Congo African Grey Parrot

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Is the Congo African Grey Parrot right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: CAG; Congo Grey Parrot; African Grey; Grey Parrot; Gray Gabon Parrot

Scientific name: Psittacus erithacus

The basics:
The Congo African Grey Parrot is widely regarded as the world's most intelligent parrot, with the ability to learn to speak in a clear voice and to use words with at least some understanding of context and meaning. A properly trained bird may speak dozens if not hundreds of words. Probably the best studied parrot, the Congo African Grey was at the heart of the Alex studies on avian intelligence which proved that these birds have a greater ability to understand and use human language than anyone previously suspected. Many people would compare them to a child between the ages of three to five years old. They are sensitive, social, verbal, and highly talented, and they must be handled with sensitivity and awareness from the very beginning.

CAGs are so closely related to the Timneh Parrots, that the two birds weren't split into separate species until 2013. Nonetheless, they're easy to distinguish at a glance, because the Congo is a larger bird with a bright red tail and an all black bill. Although not as dusty as Cockatoos, African Grey Parrots have powder down, so if you are prone to allergies, you need to check with your doctor before you bring an African Grey into your home.

Unfortunately, the story of the Congo African Grey Parrot on its home grounds is a tragic one. As a gregarious flocking species that is found in lowland habitats in direct competition with humans, this species has suffered an incredible wave of persecution over the past decades. The bird is probably extirpated in Kenya, and there is widespread illegal trapping by smugglers in western and central Africa.

Now that the wild birds are no longer legally imported into Europe or North America, the smugglers have apparently created new myths to sell the birds locally. For instance, a gut-wrenching 2009 news story described a smuggler in Cameroon caught with 535 Congo African Grey Parrot heads, which he planned to sell to someone he described as a witch doctor treating his brother's mental illness. Although CAGs are not yet ranked as an endangered species, it is hard to see how the birds can withstand such pressure. Know the source of your Congo African Grey Parrot, know the breeder, and do not tolerate anyone selling birds that appear to be stolen or smuggled. If you are adopting an older bird, know the family and find out how long they have actually held the bird. Verify what you are told. This species has brought much pleasure and knowledge to the human race, and they do not deserve to be destroyed for the sake of someone's quick payday.

(October 2016. The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has banned the trade of wild Congo African Grey Parrots.)

Although its "official" common name may be Grey Parrot, there's a bit more to this mid-sized bird than that. Its white face, white eyes, and bright red tail give this bird an alert, dapper appearance.

400 - 600 grams (14 - 21 oz.)

Average size:
33 centimeters (13 in.)

40+ years

Behavior / temperament:
Congo African Grey Parrots are highly intelligent birds that do not forget. That's wonderful when you're trying to teach them to talk. However, it is not so wonderful when they get frightened and develop a phobia when they are very young. It is very important to handle CAGs with an attitude of mutual respect and trust. They don't understand punishment, nor do they understand screaming and scolding. You teach these birds with positive reinforcement, by creating a feeling of security so that they can develop the confidence to speak up and to play with you. They may enjoy playing small pranks like ringing the doorbell or setting off the car alarm. It's amazing how accurate their mimicry can be. Enjoy their games for the high spirits that they are.

Your pet Congo African Grey Parrot often wants to be your only pet. CAGs rarely if ever want to share your time and attention with other birds. Some people report that having other talking birds around, specifically the Amazon Parrots, has caused their Greys to become sad, scared, or angry. For the most part, if you decide to commit to a CAG, you have made the commitment to own that bird and no other. You will have the deepest relationship with your bird if you don't try to split your time with other demanding birds.

Feather-plucking is a commonly reported behavior problem in Congo African Grey Parrots. You need to work with your breeder and with your avian vet at the first side of a problem, since it is difficult to figure out if the plucking is caused by diet deficiencies, anxiety or stress, poor lighting, or unknown causes. Even the talented, well-cared-for Alex plucked, so you may do everything right and still have an imperfect bird. We are still learning about these intelligent, highly sensitive parrots. Be prepared to love your pet for its sweet personality and insightful mind, not just its dapper looks.

You may be surprised at how long it takes your Congo African Grey Parrot to start speaking. It is important to start the voice training early, yet you may believe that the bird isn't listening. Again, please remember that the CAG brain is more like a young human child's brain than most other birds. Many people report that their birds say little or nothing for the first year, and then they begin to speak in surprisingly clear voices. Don't lose heart. The smartest brains take the longest time to develop.

A single pet Congo African Grey Parrot should have a powder-coated metal cage of a minimum36”w x 24”d x 36”h with no more than 1” bar spacing. They need to have some access to natural sunlight or else to full-spectrum lighting, to assist their bodies in creating vitamin D that can help them properly absorb calcium. They should also have a separate play area, where they can forage, enjoy their toys, and exercise their bodies as well as their active brains. Make sure that all toys and perches are safe for the powerful beak of your African Grey.

Congo African Grey Parrots can be a challenge to feed. Over the years, many people have experienced problems with calcium deficiencies. Calcium supplements alone may not be sufficient, since calcium is only properly absorbed in the presence of vitamin D. I strongly advise every new Congo African Grey Parrot owner to consult closely with a breeder, more advanced Grey owner, an avian vet, or all three. It is also important to provide natural sources of vitamin A or its precursor beta carotene.

All Grey owners should know how to prepare a “chop” mix of deep green and deep red or orange fruits and vegetables that offer a rich source of these nutrients. The core of the diet should be a pellet or soak-and-cook formula that is specifically designed for African Greys. You may choose to supplement your pet's diet with high quality food from your plate, such as whole grain, brown rice, whole grain pasta, very well-cooked beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Some people puree deep orange vegetables like well-cooked yams to spoon-feed to their pets in the evening. It is possible that breeders are currently weaning CAGs a little too early, and the owners who continue to spoon-feed their birds at night are creating more secure, less phobic birds, not just giving them a bit of extra vitamins. Caution: Never feed any parrot avocado or chocolate. Whole nuts and seeds can be great treats if they are held back for training rewards or hidden in foraging toys to encourage the Grey to exercise.

Written by Elaine Radford


amazing intelligence, amazing vocabulary, delightful birds, class clown antics, fast learners


aggresssive behavior, real squawkers, high dander, self-destructive behaviours, loud temper tantrums


chosen people, Big attention seekers, sexual tension, exclusive bond, mischievous, positive reinforcement

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