The African Gray Parrot is a vulnerable species of Psittacidae and it is native to the Western and Central African rainforest. It is a medium-sized parrot and its distinctive features are its gray feathers with white markings around the eyes and black bleak. The African Gray Parrot is deemed one of the most intelligent birds and, in contrast with other parrots, it has been observed in its natural habitat even repeating the sounds made by other species of birds. Its cognitive development is similar to that of highly intelligent animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins and even to that of toddlers.
There are two accepted subspecies – Congo African Gray Parrot and Timneh African Gray Parrot. The former is larger in size than the Timneh, it has light-gray feathers and a red tail. The latter is thus smaller, dark-gray feathers and a chestnut tail. The Congo African Gray is found in Kenya, Congo, Tanzania, Angola and Ivory Coast. The Timneh African Gray is distributed from the savannas of West Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and Mali. The domestic Timneh starts to speak earlier than the Congo and it is considered less agitated when it is surrounded by strangers than the Congo. The captive-bred Congo usually begins to speak around the age of 2-3 years.
Although the trade with wild-caught African Grays is restricted, because these parrot are listed on CITES appendix II, they continue to be illegally captured and then sold as pets. The US and the European Union prohibits the import of wild-caught African Grays. Their number is increasingly declining also due to habitat (rainforest) destruction, because the trees they depend on for nesting are also valuable for timber. This species is very appreciated as a pet, due to its high intelligence, sociability, ability to learn and reproduce human speech and its magnificent beauty. Scientific studies have also shown that they are able to make the connection mentally between words and their meanings, to express certain preferences and even to apply concepts such as color, shape and number.
Other interesting facts / informations about this majestic bird include its longevity in captivity of 50-70 years and its ability to repeat and interpret all the noises and sounds made by household appliances and even profanity words spoken by its owner. Their impressive mimicry is also part of the fascinating facts about these parrots, as well as their well-developed memory and capability to distinguish a large number of voices. In terms of gender, males are slightly longer than females and the females have a narrower head and a suppler neck.
The diet of the wild African Gray Parrot includes fruits, leafy vegetables, seeds, palm nuts and sometimes snails. The diet of captive-bred African Gray should include grains, pellets, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables and cuddlebone for calcium supplementation. The breeding ability of this species is good and it is compatible with other species equally smart such as Eclectus. These birds lay a number of 2-4 eggs and the incubation period is between 21-30 days. Captive-bred African Grays have suffered several mutations, including albino, lutino, grizzles, white-tailed, parino and incomplete ino (mostly white). There are also a few mutations which have occurred naturally in the wild.
In the captivity, they usually get bored in the absence of proper communication between owner and bird, which leads to feather picking. These domestic parrots have a gentle nature and lovely disposition, but they require constant attention from and interaction with their family members. The most famous African Gray Parrot was Alex , which died in 2007 at 31 years old. Alex belonged to Dr. Pepperberg, an animal psychologist and it was the subject of the Avian Language Experiment. Alex could identify more than 100 actions, colors and objects.