Psittacus cinereus Gmelin, 1788
The grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), also known as the Congo grey parrot, Congo African grey parrot or African grey parrot, is an Old World parrot in the family Psittacidae. The Timneh parrot (Psittacus timneh) once was identified as a subspecies of the grey parrot, but has since been elevated to a full species.
The grey parrot is a medium-sized, predominantly grey, black-billed parrot. Its typical weight is 400 g (0.88 lb), with an approximate length of 33 cm (13 in), and a wingspan of 46–52 cm (18–20 in). It has darker grey than its body over the head and both wings. The head and body feathers have slight white edges. The tail feathers are red.
Due to selection by parrot breeders, some grey parrots are partly or completely red. Both sexes appear similar. The colouration of juveniles is similar to that of adults, but typically, their eyes are dark grey to black, in comparison to the yellow irises around dark eyes of the adult birds, and their undertail coverts are tinged with grey. Adults weigh 418–526 g (0.922–1.160 lb).
Grey parrots may live for 40–60 years in captivity, although their mean lifespan in the wild appears to be shorter — approximately 23 years.
Distribution and habitat
The grey parrot is native to equatorial Africa, including Angola, Cameroon, the Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. The species is found inside a range from Kenya to the eastern part of the Ivory Coast. Current estimates for the global population are uncertain and range from 630,000 to 13 million birds. Populations are decreasing worldwide. The species seems to favor dense forests, but can also be found at forest edges and in more open vegetation types, such as gallery and savanna forests.
A population study published in 2015 found that the species had been ″virtually eliminated″ from Ghana with numbers declining 90 to 99% since 1992. They were found in only 10 of 42 forested areas, and three roosts that once held 700–1200 birds each, now had only 18 in total. Local people mainly blamed the pet trade, and the felling of timber for the decline. Populations are thought to be stable in Cameroon. In the Congo an estimated 15,000 are taken every year for the pet trade, from the eastern part of the country, although the annual quota is stated to be 5,000.
Behaviour and ecology
They are mostly frugivorous, most of their diet consists of fruit, nuts, and seeds. The species prefers oil palm fruit and they eat flowers and tree bark, as well as insects and snails. In the wild, the grey parrot is partly a ground feeder. In captivity, they may be fed bird pellets, a variety of fruits such as pear, orange, pomegranate, apple, and banana, and vegetables such as carrot, cooked sweet potato, celery, fresh kale, peas, and green beans. They also need a source of calcium.
Grey parrots are monogamous breeders who nest in tree cavities. Each mated pair of parrots needs their own tree for their nest. The hen lays three to five eggs, which she incubates for 30 days while being fed by her mate. The adults defend their nesting sites. Both parents help take care of the chicks until they can go off on their own.
Grey parrot chicks require feeding and care from their parents in the nest. The parents take care of them until 4-5 weeks after they are fledged. Young leave the nest at the age of 12 weeks. Little is known about the courtship behavior of this species in the wild. They weigh 12–14 g (0.42–0.49 oz) at hatching and 372–526 g (13.1–18.6 oz) when they leave their parents.
The natural predators for this species include palm-nut vultures and a number of raptors. Monkeys target eggs and the young for food. Grey parrots in captivity have been observed to be susceptible to fungal infections, bacterial infections, nutritional insufficiency, malignant tumors, psittacine beak and feather disease, tapeworms, and blood-worms.
Humans are by far the largest threat to wild grey populations. Between 1994 and 2003, more than 359,000 grey parrots were traded on the international market. Approximately 21% of the wild population was being harvested every year. Mortality rates are extremely high between the time they are captured and they reach market, ranging from 60–66%. Mortality among imported birds is high. This species also is hunted for its meat and for its parts, which are used in traditional medicines. 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 therefore, has been rated as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In October 2016, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Fauna and Flora (CITES) extended the highest level of protection to grey parrots by listing the species under Appendix 1, which bans global and domestic trade in the species.
Relationship to humans
The species is common in captivity and regularly is 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. An escaped pet in Japan was returned to his owner after repeating the owner's name and address.
They are notorious for mimicking noises heard in their environment and using them tirelessly. They are highly intelligent birds, needing enrichment and attention in captivity or else they may become distressed. Feather plucking is a common symptom seen among such distressed grey parrots. They also may be prone to behavioural problems due to their sensitive nature. Social isolation hastens stress and aging.
Grey parrots are highly intelligent, having been shown to perform at the cognitive level of a four- to six-year-old child in some tasks. New experiments have shown that grey parrots can learn number sequences and can associate human voices with the faces of those humans. Most notably, Dr. Irene Pepperberg's work with Alex the parrot showed his ability to learn more than 100 words, differentiating between objects, colours, materials, and shapes. A recent study has shown that grey parrots possess probabilistic reasoning, being able to make inferences about a sample, based on information from a population.
Grey mutations occur naturally in the wild, such as the Blue Ino (albino), the Incomplete Ino, and the Blue varietals. The Blue Ino is all white. The Incomplete Ino has light pigmentation. The Blue has a white tail.
Breeders from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia have bred greys intensively since the 1800s. These bred varieties include the Red Pied, F2 Pied, Grizzles, Ino, Incomplete, Parino, Lutino, Cinnamon, and Red Factor. South African bird breeder Von van Antwerpen and New Zealand partner Jaco Bosman selected F2 Pieds and created the first Red Factor Greys. They are rare, may be predominantly red-pigmented, and vary in price depending upon the extent of the red plumage displayed.
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