Let's Talk About Birds: African grey parrots

March 7, 2012 12:00 am
  • The African grey parrot is a popular pet.
    The African grey parrot is a popular pet.
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This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary. The National Aviary works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

African grey parrots are a medium-size parrot native to the forests of central Africa. Predominantly gray with a red or dark gray tail, they are popular as pets due to their generally gentle nature and ability to mimic a variety of unique sounds, such as human laughter, telephone ringing, whistling and musical songs.

Despite their popularity, parrots can make very challenging pets and may not be the best choice for many families. They have a strong bite, a natural tendency to squawk loudly and a surprisingly long lifespan. African grey parrots can live to be 40 to 60 years old.

African grey parrots are regarded as one of the more intelligent birds, and researchers have demonstrated in isolated African grey parrots the ability to perform many cognitive tasks at the level of dolphins, chimpanzees and even a human toddler. One notable African Grey is N'kisi, who in 2004 was said to have a vocabulary of more than 950 words and was noted for creative use of language. For example, when Jane Goodall visited N'kisi in his New York home, he greeted her with "Got a chimp?" as he'd seen pictures of her with chimpanzees in Africa.

African grey parrots are monogamous and not much is known of their courtship displays in the wild. They make their nests in hollow tree cavities and generally lay between one and four white eggs. The eggs take approximately 28 days to hatch, and the young birds remain with their parents for four months or more.

Due to their popularity as pets, the African grey parrot is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is believed that up to 21 percent of the global population may be taken from the wild annually, primarily for the pet trade, and in the United States, importation of wild-caught grey parrots is prohibited under the U.S. Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992.

The National Aviary is home to two African grey parrots -- Zane and Earl. Zane is female and was named for the famous adventure novelist of the early 1900s, Zane Grey. Earl is male and named after Earl Grey tea. They are siblings and were hatched at the National Aviary in 2001. They can be seen in the National Aviary's Grasslands exhibit.


First Published 2012-03-06 23:14:27

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