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Congo African Grey Parrot

Psittacus erithacus erithacus

CLASS: AVES
ORDER: PSITTACIFORMES
FAMILY: Psittacidae
GENUS: Psittacus
SPECIES: P. erithacus erithacus

Common Name(s):  African Grey, Congo Grey, Grey Parrot

There are only three distinct birds in this genus; along with the Psittacus erithacus erithacus, there is Psittacus erithacus timneh and Psittacus erithacus princes. Whether or not they are different species, subspecies or simply variants of the main species, Psittacus erithacus, is still open for debate.

DESCRIPTION

Congo African Grey is the largest of the three types of Grey Parrot (the other two being the smaller maroon-tailed Timneh, and the darker colored Psittacus erithacus princes).  As their name would suggest the general body color is various shades of pastel or slate gray – the chest and head feathers have white edging resulting in a scalloped effect, whilst the wing feathers are darker with very dark primary coverts.  The tail is bright red.  Their beak, upper and lower mandibles, is black.  Grey’s have a large white facial area, which flares back beyond the eye resulting in a masked appearance.  Young birds (under one year of age), have a black or gray colored iris, older birds have yellow eyes.

SIZE/WINGSPAN

Body length approximately 14-16 inches with a wingspan of approximately 18-20 inches.  They weigh approximately 15-20 ounces.

HABITAT/RANGE

Congo African Greys are found in Equatorial Africa, ranging from Angola to The Ivory Coast, inland from Kenya to Tanzania.  Since they are commonly kept as pets, (they are in the top three most commonly traded birds), they can be found throughout the world in captivity.  In the wild, they live in rainforests, cultivated land, mangroves, wooded savannas, and gardens.

BEHAVIOR/ADAPTATIONS

Natural predators of the African Grey include a variety of hawks and falcons. Monkeys and other tree-dwelling mammals often steal the parrot's eggs. As a defensive strategy, a flock of parrots will fall silent and then burst from the treetops while shrieking. The chaos and noise deter most predators.

Greys are extremely social and will form a communal nesting area of several hundred.  They have been observed roosting in tall palms in groups ranging from several hundred to thousands of birds. However, they are "single species" birds, which means they do not associate with other parrot species, as many South American parrots do. During the day, they break into smaller flock groups and fly long distances to forage for most of the day. They forage for food together and can commonly be seen in the wild on the ground at waterholes where they ingest mud and minerals.  The parrots arrive at the clearings in singles, pairs and small groups, eventually growing into large groups between 300 and 800 birds. After a period of socializing in the trees, they spend approximately forty minutes per day huddling on the ground while eating grasses and soil. They descend to the ground in waves while others wait their turn in the trees and watch for predators.   This is thought to be an adaptation to compensate for increased pesticide and toxin levels in their food – the soil eaten absorbs the toxins that they would otherwise ingest.  Unfortunately this predictable behavior is how most wild caught African greys are trapped.

When in the trees, they usually gather food by climbing into the top branches of trees.  They are very adept climbers, often showing more skill maneuvering through tree canopies than while flying through the air.

African Greys have a powder produced by feather on their flanks, which helps to clean and protect their feathers. This powder also makes their feathers waterproof, a necessary adaptation for survining in a tropical climate.

The African Grey Parrot is widely known for its ability to mimic human voices in captivity. A recording of the parrots in Zaire showed that in the wild, they mimicked nine other birds and one kind of bat. The African Grey Parrot is considered to be a highly intelligent bird. There has been some evidence that they can achieve a vocabulary of over 500 words, although there is no evidence that they understand what they are saying.

In addition to vocal communication, Greys use complicated body language and feather position to express themselves.

REPRODUCTION

African Grey Parrots live as pairs, and in the wild will breed between July and September.  African Grey Parrots nest in tree holes.  Their preferred nest sites are in trees or palms over water or on islands in rivers.  The female will lay between 2 and 4 eggs. The male does not tend to the eggs, but provides food for the female instead while she sits on them. Once the chicks are hatched, both parents tend to them and the nestlings stay in the nest for almost 3 months.

DIET

The diet of the African grey parrot consists of the fruits, seeds, nuts and berries of several native rainforest species, including the flesh of oil-palm trees.  Its powerful bill can crush most seeds and nuts.

LIFESPAN

Average life span is 30-40 years, exceptional 60 years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

The African Grey is not considered endangered.  It is listed by CITES Appendix II. Unfortunately, the African Grey Parrot has become popular in the pet trade due to their attractive colors and unbelievable talent to mimic sounds and words. Due to such a large demand, baby grays are being stolen from the wild to supply the demand. The U.S. Wild Bird Act forbids the commercial import of any bird listed by CITES which includes most parrots - endangered or threatened.

SOURCES and LINKS

Forshaw, J.M. & W. Cooper, Parrots of the World

Marrison, C. and A. Greensmith. Birds of the World

http://en.wikipedia.org

http://www.thebigzoo.com

http://www.birdlife.org

Additional information