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How To Take Care of African Grey Parrots

Last Updated on January 29, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Both sub-species of African greys (Congo and Timneh) need a suitable cage setup, toys, food, water, exercise, one-on-one attention, and ongoing care to thrive in captivity as pets.

If a parrot is left alone, seldom leaves its cage, is exposed to an ever-changing routine, or lacks mental enrichment, it’ll grow distressed. This can lead to behavioral problems, like feather picking.

African greys (Psittacus erithacus) have complex care needs and are long-lived animals. They should be vaccinated for Polyomavirus and examined by a veterinarian every 6 to 12 months.

If you’re a first-time African grey parrot owner, use these easy-to-follow tips and advice to guide you.

Cage Setup for African Grey Parrots

An African grey parrot’s cage should be at least 36 x 24 x 48 inches.

According to the Center for Animal Rehab and Education, the bars should be ¾ to 1 inch apart. This will prevent escape, enable the parrot to climb, and make it easier to attach perches and feeders.

African greys are sensitive to noise and movement. They can grow distressed when overstimulated by their surroundings, so position the cage in the corner of the room.

Cage Lining

African greys, like all parrots, are messy birds. They poop often, sometimes defecating outside their cage, drop a large percentage of their food, and enjoy destroying things with their strong beaks.

African grey parrots also release dust from their wings. This is a powder down that coats the wings, insulating the feathers and keeping them warm.

While parrot dust is easy to clean, be mindful of breathing problems. Parrot dust can trigger asthma attacks or lead to a respiratory condition called Bird Fancier’s Lung (BFL).

Cage liners, newspaper, and paper towels are recommended for lining the cage.

african grey parrots as pets

Perches

Position 3+ wooden perches at different levels and angles in the cage. One perch should be in an elevated position because birds have a preference for higher vantage points.

Plastic perches with rough edges will cut the parrot’s feet, risking bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis). Similarly, perches coated with an abrasive surface will remove the surface layer of skin.

Toys

African greys grow bored easily, so they need interesting toys to keep them entertained and engaged. These include bells, rope swings, climbing frames, and distorted mirrors.

Temperature

African grey parrots live in the hot climes of Africa, preferring an ambient temperature of 72–80°F. Avoid positioning the cage in a draughty area or direct sunlight.

Some exposure to the sun is essential because parrots need UV light for vitamin D3 synthesis. Without vitamin D, parrots can’t utilize calcium, which is needed for healthy bones, feathers, and eggs.

Food And Diet

African greys are granivores (grain and seeds) and frugivores (fruits). They can be fed pellets (crumbles), nuts, fruits, vegetation, vegetables, white and lean red meat, fish, and eggs.

Pellets should comprise 75% of their diet. Most of the remainder should include orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables for fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants.

Good choices of fruits and vegetables include the following:

African greys enjoy eating nuts. However, nuts are high in fat, which can lead to weight gain.

The best nuts for African greys include the following:

  • Pine nuts.
  • Almonds.
  • Macadamia nuts.
  • Cashews.
  • Brazil nuts.
  • Walnuts.
  • Hazelnuts.

Feeding Frequency

African grey parrots should be fed twice daily, once upon waking up and again in the evening. If your parrot’s in the normal weight range, offer it some nutritious midday snacks.

What Shouldn’t Be Eaten

An African grey mustn’t be fed the following foods or drinks:

  • Chocolate.
  • Coffee.
  • Alcohol.
  • Onions and garlic.
  • Stones (seeds) from fruits, like apricots, apples, and peaches.
  • Avocado.

These foods are toxic to parrots. For example, the seeds of stone fruits contain cyanide.

Feather Care

African greys molt their feathers around once a year, usually at the onset of spring.

This molting will remove worn, damaged feathers and encourage the growth of brighter, healthier replacements. Also, let the parrot bathe regularly to keep the feathers clean.

Most birds take care of bathing if you provide them with a bowl of clean water. You can also mist the parrot with lukewarm water or wipe away food debris with a towel or washcloth.

Beak Care

The beak never stops growing, so it may need to be trimmed to prevent overgrowth, misalignment, and malocclusions. For example, scissor beak can prevent parrots from eating and maneuvering.

African greys like to chew things in their cage. Chew toys can file down, polish, and sharpen the beak.

Adding a cuttlebone and feeding nuts with tough shells is beneficial. Also, a vet can trim a bird’s beak or, as per the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, apply a dental composite in extreme cases.

Claw Care

Captive parrots aren’t exposed to abrasive surfaces as much as wild parrots. Their nails can become overgrown and misshapen, preventing them from performing essential tasks.

A vet can trim the claws, but it’s recommended that ways be provided to wear down the claws naturally. For example, wooden perches (or pedi perches) can reduce the length of claws.

Talking Ability

African greys are among the parrot family’s most advanced and talented speakers. Following ongoing training, some birds can learn hundreds of words.

Many owners report their birds learning complex words and phrases. Parrots may appear to talk in context, but they don’t truly understand the meaning of what they’re saying.

Age Start Talking

Most African greys begin talking once they’re 12–18 months old. They start mimicking words and sentences you teach them, or they hear in their environment.

Noisy vs. Quiet

Expect to hear African grey parrots vocalize throughout the day. If an African grey realizes that screaming gets attention, it’ll do so whenever it wants or needs something from you.

Sleep

African grey parrots are diurnal, so they sleep overnight.

An African grey must rest for 10-12 hours. If it doesn’t get enough sleep, it’ll be irritable during the day, while prolonged insomnia can lead to similar health issues experienced by humans.

African grey parrots need routine, so maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Ensure the parrot has a quiet place to sleep. While some owners like to sleep next to their parrots, this is inadvisable due to the risk of crushing them.

Cover The Cage

A parrot’s cage should be covered at night. African greys struggle to sleep if exposed to artificial light at bedtime, as circadian rhythms regulate their sleep-wake cycle.

Exercise

African greys must exercise outside the cage for 2-4 hours daily.

Flight is the most natural way for African greys to exercise. Avoid clipping a parrot’s wings unless it’s for their safety and welfare. As an alternative, bird-proof the home before allowing exploration.

African greys also like to climb the walls of their cage, traverse between perches at different levels, and play interactive games where they can utilize their high intellect.

African grey parrot cage setup

Companionship

As African greys like spending time with their owners, leaving them alone in their cages for a prolonged period isn’t recommended. As per PloS One, solitude causes distress and illness.

Once an African grey has settled into your home and has a routine, you can leave it alone while you work. Anything longer may be anxiety-causing, leading to behavioral issues.

Lone Parrots vs. Pairs

African grey parrots require so much attention that owners may decide to adopt two. African greys are social birds that may prefer sharing a cage with a companion of the same species.

If you get a pair of African greys, seek out birds born and raised together. If this isn’t an option, the two birds need to go through a careful introduction process.

Always treat both parrots equally to avoid jealousy, even if one appears needier than the other.

Signs of Happiness

When an African grey parrot is happy and contented, it’s likely to display the following signs:

  • Vocalizations: You’ll hear whistles, chirps, or happy sounds, especially at the start of the day.
  • Active and curious: It’ll flap its wings, fly, climb, and explore its cage.
  • Eating well: Happy parrots will be excited about their favorite foods and drink enough water.
  • Feather health: An African grey should have vibrant, strong, and healthy feathers. Birds will regularly preen their feathers, avoiding feather-destructive behavior.
  • Social behavior: An African grey is happiest in the company of humans and same-species parrots. It shows care and affection by nuzzling and preening its companions.
  • Alertness: You should observe a curiosity about what’s happening in their environment.
  • Body language: Its posture should be upright, and its feathers relaxed. You may see an African grey wagging its tail or bobbing its head, which are signs of a contented bird.

While all parrots have unique personalities, these behaviors provide an insight into their state of mind.

Behavioral Problems

Without training or the right living conditions, African greys can develop behavioral problems:

Aggressive Behavior

African greys aren’t naturally aggressive but can become so when scared or hurt. They’re easily agitated by other pets and may vocalize and display stress symptoms when they approach.

Jealousy

Unfortunately, jealousy is among the African greys’ most problematic traits. They become attached to their owners, leading to unwanted behavior toward people and other animals.

Stress

African greys are prone to stress when they lack sufficient socialization and mental stimulation.

The signs of stress in African greys include:

Move the cage to a quieter location. Also, play, train, and interact with them more frequently.

Feather Plucking

Self-mutilation is painful for parrots, so why do African grey parrots pluck their feathers? It’s linked to diet, stress, and depression. When unstimulated, they feather pluck to self-soothe.

Malnutrition can also cause a parrot to pick its skin and feathers.

Swearing

African greys can be prone to repeating profanity. For example, Lincolnshire Wildlife Park had a problem with swearing and obscenities from African greys.

African greys will continue using words that garner a reaction, so be careful how you respond to inappropriate language. If you ignore it, the parrot will likely grow bored.

Bonding Together

Forming a successful bond with an African grey parrot is rewarding because they make loving and affectionate companions. However, you must work to gain the parrot’s trust.

Spend as much time with an African grey as possible, as this will strengthen the parrot-owner bond. Parrots are social and emotionally advanced animals that crave one-on-one time.

Parrots need routine and can grow distressed by modifications to a set schedule.

Take the time to train the parrot, regularly playing games and teaching the bird new tricks and words. The more time you dedicate to an African grey, the stronger the bond will become.