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Congo and Timneh African Grey Parrots

Introduction to African Grey Parrots as Pets


There are two subspecies of African grey parrot commonly found in the pet trade - the Congo African grey (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) and the Timneh African grey (Psittacus erithacus timneh). The Congo African grey is slightly larger than the Timneh, and has bright red tail feathers. The Timneh's tail feathers are darker (maroon), and overall the Timneh usually has has slightly darker coloration than the Congo, especially over the back (although not always the case). While the Congo's beak is grey, the Timneh's upper mandible is bone colored with a dark edge, while the lower mandible is grey.

There is some debate over whether there are significant differences in temperament between Congos and Timnehs. Some say the Timnehs are slightly more laid back and less prone to feather picking and other neurotic behavior. Others say there is no difference. Either way, there is a lot of individual variation between birds of both subspecies and even if there is a slight overall difference in temperament, this generalization won't necessarily hold true for any given bird.

For the rest of this article, the term African grey will be used to refer to both subspecies, as they are very similar in character, and their care is identical.

Life Span
African greys have the potential to be very long lived, so be prepared for a commitment of 50 years or more.

African greys are extremely intelligent birds. The most famous African Grey is Alex, a bird studied for years by Dr. Irene Pepper berg. Alex has been shown to have the ability to process information and make appropriate choices with the correct choice of words, and understand concepts such as color or shape (i.e. he is not simply displaying previously trained behaviors).

Greys are excellent mimics, and many (though not all) are excellent talkers, with a capacity of over 2000 words. Even those that don't repeat words are very adept at repeating household noises such as the telephone or doorbell, often well enough to confuse their owners! Most greys have a large collection of sounds they repeat. As the studies with Alex have shown, greys have a unique capacity for putting their words and sounds into the right context as opposed to simply repeating them, showing their intelligence.

Next page: Behavior in African Greys

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