African Gray Parrots have endeared themselves to bird enthusiasts everywhere for centuries (dating back from Ancient Greece), and with good reason: African Grays have great personalities, in addition to being one of the handsomest birds around. Not the easiest companion bird to keep, these fine parrots are nonetheless one of the most interesting pets for experienced and novice owners alike; properly cared for, they can lead long and fruitful lives.
The popularity of African Gray Parrots holds a lot of potential for owners looking to support their passion for the bird by becoming a breeder and trader of African Grays. The good news is that this endeavor can become very lucrative if carried out carefully; however, there are no hard and fast guidelines that are 100% foolproof to make such an enterprise a success. The reason for this uncertainty is rooted in the birds having relatively more complex personalities than other species, and it is this same interesting trait that makes them unpredictable. What can apply to a certain individual bird may not hold true for another.
Experienced breeders, though, agree on a number of pointers that, arguably, can be used as a comfortable base for embarking on your very own African Gray Parrot breeding enterprise:
Stock is Important
To make sure you get excellent young birds from your breeding pair, it is imperative to procure said pair from a reputable dealer. This will make it probable that you are getting genetically-superior stock, which traits your future African Grays will inherit. If possible, look for parent birds that has a proven track record; that is, they are known to have produced top-notch chicks from a previous breeding run. Consider yourself lucky indeed if you are able to obtain such a pair. Barring this, it will be a bit more challenging to find suitable candidates for your cock and hen birds (the male and female, respectively).
Obviously, you would want to get adult birds of breeding age. It is difficult to accurately assess how old an individual African Gray is; the telltale indicator that one is at least an adult bird, is if its eyes are already yellow in color (juveniles have black eyes). Reputable pet shops will also (most of the time) sell accurately-sexed specimens, which is another good reason to get your stock from such dealers. However, if you really want to make sure of the birds’ sexes, you may have them undergo DNA testing.
Now, some dealers may try to sell you a pair of birds packaged as “bonded” (in human terms, bonded may refer to being “in a relationship”); however, it would be prudent if you verify this for yourself. Experienced breeders will look for pairs that show obvious signs of bonding such as mutual preening, feeding and other “shows of affection”. If you don’t find these cues in the pair being offered, it might be possible that your dealer may be using “Bonded” as a selling point to dump two indifferent birds on you. Be very careful when buying into such packages, as it may take years for a male bird and a female bird to get into a bonded stage, if at all. The logic is simple: if no bonding occurs, then no breeding will occur.
Caring for Your Pair
To encourage breeding in your birds, make sure that they are comfortable in terms of housing and feeding arrangements. Most owners find that the African Gray needs to have a sufficiently private environment in order to get into the breeding state. Provide a spacious cage with perches, and ample room for exercise. Feeders should be contrived in such a way that disturbing the pair will be minimized: ideally, it should a setup that easily allows food and water to be introduced to the cages while reducing the probability of the birds making a bid for escape during feeding time. Here, feeder slots that swing inside would a great option.
The nest area can be an enclosure located within the cage itself, preferably at a far end away from activity areas. It should be made of sturdy material, such as thick plywood, with reinforced jointing. The nest area should have roofing over it to further enhance privacy, but the activity areas themselves can be left without a shelter overhead. All parts of the cage should be made very sturdy, as African Grays have a habit of chewing up whatever surfaces they could find.
Don’t expect your pair to get right to breeding as soon as they move into their new home. At worst, it will take a few years even for a bonded pair to produce their first eggs. Therefore, some careful nudging in the right direction to encourage breeding will help shorten the wait.
Feed your birds with a superior diet to make sure they produce robust chicks from large clutches. A poor diet will result in less eggs and sickly young birds. African Grays typically lay from one to three eggs per clutch; so ensuring that you get two or three each breeding not only makes your efforts more efficient, it also maximizes your profits from the sale of young Grays. Fortunately, African Grays breed all year round, so it’s possible to have multiple clutches in a single year. However, do not overdo it: egg-laying and chick rearing can be particularly hard on the hen. Too much work on her part will exhaust her and possibly kill her. Ideally, a breeder should limit his or her hen to two clutches per year, spaced adequately, to allow her to properly recuperate between each breeding.
It is possible to coax breeding at the right time by controlling the birds’ diet. The reason why there is particular breeding season for the African Gray is that, in their original habitat, food sources are available all year round to provide ample nourishment for chicks at any given time. There are certain feed mixes available in the market specifically formulated to encourage breeding. Therefore, provide this food when you want your pair to breed, and exchange this for another type of feed mix when you want your hen to recuperate from her nesting duties.
Caring for the Eggs and Chicks
After the eggs are laid, you should give your breeding pair a lot of privacy to make hatching the eggs easier for them. The hatchlings come out from their eggs after a month, so during this time refrain from peeking constantly inside the nesting area. Just make sure the feeders get replenished regularly. Allow about seven weeks from the time the eggs are laid before checking again: by that time, two- to three-week old hatchlings should be present already. Don’t worry about dead hatchlings because, after all, what you’re after are high-quality young birds to sell. Those who do not survive the natural selection process are often those that are weak and sickly, and therefore will not grow into superb specimens that people would want to buy.