Eating An Orange

The natural African grey parrot diet consists mostly of fruits, nuts and seeds. It will also eat certain flowers, the bark of trees and even snails and insects. It has a preference for the fruit of the oil palm.

In captivity, it can feed on bird pellets, sunflower seeds, peanuts, cooked gem squash, sweet potato, and most raw fruit and vegetables to be found in the average household.

Elsewhere on this website you can find our comprehensive list of safe foods for parrots, complete with nutritional information for most foods.

Certain human foods, like avocado, are toxic to parrots.

Mr And Mrs Grey

African grey parrots are sexually dimorphic, which means that there are differences in the outer appearance of males and females. These differences are so subtle though that, unless a male and a female are available to be compared with each other directly, it is very difficult to identify a bird’s gender.

This method cannot be used to establish the sex of young birds as the physical variations between the genders only begin to appear from the age of about 18 months.

The only reliable way to determine the gender of a captive African grey is either surgically, or by DNA testing.

In their natural habitat, African grey parrots nest in tree cavities, one pair to a tree, frequently taking over holes abandoned by other birds such as woodpeckers.

The hen lays between 3 to 5 eggs in total and is fed by the male while she incubates them. Both parents feed and care for the chicks after they hatch.

Conservation

Although African greys have a few natural enemies in the wild, by far the greatest threat posed to them is by humans. Loss of habitat through deforestation, and trapping of birds for the international pet trade has caused their numbers to decline sharply.

Estimates of population sizes vary widely – anything from several hundred thousand birds to more than 10 million, but there is no doubt that their numbers are shrinking.

It is estimated that in Ghana alone, up to 99% of the total population of African grey parrots may have been decimated.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the African grey parrot as ‘endangered’ (EN), a negative change from the previous ‘vulnerable’ (VU) classification. This means that there is a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Fauna and Flora (CITES) afforded African grey parrots the highest level of protection by listing them under Appendix I. As a result, the international trade of wild African grey parrots has effectively been banned since 2017.

The commercial trade of captive-bred grey parrots is unaffected by this ban and is still legal.

African Grey Intelligence – This Birdbrain Is Smart

For a long time, those who have owned, or have had opportunities to observe African grey parrots over time, have believed that they possess high natural intelligence.

But it was not until Dr. Irene Pepperberg shared with the world the results of her research with an African grey called Alex, that scientific evidence began to emerge that supported such beliefs.

Dr Pepperberg showed that Alex was able to understand simple verbal instructions and could correctly identify characteristics of various objects according to their number, colour, shape, size and material composition.

Alex died unexpectedly in 2007, but Dr. Pepperberg has managed to replicate these results, and continue her research, with several other African greys as well as other parrot species.

African grey parrots are understood to have the cognitive and reasoning abilities of a 3 to 6-year-old human child.

Famous African Grey Parrots

Einstein

Congo African Grey Parrot Looking Down
A Congo African Grey Parrot

Probably still the best-known parrot mimic, Einstein achieved fame after appearing on TED in 2006. Trained to do so by her keepers (yes, Einstein was a girl) at Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, USA, Einstein had a repertoire of around 200 words and sounds.

Prudle

This grey was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as ‘Best Talking Bird’ by virtue of her winning the title of ‘Best Talking Parrot-Like Bird’ at the National Cage and Aviary Bird Show in London, for 12 years in a row between 1965 and 1976.

Prudle had a vocabulary of around 800 words. She retired undefeated.

Alex

Alex became the subject of Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s ground-breaking research into animal cognition and became famous after Dr Pepperberg wrote about and demonstrated her findings.

N’kisi

N’kisi has an impressive vocabulary of over 900 words. He was supposedly able to recognize Jane Goodall, the celebrated chimpanzee researcher, whom he had never met before and after only having seen her in a photograph. Upon their first meeting he asked her “Got a chimp?”

N’kisi is also said to have telepathic abilities.

To test this, a study was devised wherein he and his owner, Aimee Morgana, were placed in separate rooms and recorded using synchronized video cameras. Aimee was shown several photographs which she studied for 2 minutes at a time. In the other room, N’kisi’s uttering was recorded and analysed for keywords relating to the pictures shown to Aimee. The score that N’kisi attained in this study was almost twice what would normally have been attributed to chance.

Elements of the scientific community have however treated this study with skepticism.

The African Grey Parrot As A Pet – A Demanding Commitment

African grey parrots are intelligent, playful, social animals that demand frequent and stimulating interaction with their owners. Without it, they can become bored and depressed, leading to the development of destructive and aggressive behaviors.

To stay healthy, they require clean living areas, space that enables them to be physically active, and a diet that is varied and nutritious. This means fruit and vegetables daily, in addition to seeds.

Caring for an African grey requires a lot of time of its owner, and a constant awareness of the bird’s needs.

Owing to its long life expectancy and its tendency to bond with a single person, caring for an African grey parrot must be a long-term commitment.

Want To Know More About African Grey Parrots?

Please feel free to explore this website. Whether you are a prospective African grey owner or you already own a grey you are very likely to find what you are looking for here.

We are continuously adding new articles and guides, and are also expanding and refining our existing posts, so if you don’t find what you are looking for right away then come back regularly.

Alternatively, leave a comment to let us know what kind of information you would like us to provide. We’ll do our best to accommodate you.

34 Comments

  1. I love this post. I don’t do much research on animals, but reading this post was fascinating. This is such a gorgeous bird. I loved learning about the different parrots and their vocabulary. It shows just how intelligent they can be.

    1. Thank you Jodi. I can’t begin to tell you just how amazing and rewarding it can be to listen to and interact with a healthy, well adjusted African grey.

  2. I love the African Grey Parrot,we use to have one as a pet when we were child,will never forget.He use to say “good morning” every day or close the door man”, It the best pet for big family. They are so smart, fan and bring life and happiness every day. What’s done to protect them? I hope through your articles people learn about them. They are wonderful and precious, thank you for this article.

    1. Hi Mathene. You’re welcome. Yes, I hope that my website will help to create awareness about the plight of wild African greys.
      Another aim of this site is to help people understand what they need to do to ensure that their African grey lives a healthy and happy life.
      It’s the least that we can do for them in return for the pleasure that they bring into our lives.

  3. I really enjoyed this article on african grey parrots. Though I’ve never owned a parrot, my parents had a mynah bird for many years. It had an amazing vocabulary, though some words were a bit rude lol! How amazing that the african grey is so intelligent, and that Prudle had such a huge vocabulary of 800 words. I’m sure this breed of parrot would make a great pet, but would need a lot of attention. How sad that 99% of african greys have disappeared from Ghana.

    1. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it Kathy. Yes, their disappearance from the wild is sad. If you ever come across anyone expressing interest in buying an African grey, draw their attention to the problem and ask them to ensure that they buy a captive-bred grey and not one caught in the wild.

  4. Thank you for this post on African Greys! My neighbour has one and they are super fun to listen to, especially when they “mimicry” to practically everything they hear. I have 5 parrots of my own, and they make lots of noise and mimicry too, but not as much as an African Grey can.

  5. I really enjoyed and learned so much about the African Grey Parrot I never knew, and in fact, I have never heard of this parrot until reading your article. You have given me the craving to want one of these for my very own, you see I love animals but I have never had a pet bird and this one really has gotten my attention

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jeff

    1. Thank you Jeff. So glad that I could share something that you enjoyed. If you do decide to get one, please research carefully and make sure that you are doing the right thing and that that you are prepared to dedicate the time and effort required. I plan to do several articles in forthcoming weeks that will help people to decide if African grey ownership is right for them. Keep your eyes peeled for them :).

  6. Dear Frank
    Thank you very much for your fantastic website. It is amazing that you show people where to start and what steps to take towards looking after their favourite pets. I hope more people will know about your website and follow your guidance.
    Kind regards,
    Andrey

  7. I have seen this bird at the local pet store. But never knew it was called the African Grey Parrot. It is really beautiful.

    Thank you for all the information about it. I found it very interesting. And also sad when I read that it is facing extinction. I mean, 99% of the population gone! Very sad. So many animals in our world are facing extinctions too. And I am very sad to hear it is happening to this fine species.

    On the other hand, it was wonderful to hear that they are living longer lives as pets. Does this mean that most of the African Grey Parrots are now bred in captivity? With longer life spans, can we help them have more babies? And in effect, save them from extinction?

    1. Thank you Timotheus. It’s only in Ghana where 99% of the population has disappeared. Fortunately, African greys also exist in other African countries where the impact of illegal trade in greys is not as severe as in Ghana, but is still bad enough for the populations in those countries to be threatened too.
      To answer your question, I don’t know whether more African greys are bred in captivity than in the wild. I think it is safe to say that in countries where laws designed to stop the illegal trade of endangered animals are being enforced, like the US and much of Europe for example, most of the African greys sold in those countries would have been bred in captivity and this would reduce the demand for illegal wild-caught birds. This would have the effect of allowing the wild populations to stabilize and grow again.

  8. Great post, very well written, easy to read, very informative. I knew they were highly intelligent I didn’t realize there numbers have been decimated to the risk of extinction, so sad for such a beautiful creature

    1. Thank you for your feedback Butch. Promoting awareness of the threat to African greys in the wild, and encouraging responsible ownership can only help their predicament.

  9. I saw a video whete these birds were doing some amazing tasks. It was unbelievable to see how smart they are. The degree of difficulty was higher with each new task, but they were unstoppable. Thanks for sharing this article. Great site!

    1. Hi Ivan. Yes, they really are amazing creatures. Thank you so much for your comments and feedback. Feel free to visit again soon 🙂

  10. What’s an interesting article! I remember having a family pet African grey parrot as a kid, and this is told me some fascinating facts about them.

    For example, I would never have known that avocado was toxic to parrots due to the persin in them as you said in your other article, because they can eat so many fruits.

    It’s a shame that these beautiful and intelligent creatures are at a high risk of extinction, and as usual because of humans. Considering that the percentage is now so low in Ghana, does that mean that the Timneh African Grey Parrot is at a higher risk?

    Thank you for sharing this, there’s a lot to learn here, for sure.

    Kind regards,
    James

    1. Thank you James. Glad that I was able to help you learn something new about African greys.

      Are you asking whether the Timneh is at a higher risk because its habitat borders Ghana? No, probably not. Although African greys are being illegally captured throughout their habitat, Ghana’s rate of population decline is most likely a result of the implementation of controls and preventative measures being the weakest in that country compared to others.

  11. Thank you for this great post. Now we know more about the African Grey and its sub-species the Congo African grey and the Timneh African grey, and the differences between them. These parrots seem fascinating. Wish we had one of them.

    Keep posting about these birds and wish you all the best.

  12. I love your article on the African Grey When I was a kid we had one I loved the parrot.It was enjoyable to read such a great article well done.

  13. I had a friend with 2 African Greys. They lived a long long life, not sure if they’re still around, I haven’t seen my friend in over 20 years.

    I know they’re super smart, and very talkative. Most parrots are quite smart. Let’s not call them bird brains, eh? They’re actually way smarter than some people!

  14. I loved this article. I knew nothing about African Gray Parrots before. Your article had lots of information. I was so curious that I went to Youtube and watched several videos on these parrots, including one on Einstein. Amazing that they can have the intelligence of a 3-6 year old child. Thanks for this very interest post. -Shirley

    1. Thank you for your feedback Shirley. It’s really great getting responses like yours.

      I have plans in the pipeline to start posting videos of our own African grey in the not too distant future. He has some original sayings and unique delivery that I think will be worth sharing.

  15. Great article! My colleague ha a grey parrot so this will be really useful for her. I will pass this on. I didnt know they can live up to 80 years old! Excellent information!

    1. I appreciate the comments Russ, as well as the introduction for your colleague. I hope that she finds the site useful.

  16. Having absolutely no knowledge about parrots, this article was very enlightening. I love learning random facts. I had no idea the African grey parrot could live up to 60 years, I guess I always assumed parrots would have relatively short lifespans. Thank you for this!

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