African grey parrot

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African grey parrot
Psittacus erithacus -perching on tray-8d.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Superfamily: Psittacoidea
Family: Psittacidae
Subfamily: Psittacinae
Genus: Psittacus
Species: P. erithacus
Binomial name
Psittacus erithacus
Linnaeus, 1758
Congo Grey Parrot range.jpg
Range in green

The African grey parrot is an Old World parrot in the family Psittacidae. There are two major subspecies of African greys. This article describes the Congo African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus), the other being the Timneh African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh).


The African grey parrot is a medium-sized, predominantly grey, black-billed parrot which weighs 400 g, with a length of 33 cm[2] and an average wingspan of 46–52 cm.[3] The tail and undertail coverts are red, in comparison to the maroon of the smaller Timneh parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh). Both sexes appear similar.[2] The colouration of juveniles is similar to that of adults, however the eye is typically dark grey to black, in comparison to the greyish-yellow eyes of the adult birds. The undertail coverts are also tinged with grey.[2]

African grey parrots are long-lived birds that may live for 40–60 years in captivity, although their mean lifespan in the wild appears to be somewhat shorter at ~23 years.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The African grey parrot is native to equatorial Africa, including Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. There is much uncertainty in estimates of global population, which range from 0.6–13 million individuals. The species seems to favour dense forests but can also be found at forest edges and in more open vegetation types (gallery and savannah forests).[1]

A population study published in 2015 found that the species had been ″virtually eliminated″ from Ghana with numbers declining 90 to 99 percent since 1992. They were found in only ten of forty-two forested areas, and in three roosts that once held between 700 and 1200 birds each, now had only eighteen in total. Local people mainly blamed the pet trade, and the felling of timber for the decline.[4] Populations are thought to be stable in Cameroon, and in the Congo an estimated 15,000 are taken every year, for the pet trade, from the eastern part of the country. The annual quota is 5,000.[4]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


African grey parrots are monogamous breeders which nest in tree cavities. The hen lays 3–5 eggs, which she incubates for 30 days while being fed by her mate. Young leave the nest at the age of 12 weeks. Little is known about the courtship behaviour of this species in the wild.[3]

Food and feeding[edit]

The African grey parrot is primarily a herbivore, feeding on fruit, nuts, leaves, bark and flowers, but may also take insects.[3]

Threats to survival[edit]

Humans are by far the largest threat to wild African grey populations. Between 1994 and 2003, over 359,000 African grey parrots were traded on the international market. Mortality amongst imported birds is high.[5] As a result of the extensive harvest of wild birds, in addition to habitat loss, this species is believed to be undergoing a rapid decline in the wild and has therefore been rated as vulnerable by the IUCN.[1]

Relationship to humans[edit]

The species is common in captivity and is regularly kept by humans as a companion parrot, prized for its ability to mimic human speech, which makes it one of the most popular avian pets.[1] However, it may be prone to behavioural problems due to its sensitive nature.[5]

African Greys are also highly intelligent, having been shown to perform at the cognitive level of a 4–6 year old child in some tasks. Most notably, Dr Irene Pepperberg's work with Alex the parrot showed his ability to learn over 100 words, differentiating between objects, colors, materials, and shapes. [6]


  1. ^ a b c d Bellamy, D, Boyes, S, Dowsett-Lemaire, F, Gilardi, J, Hall, P, Hart, J, Hart, T, Lindsell, J, Michels, A, Phalan, B, Pomeroy, D & Rainey, H (2013). "Psittacus erithacus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)". World Parrot Trust. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Holman, Rachel. "Psittacus erithacus". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Future is black for grey parrots". New Scientist 228 (3049): 9. 28 November 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) – Care In Captivity". World Parrot Trust. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Pepperberg, I M (2002) The Alex Studies: cognitive and communicative abilities of grey parrots. Harvard University Press.