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African Grey Parrots

Behavior and Potential Pitfalls


Their intelligence makes the African grey a very demanding pet, however. You must absolutely be prepared to spend lots of time with an African grey, providing social contact as well as mental stimulation. Greys have been described as being the emotional equivalent of a two year old human, with the intelligence of a five year old. This means they need a lot of attention and patience, along with a good deal of guidance to acceptable behavior. And, they can be a challenge to deal with at times!

African greys tend to be quite cautious with new situations and new people, although devoted to their owners. They have a reputation as one-person birds, but that is largely because often only one person in a household spends enough time with a grey to really form a close bond. Make an effort to socialize a grey with lots of people, although you will have to give your parrot the chance to become comfortable with any new person. A grey will happily interact with more than one person as long as the effort is made by each person to spend enough time to earn the trust and companionship of the bird.

Greys have somewhat of a reputation for biting, but this largely relates to the socialization issue. Like other parrots they will bite, especially if they feel threatened in any way. However, the trust of an African grey must be earned through patience and respect, and pushing interaction with a grey that doesn't trust you fully may result in a bite. They are also perceptive to the moods of the people around them, so they should be approached with a calm and relaxed demeanor, or the bird may become agitated or excited. Also, a bored or stressed parrot is more likely to exhibit behavioral problems including biting, so making sure the emotional, mental, and physical needs of the bird are not being met will help avoid problems. The intelligence of these birds means they must have a lot of social interaction with their owners along with and mental and physical stimulation.

Feather Picking
African greys have a reputation as feather pickers. Parrots, including greys, will sometimes resort to feather picking or worse forms of self mutilation for a variety of physical and physiological reasons, and also if their emotional needs are not being met or they are stressed. It should be noted that any bird that is plucking its feathers needs a thorough check up with an avian veterinarian to rule out a physical cause first, and if none can be found that behavioral reasons should be explored. Any increased tendency greys might have toward this problem is likely due to their intelligence and needs for attention and stimulation. There is a good discussion of feather plucking and possible causes from "Winged Wisdom."

In summary, African greys are magnificent and amazing parrots, but are not the right bird for everyone. Potential owners need to carefully evaluate their ability to commit to the needs of these birds for their expected life span, and be sure they understand the best way to care for these wonderful parrots.

Next page: Quick Care Guide for African Greys

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