The Gray Parrot is one of the largest parrot species in Africa. Both males and females have pale gray feathers with whitish edges on the head and neck, darker grey flight feathers, and short, striking red tails. The beak is black, and white facial skin surrounds pale yellow eyes.
African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) span the forest belt of central and West Africa including the oceanic island of Príncipe (Gulf of Guinea). In Western Africa, they are found in coastal countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. The two known subspecies of African Grey Parrots have varying ranges. Psittacus erithacus erithicus inhabits a range extending from Kenya to the eastern border of the Ivory Coast and including the insular populations. Psittacus erithacus timneh has a range from the eastern border of Ivory Coast to Guinea-Bissau.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
- Melo, M., C. O'Ryan. 2007. Genetic differentiation between Principe Island and mainland populations of the grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), and implications for conservation. Molecular Ecology, 16: 1673-1685.
The plumage of Psittacus erithacus is various shades of grey with very distinctive red tail feathers. African grey parrots typically measure 33 cm from head to tail and weigh up to 407g. They have an average wingspan of 46-52 cm.
Psittacus e. erithacus> is referred to as the nominate race and is light grey. Individuals of this subspecies have distinct red tails and solid black beaks. These birds have bare white face patches and sometimes bright, usually pale, silvery yellow eyes. Many of the grey contour feathers are edged with white. This gives them a smooth, lacy appearance. They may be somewhat sexually dimorphic.
Psittacus e. timneh individuals are smaller and darker with a maroon, brownish wash over the red tail. They have black-tipped, dark pinkish maxilla and solid black mandibles. Their iris has more of a silver appearance rather than yellow
Average mass: 407 g.
Average length: 33 cm.
Range wingspan: 18 to 20 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently
Habitat and Ecology
The habitat of African grey parrots is usually moist lowland forests, although they are found up to 2,200 m altitude in the eastern parts of the range. They are commonly observed at forest edges, clearings, gallery forests, mangroves, wooded savannahs, cultivated areas, and gardens. African grey parrots often visit open land adjacent to woodlands, they roost in trees over water and may prefer roosting on islands in rivers. These parrots make their nests in tree holes, sometimes choosing locations abandoned by birds like woodpeckers. In West Africa, the species makes seasonal movements out of the driest parts of the range in the dry season.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian
- 2008. "Psittacus erithacus, Linnaeeus, 1758" (On-line pdf). Accessed March 20, 2008 at http://www.cites.org/eng/com/AC/22/E22-10-2-Al.pdf.
- Athan, M., D. Deter. 2000. The African Grey Parrot Handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series. Accessed March 20, 2008 at http://books.google.com/books?id=qqrxmrS2bXQC.
Gray Parrots range throughout the forested regions of central and western Africa including the oceanic island of Príncipe. Their preferred habitat is moist lowland forests, although they are routinely observed at forest edges and in clearings, mangroves, wooded savannas, cultivated areas, and gardens.
African grey parrots are herbivores. In the wild, they feed primarily on nuts and fruits, supplemented by leafy matter, fruits, insects, bark, and flowers. African grey parrots eat mostly common fruits, such as oil-palm (Elaeis guinensis).
Animal Foods: insects
Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore , Granivore ); omnivore
- Faye, S. 2006. "African Greys aka Grey Parrots, General Info on the African Grey" (On-line). AvianWeb:Pet Bird Resources. Accessed April 10, 2008 at http://www.avianweb.com/aricangreys.htm.
African grey parrots may disperse the seeds of fruits they eat. They act as definitive hosts to both tapeworms and blood parasites.
- tapeworms (Cestoda)
- blood parasites
Psittacus erithacus are harassed and preyed on by palm-nut vultures (Gypohierax angolensis). Several species of hawks also prey on fledglings and adults. Monkeys prey on eggs and young in nests. When feeding on the ground, African grey parrots are vulnerable to terrestrial predators.
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
Wild African grey parrot flocks follow a daily pattern of vocalizations. Usually the flock is quiet from sunset until the next dawn. At day break, the flock begins to vocalize before setting out to forage at different locations throughout the day. At dusk, upon return to the roosting site, there is a period of vocalization. There are a variety of different types of calls and vocalizations, including alarm calls, contact calls, food begging calls, and agonistic calls. Contact calls are of particular importance because they serve to identify where other members of the flock are and help promote flock cohesion. Alarm calls indicate varying levels of distress, these calls are particularly loud and of a frequency that carries well in order to warn fellow flock members. Young learn these vocalizations from parents and flock mates, so pet parrots will not learn appropriate vocalizations, but will show similar patterns and use of calls. Bottoni et al. (2003) found that African grey parrots demonstrated complex cognitive competence in understanding both the similarities and dissimilarities among musical note frequencies and were able to master the musical code. It was determined that African grey parrots must isolate a sound from background noise, imitate it, categorize the acoustic stimulus, encode it into long term memory, and monitor the output sound to match it with the internal template. The famous African grey parrot, Alex, achieved a rudimentary form of communication, including contextual and conceptual use of human speech. That research showed that African grey parrots are capable of far more than simply mimicing human speech.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Other Communication Modes: mimicry ; choruses
- Bottoni, L., R. Massa, D. Boero. 2003. The Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) as a Musician: an Experiment With the Temperate Scale. Ethology Ecology and Evolution, 15: 133-141.
- Pepperberg, I. 2000. The Alex Studies, Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots.b. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
In the wild, Gray Parrots feed on nuts and fruits, especially on common fruits such as the oil-palm. They may be important seed dispersers for the trees on which they feed. Gary Parrots supplements their diets with insects and other types of vegetation including leafy matter, bark, and flowers.
Gray Parrots form large, noisy flocks, where they call to each other with a variety of squawks, whistles, shrieks and screams. These highly social birds form lifelong pair bonds. The nesting female incubates the eggs while the male guards and feeds her. After hatching, both parents care for the young.
In captive and wild parrots the average lifespan is between 40 and 50 years. In captivity, African grey parrots have a mean lifespan of 45 years, but they can live up to 60 years. In the wild, the average lifespan is 22.7 years (n=120).
Status: captivity: 40 to 60 years.
Status: captivity: 45 years.
Status: wild: 22.7 years.
Status: captivity: 40 to 50 years.
- Ryan, T. 2002. Grit Impaction in Two Neonatal African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus erithacus). Avian Medicine and Surgery, 16: 230-233.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
African grey parrots are very social birds. Breeding occurs in loose colonies with each pair occupying its own tree. Individuals select mates carefully and have a lifelong monogamous bond that begins at sexually maturity, at three to five years of age. Few details are known about courtship in the wild, but display flights around nest holes have been observed and recorded. Males feed mates (courtship feeding) and both sing soft monotonous notes. At this time the female will sleep in the nest cavity while the male guards it. In captivity, males feed females after copulation events and both sexes participate in a mating dance in which they droop their wings.
Mating System: monogamous
The breeding season varies by locality, but appears to coincide with the dry season. African grey parrots breed once to twice a year. Females lay three to five roundish eggs, one each at intervals of two to five days. Females incubate the eggs while being fed entirely by the male. Incubation takes approximately thirty days and the young emerge from the nest at twelve weeks old.
Breeding interval: African Grey Parrots breed once to twice a year.
Breeding season: Reproduction appears to coincide with the dry season.
Range eggs per season: 3 to 5.
Average time to hatching: 30 days.
Average fledging age: 12 weeks.
Range time to independence: 2 to 3 years.
Average time to independence: 3 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 5 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 to 5 years.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
After the young emerge from the nest, both parents feed, raise, and protect them. Both parents care for their clutch of young until they reach independence.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); extended period of juvenile learning
- Athan, M. 1999. Barron's Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior. New York, New York: Barron's Educational Series.
- 2006. "African Grey Parrots" (On-line). Accessed April 10, 2008 at Eliteparrotsclub.com/articles/species/mediumsmall/africangreyparrots.html.
- 2008. "Psittacus erithacus (African Grey Parrot, Congo African Grey Parrot, Grey Parrot)" (On-line). Zipcodezoo.com. Accessed March 20, 2008 at http://zipcodezoo.com/Animals/P/Psittacus_erithacus.asp.
- Pepperberg, I. 2001. "Lessons from Cognitive Ethology: Animal Models for Ethological Computing" (On-line pdf). Accessed April 10, 2008 at http://www.lehigh.edu/~mhbo/cogsZwebreadings/Pepperberg23sep01.pdf.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Psittacus erithacus
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Psittacus erithacus
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Psittacus erithacus is considered to be a near threatened species because of a recent analysis suggesting that up to 21% of the global population may be harvested annually. The quota for African grey parrots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is 5000, 4000 in Congo, and 250 in Gabon. Unfortunately, there is no law prohibiting capture and trade of parrots. These birds are impacted by habitat destruction, indiscriminate use of pesticides, and hunting by local inhabitants. Trapping for the wild bird trade is a major cause of decline in wild African grey parrots populations.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
- 2008. "CITES species database" (On-line). CITES. Accessed April 14, 2008 at http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html.
- 2008. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed April 15, 2008 at http://www.iuncredlist.org/search/details.php/47991/clss.
Habitat destruction, indiscriminate use of pesticides, and hunting threaten the survival of Gray Parrots. Trapping for the wild bird trade is another major cause of decline in wild populations. A recent study suggests that up to 21% of the global population of Gray Parrots is harvested each year.
As a result of concerns about international trade, P. e. princeps was put on CITES Appendix I in 1975, and the remainder of the species was put on CITES Appendix II with all Psittaciformes in 1981 at the request of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In 1994, the P. e. princeps CITES listing was removed due to lack of evidence that it is a valid subspecies. Due to concern about the effects of the large numbers of this species traded, it was the subject of a CITES significant trade review, in which it was listed as of "possible concern" (Inskipp et al. 1988). The Animals Committee of CITES recommended a two-year ban from January 2007 in Cameroon. For a further two countries - Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo - the Committee has recommended that quotas should be halved to 4,000 and 5,000 birds respectively. The species occurs in a number of protected areas. Conservation Actions Proposed
Ensure that proposed trade restrictions are implemented. Monitor wild populations to determine ongoing trends. Consider banning trade in Congo and DRC, as both countries are lacking the necessary capacity to manage it (H. Rainey in litt. 2007). Extend captive breeding efforts to both meet avicultural demands and assist with reintroduction and supplementation efforts.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no known adverse affects of Psittacus erithacus on humans.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
African grey parrots are the second most heavily harvested parrot in the world. The trade between 1980 and 1995 documented an excess of 500,000 birds caught in the wild. From 1994 to 2003, just fewer than 360,000 wild caught parrots were reportedly exported from their native range. They are one of the most popular avian pets in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. In Principe, trappers heavily harvest African grey parrots for the international pet trade.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; ecotourism ; research and education
- Juste, J. 1995. Trade in the Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) on the Island of Principe (SAO TOME and Principe, Central Africa): Initial Assessment of the Activity on Its Impact. Biological Conservation, 76: 101-104.
- Fahlman, A. 2002. "African Drey Parrot Conservation: a Feasibility evaluation of Developing a Local Conservation Program in Pricipe" (On-line pdf). Accessed April 10, 2008 at http://www.env-impact.geo.uu.se/84Fahlman.pdf.
African grey parrot
The African grey parrot is a medium-sized, predominantly grey, black-billed parrot which weighs 400 g, with a length of 33 cm and an average wingspan of 46–52 cm. The tail and undertail coverts are red, in comparison to the maroon of the smaller Timneh parrot. Both sexes appear similar.
The colouration of juveniles similar to that of adults, however the eye is typically dark grey to black, in comparison to the greyish eyes of the adult birds. The undertail coverts are also tinged with grey.
Distribution and habitat
The African grey parrot is endemic to the Congo, Africa.
Behaviour and ecology
African grey parrots are monogamous breeders which nest in tree cavities. The hen lays 3–5 eggs, which she incubates for 30 days while being fed by her mate. Young leave the nest at the age of 12 weeks. Little is known about the courtship behaviour of this species in the wild.
Food and feeding
Threats to survival
Humans are by far the largest threat to wild African grey populations. Between 1994 and 2003, over 359,000 African grey parrots were traded on the international market. Mortality amongst imported birds is high. As a result of the extensive harvest of wild birds, in addition to habitat loss, this species is believed to be undergoing a rapid decline in the wild and has therefore been rated as vulnerable by the IUCN.
Relationship to humans
The species is common in captivity and is regularly kept by humans as a companion parrot, prized for its ability to mimic human speech. However, it may be prone to behavioural problems due to its sensitive nature.
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