are African grey parrots hard to take care of?

How To Take Care Of African Grey Parrots

Known as the “Einstein of the parrot world,” African grey parrots are one of the most fascinating bird species, making them popular with parrot enthusiasts. They require lots of care, but they’re loyal and trusting pets.

African grey parrots need hours of mental stimulation to keep them entertained. They require a balanced diet of pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains. They sleep for 12-14 hours at night and must have a dark, quiet place to sleep. They also need plenty of exercise and out-of-cage time. When searching for a cage, make sure it’s a minimum of 36 x 24 x 48 inches, with at least three perches and a newspaper lining.

A common question prospective owners want to know is, “are African grey parrots hard to take care of?” They’re best for experienced owners, but they love the company of their caregivers and spend countless hours entertaining them with the right training.

What Age Do African Grey Parrots Live To?

African grey parrots have a long lifespan and can live anywhere between 40-60 years in captivity. This is a significant amount of time, meaning you’ll have the parrot for most of your life, if not longer.

African grey parrots are loyal and devoted companions, so they require a high level of care throughout their lives. They also don’t cope very well with rehoming, making them a lifelong commitment.

African Grey Parrot Weight And Size

African grey parrots range in weight from 0.8-1.4 pounds. However, most are around 1 pound or a little under.

As a medium-sized bird, African greys measure between 12-16 inches. The average height is 13 inches. Similarly, their wingspan ranges between 18-20 inches, depending on their size.

How Much Are African Grey Parrots?

African greys aren’t cheap. They’re priced at $1,500 on the lower end of the scale. On the more expensive end, they can reach up to $3,500. The price varies depending on what subspecies of African grey parrot you choose. Other factors that increase the price include:

  • Unique marks or features
  • Genetics
  • Possible hereditary diseases
  • Age
  • Gender
  • The breeder

On average, older parrots are more expensive. This is because they’re already trained and socialized, making it easier to care for them and slot them into your home.

Younger parrots are cheaper, but they require long-term spending on food, bedding, and care. That being said, you can build a stronger bond with younger birds who only recognize you as their owner. Other things to consider when buying a parrot is the cost of:

  • Toys
  • Cage
  • Substrate
  • Veterinary care

You’ll also need to consider the cost of accidental damage to the home caused by parrots. Therefore, you must be sure that you have the money to care for your parrot for the duration of its life.

african grey parrots as pets

Different Types Of African Grey Parrots

There are two types of African grey: the timneh and Congo. They both come from Africa but live in different parts. They’re similar birds, but they have some key differences that make them equally popular.

Timneh African Grey

In the wild, the timneh African grey parrot (Psittacus Erithacus timneh) commonly lives in Central Africa, including Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and western African.

It’s the smaller subspecies of the two, ranging from 9-11 inches from the beak to the tail. Its wingspan ranges between 13-15 inches.

Timneh African grey parrots are a darker grey than their Congo cousins. They have dark grey feathers on the head, back, and upper chest. There are more dark feathers on the abdomen that sit over a lighter grey plumage, creating a distinctive V shape.

The feathers underneath the tail are dark red or maroon, while the tail itself is either red or brown. The beak has a pink tint with black sides.

Congo African Grey

The Congo African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) lives in smaller coastal areas, including Guinea, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. It’s larger than the timneh, measuring 14-16 inches with a wingspan of 18-20 inches.

As we’ve already mentioned, the Congo African parrot has lighter grey shades throughout its body than the timneh. The feathers are darker on the head, gradually lightening to a silvery grey towards the chest and legs. The wings are almost black.

Where the feathers are darker or the lightest silver, they have a white scalloped edge. The nails and beak are solid black, while the bright red tail contrasts against the rest of the parrot’s plumage.

The area around the eyes and above the nose lack feathers, exposing a bright white patch of skin. This allows their pink blush to show whenever they’re excited, angry, or scared.

Out of the two subspecies, the Congo African grey is more commonly seen in the pet trade.

Do African Grey Parrots Make Good Pets?

African grey parrots are highly intelligent animals that are both affectionate and loyal. With the right training, they make good pets.

However, they’re high-maintenance birds that require constant entertainment and mental stimulation. As a result, they don’t make good pets for people who work long, irregular hours or spend lots of time away from home. African greys are:

  • Easily bored
  • Loud and vocal
  • Prone to angry outbursts
  • Self-mutilate if they’re bored

Another potential problem is that African greys develop a strong bond with one family member, rejecting the rest. It takes a lot of time and effort to encourage African greys to bond with other humans. On the flip side, African greys are:

  • Loving: They bond with owners quickly
  • Entertaining: They enjoy playing games and exploring
  • Highly social and enjoy their caregivers’ company
  • Intelligent and capable of learning words

African grey parrots have specific requirements, including:

  • The largest enclosure you can find
  • A balanced, healthy diet
  • Several hours of attention
  • Plenty of mental stimulation

Overall, African grey parrots require lots of effort, time, and care. However, if you have the time and patience to look after one, it can make a highly rewarding pet.

Are African Grey Parrots Good For Beginners?

African greys are unsuitable for complete beginners. Looking after one can be a daunting experience, as they need around-the-clock care.

Also, some bird keepers liken caring for an African grey parrot to a 4-year-old child because of their advanced intelligence levels, meaning they’re not for the faint-hearted. African greys are also prone to:

  • Feather destruction
  • Aggression
  • Inappropriate noise-making
  • Excessive vocalization

For inexperienced bird owners, these behavioral issues are challenging to get under control. Similarly, it takes time and patience to train them out of African greys.

That being said, once you’ve built a bond, they’re loyal birds. They also live for a long time, so it’s best to get an African grey parrot while you have the energy to look after one.

Do African Grey Parrots Talk?

African grey parrots are one of the most advanced and talented speakers of the parrot family. According to a study by Applied Animal Behavior Science, they can use English speech in the same way as young children.

Not only do they learn basic words and commands, such as “No,” but they understand numbers.

Many African grey owners report their birds speaking in context and learning words and phrases after hearing them only once or twice. Most African grey parrots reach their talking ability when they are around one year old, but many develop their skills much earlier.

Do African Grey Parrots Scream?

Despite their impressive talking abilities, African grey parrots shriek and scream when they feel threatened, scared, or angry.

Similarly, if they’re not happy with their environment or surroundings, they will show their displeasure with a series of persistent, unpleasant sounds.

However, the good news is they don’t spend all day screaming. They’ll only do so when they feel they need to.

As soon as the problem is eradicated, they’ll quieten down. You mustn’t pander to these behaviors, as your parrot could become badly behaved and act up to get attention.

Are African Grey Parrots Loud?

African grey parrots are noisy birds. This is because they spend much of their time practicing new words and phrases they’ve heard from their owners. While they tend to chatter throughout the day, they’re one of the quieter parrots when compared to others.

That being said, an unsuitable environment will cause African greys to become noisy.  

African Parrot Care Guide

Now that you know the basics about the African grey parrot and have a better idea about whether it’s the right bird for you, it’s time to learn everything you need to know about how to keep yours happy and healthy.

What Do African Grey Parrots Eat?

An African grey’s nutritional requirements are varied. According to VCA Hospitals, inadequate nutrition is the leading cause of many health conditions. African grey parrots eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and pellets.

To provide African greys with the vitamins and minerals they need, feed them the following things:

Pellets

Pellets should make up around 75-80% of their diet. Commercial pellet foods have been manufactured to contain the nutrients your bird needs, such as protein, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Different formulas are available depending on your parrot’s age, and many can be used to manage certain diseases. They also come in different colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors, allowing you to find a brand that suits your bird’s taste preferences.

Vegetables

The remaining 20-25% of your parrot’s diet should consist of healthy fruits and vegetables. Orange, red, and yellow vegetables are best, such as:

  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Peppers

Avoid pale vegetables, such as lettuce or celery, as they offer little nutritional value. You must also wash all vegetables before feeding them to your parrot to remove all pesticide or chemical traces.

Fruits

Fruits are another excellent dietary requirement for African greys as they contain many nutrients they can’t get from other food sources. However, fruit is a treat and should be fed in moderation.

Grains

Grains don’t make up a large part of an African grey’s diet, but they provide essentials vitamins and nutrients that can keep your parrot healthy for longer. They’re also a good source of fiber, which can improve digestion and regulate the bird’s stools.

Seeds

In the wild, African greys have access to seeds all year round. However, commercial seed mixes are high in fat and low in many essential nutrients.

Similarly, African grey parrots are notorious for picking their favorite seeds out of the bowl, leaving the ones they don’t like.

As a result, seeds should only be a small part of your African grey’s diet. They prefer sunflower seeds above all others, so they can be incorporated into your parrot’s diet as a weekly treat.

Nuts

African greys love nuts. However, they contain high levels of fat, which isn’t necessary for slow-paced captive parrots. As a result, you’ll need to limit your parrot’s nut intake. The best nuts include:

  • Pine nuts
  • Almonds
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Cashews
  • Monkey nuts
  • Peanuts (roasted)
  • Brazil nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts

If you encourage your African grey parrot to be active, you can feed it 2-3 nuts a day.

can african grey parrots be kept outside?

What Foods Are Bad For African Grey Parrots?

The following items are toxic to all parrots – you should never feed them to your African grey, even in the smallest quantities:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Sugar
  • Fried food
  • Avocado
  • Human junk food

How Much Do I Feed My Parrot?

Most African greys eat approximately ½ to ¼ of their body weight each day. How much depends on the bird’s size and activity levels.

As a medium-sized bird, you can feed your parrot at least twice a day. Start by giving it ½ cup of pellets and ½ cup of fruits and vegetables in the morning.

If your parrot eats all of its food in one sitting, feed it another meal 1-2 hours before it goes to sleep. If it appears hungry throughout the day and searches for food, add a smaller portion at midday.

As its owner, it’s up to you to monitor the parrot for any weight changes. Similarly, if it refuses its food, take it to a vet for treatment.

African Grey Parrot Cage Setup

Your African grey’s cage is crucially important. African greys need plenty of space to move about in to prevent them from getting stressed. They also need a cage that makes them feel safe and secure.

As a result, you’ll need the following things for your parrot’s cage:

What Size Cage Does An African Grey Parrot Need?

African greys require a large cage that’s at least 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall. Ideally, it will also be 2 feet deep. The minimum size of an African grey parrot’s cage should be is 36 x 24 x 48 inches.

African greys are active birds, so they’ll also need a playpen top with a tray. Fill this area with toys and climbing frames to keep your parrot occupied. When looking for a cage, make sure it has plenty of space for:

  • Toys
  • Food
  • Water
  • Perches
  • Nesting box(es)
  • Playing and roaming

Other things to consider include:

  • Cage material. Powder-coated cages made from non-corrosive metals, such as steel, brass, or chrome, fare best against their strong beaks.
  • Cage quality. Choose a cage that has thick bars that African greys can’t bend.
  • Perches. Your cage should allow for perches of various shapes and sizes.
  • Dishes. Opt for a stainless steel or ceramic bowl, as they last longer than aluminum dishes.
  • Trays and gates. Make sure they’re removable so that they’re easy to clean and sanitize.

Bar spacing is another essential aspect to consider. Horizontal bars are best for African greys, as they allow them to climb up and down the sides, which they love.

According to the Center for Animal Rehab and Education, the bars should range from ¾ to 1 inch apart, which helps avoid injury and prevents your parrot from escaping. 

Cage Bedding

Newspaper is the safest material to line your parrot’s cage with. Shavings kick up too much dust, affecting your parrot’s respiratory tract. Newspaper is also easy to remove and replace.

However, most African grey parrots sleep on perches, so newspaper is only really required to keep the bottom of the cage clean.

In the wild, African grey parrots sleep high up in trees where they are safe from danger. Replicating these conditions in your bird’s cage is the best way to ensure it feels safe and secure. Choose three perches for your cage:

  • Place one up high so that your parrot can scale up to it and sleep on it.
  • Place one in the middle, away from food and water.
  • Place one at the bottom, giving the parrot easy access to its food and water.

Plastic perches with rough or sharp edges cut your parrot’s feet, risking bumblefoot. Similarly, perches covered with an abrasive surface will remove the surface layer of your parrot’s skin.

As a result, wooden perches are the safest kind. They should also be the right diameter for their feet. Your African grey should be able to wrap its feet around the perch without the back and front toes overlapping.

Can African Grey Parrots Be Kept Outside?

African greys can only really be kept outside in warm, humid climates. They come from the rainforest, so they are used to a moist environment. It’s too cold for African greys to be safely kept outside in some parts of the world.

That being said, they do well living in large flocks in a spacious outdoor aviary. However, it needs plenty of shelter and protection from the elements.

When kept as a lone bird, African greys should ideally be placed somewhere inside the home where they will receive plenty of human contact, but isn’t too noisy or busy. This could disturb their sleep and cause them to become stressed and aggressive.

Similarly, place the cage away from direct sunlight or radiators to prevent overheating. Aim to place the cage in an area of the room where there’s no through traffic – against two walls, for example. This will help African greys feel safer and less threatened.

African Grey Personality

African grey parrots have tones of personality, which is why they’re one of the most popular parrot pets. They’re loyal, loving, and highly entertaining. They’re also commonly referred to as “Einsteins,” which alludes to their intelligence.

However, since they’re so smart, they require high levels of mental stimulation, which some parrot owners struggle to provide.

Are African Grey Parrots Intelligent?

As already mentioned, African grey parrots are highly intelligent birds. A study by Animal Learning and Behavior found that they can acquire a cognitive vocabulary that consists of actions, numerical quantities, actions, colors and shapes, and the use of the word “No.”

Similarly, these abilities were previously thought to belong exclusively to humans and primates.

As also described by New Scientist, African greys are as helpful as they are smart, understanding when other animals need help, providing them with assistance.

Researchers tested their helpfulness by training them to swap metal washers for food through holes in a transparent screen. They then blocked the hole of one parrot’s screen, causing them to work together to get the metal washers to the researcher.

Even chimps and gorillas failed this test, so African greys are among some of the world’s most intelligent species. 

Are African Grey Parrots Messy?

African greys are messy birds. They poop a lot, sometimes defecating outside of their cage. They also entertain themselves by tearing up pieces of newspaper and wood.

Similarly, as we’ve already mentioned, they like to pick out their favorite seeds from the bowl, discarding the rest at the bottom of the cage.

As a result, their cages require daily cleaning to prevent bacteria and spoiled food from making your bird sick.

African Grey Parrot Behavioral Problems

Without proper training or the right environmental conditions, African grey parrots are prone to several behavioral problems, including:

Aggressive Behavior

African grey parrots aren’t naturally aggressive but can become so if they’re scared or hurt. They’re easily agitated by pets and may vocalize and display stress symptoms when a predatory pet gets too close.

However, they enjoy other birds’ company, so they may feel more comfortable with a friend.

Jealousy

A commonly asked question is, “do African parrots get jealous?” Unfortunately, jealousy is one of their most problematic traits.

While they make excellent companions, they become very attached to their owners. This causes jealousy towards other animals and people. Jealousy is challenging to train out of parrots, but you can alleviate it by teaching them not to nip or vocalize at other people.

Ignoring the bad behavior is another effective technique. Scolding or shouting at the bird will only give it the attention it craves.

Stress

African greys are prone to stress if they lack human contact or mental stimulation. When they don’t get it, they start screaming or displaying unwanted behaviors that can affect their psychological and physical health. Signs of stress in African grey parrots include:

  • Inappropriate vocalization
  • Screeching
  • Self-mutilation
  • Stress bars (black horizontal lines across the feathers)
  • Feather discoloration
  • Poor feather quality
  • Biting
  • Lunging
  • Hissing

You can rule out underlying health issues by seeking veterinary advice. When environmental problems cause stress, think about how you can improve them. For example, move the cage to a quieter spot or provide more toys and perches.

Similarly, play and interact with your bird more frequently to provide it with some entertainment. African greys are highly sociable and enjoy spending quality time with their owners.

African grey parrot cage setup

Feather Plucking

Self-mutilation is painful for parrots, so why do African grey parrots pluck their feathers? Feather plucking is linked to stress and depression. When they’re unstimulated, they turn to feather plucking to soothe themselves.

Similarly, malnutrition will also cause your parrot to pluck out its feathers. Improving its diet and providing more vitamins and minerals should help alleviate this behavior.

Medical conditions are sometimes to blame, so it’s always best to get your parrot examined by a vet whenever it begins to pluck out its feathers.

African Grey Parrot Care Information

Now that you understand how to provide the optimum environment for your African grey, it’s essential to know how to care for one properly.

What Temperature Do African Grey Parrots Like?

The ideal temperature for African grey parrots is between 70-80°F. They’re generally okay at room temperature, as they don’t cope well in extreme hot or cold conditions. Similarly, the cold wears down their immune system over time, causing illness and sickness.

Do African Grey Parrots Need A Companion?

African grey parrots can live both alone and with other parrots. However, if you want more than one bird, it’s best to get them while they’re both young and raised together in the same cage.  

That being said, each African grey parrot is unique. This means what works for one bird won’t work for another. Some prefer to live alone, while some enjoy company.

Try the birds out together in the same cage. If they start fighting or getting aggressive, you’ll need to separate them into separate enclosures.

How Much Sleep Do African Grey Parrots Need?

African greys need between 12-14 hours of sleep each night. Not all parrots sleep through but will wake up now and then to see what’s going on.

At night, cover your parrot’s cage with a sheet. This will give them peace, quiet, and complete darkness, allowing them to get a good rest. Parrots are light sleepers, so make sure you turn off all TVs and electrical devices so they’re not disturbed.

African Grey Parrot Beak Care

Like all parrots, African greys have continuously growing beaks that need regular filing to keep them healthy. If they can’t do this, they’re at risk of overgrowth, preventing them from eating properly.

They may also become sharp, long, and brittle. They may even curve inward. African grey parrots can keep their beaks filed down with:

As a result, provide your parrot with these items inside their cage. At the same time, ensure your parrot’s diet is rich in protein, calcium, and magnesium.

If your parrot’s beak grows faster than the bird can file it down, take it to your vet, who can trim it down.

Bathing

African grey parrots don’t need to be given a bath. Instead, they splash around in their water bowl and groom and preen their own feathers.

That being said, helping your parrot bathe is an excellent bonding tool that your bird will enjoy. Try splashing your bird to encourage it to take a bath, or mist it with a spray bottle.

Provide fresh water every day and only ever use lukewarm water for bathing your bird. 

Training

We’ve already mentioned that training is essential to prevent bad behavior. Training takes time, effort, and dedication, but in the end, you’ll have a well-trained, loyal companion that enjoys your presence.

Proper training begins with a routine. Set aside an hour a day to dedicate to your African grey parrot’s training and stick to it. Follow these steps to train your parrot successfully:

  1. Place your parrot’s cage in a safe place and give it a few days to adjust.
  2. For the first few weeks, tread carefully around your parrot and don’t make too much noise.
  3. When your parrot seems more comfortable, start talking to it each day.
  4. Soon after, progress to handling your parrot. Offer your finger and say, “Step up.” Once it’s out of its cage, feed it to gain trust.
  5. Play with your parrot using a variety of stimulating toys and games.
  6. Observe your parrot for signs that it’s becoming stressed. If so, slow things down.

When training your bird, positive reinforcement is the most effective method. Reward it using its favorite fruits, seeds, and nuts. Eventually, it will learn to do what you want it to without encouragement.

Health Problems For African Grey Parrots

Illness in African greys is relatively rare as they’re healthy birds. However, there are a few symptoms that you must be mindful of, including:

  • Beak swelling
  • Change in toilet habits
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Discharge from nostrils
  • Excessive urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Molting
  • Poor feather quality
  • Resting with their head turned back
  • Ruffled plumage
  • Sneezing

The most common health issues affecting African grey parrots include:

  • Feather picking
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Respiratory infections
  • Parrot fever (psittacosis)
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease
  • Bumblefoot

Hypocalcemia is also a common African grey parrot syndrome and is associated with a calcium deficiency. It causes seizures and central nervous disease, as well as hypersensitivity to noise and imbalance.

Take your parrot to an avian vet once a year for a check-up to prevent any avoidable health issues. If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s always best to get your parrot checked out.

African grey parrots make a good pet for bird owners who know what they’re doing. They need lots of attention and care, so they can’t be left alone for long. But if you have the time to dedicate to your parrot, you’ll have a lifelong companion.