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African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus): also known as the grey parrot is an old world parrot in the family Psittacidae and a native to Central and West Africa characterized by its distinctive scalloped grey Plumage. Habitants of African grey parrots are frequently moist lowland forests and commonly observed in the mangroves, wooded savannahs, forest edges, cultivated areas, gardens and gallery forests.  The species is a native to African countries such as Uganda, Ghana Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria Liberia Tanzania and many others. They make their nests in tree holes and at times choose locations abandoned by birds such as woodpeckers and they often visit open lands next to woodlands in order to roost in trees over water and may prefer roosting on islands in rivers. The African grey parrot’s ability to talk and mimic sounds and phrases makes this medium-sized parrot a captivating companion. It can also understand human speech and a well-trained one can learn hundreds of words, phrases and sounds, which has helped to catapult this species to stardom in research circles and the pet trade.

Physical description

As its name suggests, the African grey parrot is a mottled grey colored bird and at first glance, the species is a medium-sized, dusty-looking grey bird almost pigeon-like. The pennage of the species has various shades of grey with very distinctive red vent and tail feathers and solid black beaks, they have bare white face patches and at times bright, normally pale, silvery eyes and the greatest portion is light grey. Some grey parrots are partially or completely red and both sexes appear similar however females have a pale grey crown with dark grey edges, a grey body and scarlet tail feathers. The juveniles’ coloration is similar to that of the adults but typically their eyes are dark grey to lack in comparison to the yellow irises around dark pupils of the adult birds and their under tail coverts are tinged with grey. Many of the grey contour feathers are edged with white, giving them a smooth, lacy appearance and at a certain degree, they tend to be sexually dimorphic. One can differentiate the sex of these birds once the birds reach which is nearly 18 months of age, here the male parrot’s tail remains solid red while a female’s tail becomes red but tipped with silver. The underparts of the male’s wings become dark, while for the female’s remain light. Furthermore sex can be differentiated according to the size where males have a more slender and narrower head while the females have got longer necks with larger and rounder heads.

Fact: African grey parrots are prized for its ability to mimic human speech consequently, they are very popular as pets and generally kept by as humans companions.

Behaviour

African grey parrots are very shy and rarely allow humans to approach them easily. They are highly social and nest in large groups however each group or family occupies their own nesting tree. Like the other birds, they are also observed roosting in large noisy flocks calling loudly usually during the morning, evening and when in flight. They choose spots high up in the trees, to sleep where they are safest from predators, individually birds will commonly remain with their mate while foraging and roosting. African grey parrots are gregarious and very noisy birds especially at night when they gather in flocks to sleep together in tall trees. These birds communicate with each other using high-pitched screams and whistles in various conditions such as detecting predators, food, their location, safety statues and many more especially when in flocks. Unlike other parrots that are often found in mixed flocks, these flocks always comprise of only African grey parrots. During the day, they break into smaller flocks and fly longer distances to forage. African grey parrots feed mainly in the canopies climbing from one branch to another but may also side to take clay and mineral soils on the ground. The young birds stay with their family groups for a long period of time for several years. They socialize with others of their agements in nursery trees, however remain in their family groups within the larger flocks. They are also cared for by older birds until they are educated enough and old enough to become independent flock members. The young need to learn a complex set of skills such as differentiating desirable food plants from toxic plants, how to recognize and avoid predators, how to defend territory, how to rejoin their families when separated and how to find safe water. In addition, the young exhibit appeasement behaviors towards older members and as they mature, they become more aggressive with conspecifics. Furthermore, they also learn how to develop role-appropriate behaviors that include competing and defending nest sites and raising off springs. Because these parrots are partial ground feeders, there is a series of behavioral events that occur before landing and safe consumption takes place. Groups of parrots gather a barren tree not until it is completely filled with hundreds of birds that take part in grooming, climbing, socializing and vocalizing. Eventually the birds make their way down to the ground in waves with the entire group never being on the ground at the same time and once on the ground, they are extremely vigilant reacting to any movement or sound. Furthermore, studies have found that these birds have complex cognition and are considered one of the most intelligent species of birds since they can also test and form ideas about the world. African grey parrots were tested on insightful behavior and imitative competence, the results showed the two parrots with limited vocabulary immediately acted-out the correct physical insightful task. Consequently the parrots engaged in deliberate communication as problem-solving strategy which is an advanced stage of development even for human infants.

Fact: African grey parrots are very generous and caring birds, they will share a nut with their partner even if it meant that they would not be able to get one themselves

Reproduction

African grey parrots are social birds and their breeding occurs in loose colonies with each pair occupying its own tree for nesting. They select mates carefully and have a life time monogamous bond that begins at sexual maturity, at three to five years of age. During courtship, males feed mates (courtship feeding) and both sing soft monotonous notes and at this time the females will sleep in the nest cavity while the male guards it. In captivity, males feed females after copulation events and both participate in a mating dance in which they drop their wings. These birds have got a breeding display that begins with the male lowering the wings and bringing them forward so that the butts are close to touching, this is done to expose the pale grey rump. Wing pumping also takes place and this gives the impression of slow motion flight and consequently, the body feathers will also be flared or displayed. Courtship feeding usually occurs prior to mating. When mating, the hen crouches on the perch treading takes place from the top, the male stepping on the hen’s back or from the side, the male retaining one foot on the perch. Switching of sides is not common when mating, the male steps over the females to continue on the opposite side. During copulation, the female will produce a series of grunts not normally heard at other or most times. The breeding season varies by locality however appears to coincide with the dry season, these grey parrots breed twice a year and grey parrots normally mate several times a day for several weeks before the first egg is laid. Females lay a clutch of three to five roundish eggs, each at intervals of two to five days, females incubate the eggs while being fed entirely by the males. Incubation takes approximately (26-30) days with the average being 28 days. Fledgling from the nest is always at (10-12) weeks of age but normally on hearing something or someone approach they quickly return to the nest and hide hence making it unapparent for some days that they have fledged. After the young emerging from the nest, weaning takes another 3-4 weeks by both parents nourishing, raising and protecting their off springs until they reach independence.

Speech and vocalization

Much of the grey parrot’s appeal comes from its talking ability and is among the best talkers in the parrot family, able to repeat words and phrases after hearing them just once or twice. This species reaches full talking ability around a year of age and most of them become capable mimics much earlier. African grey parrot flocks or groups follow a daily pattern of vocalizations, normally the flock is quiet from sunset until the next dawn. During day break, the flock begins to vocalize before setting out to forage at different locations throughout the day. There are a variety of different types of calls and vocalizations such as contact calls, food begging calls, agonistic calls, alarm calls to mention a few. 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 so that to warn fellow flock members. The young parrots learn a variety of these vocalizations from their parents and flock mates so pet parrots will not be able to learn appropriate vocalizations however will show similar patterns and use of calls. These birds communicate with each other using high-pitched whistles and screams however they may also use contact calls to interact amongst flock mates when communicating or getting information about their location, safety status, detecting predators and much more whereas they are also used to form strong social bonds with their flock mates and other individuals. Additionally African grey parrots demonstrated a complex cognitive competence in understanding both the similarities and dissimilarities among different musical note frequencies and were able to master the musical codes. It was also determined that an African grey parrot can isolate a sound from background noise, imitate it, cate gorize the acoustic stimulus, encode it into long term memory and monitor the output sound to match it with the internal template. A research on a famous African grey Parrot Alex proved that these parrots are capable of far more than simply mimicking human speech. Like toddler children, African grey parrots have a reputation for repeating everything they hear so it’s wise to watch your language around these birds because they are capable of picking up and repeat any sounds they like such as vehicle back-up chimes, fire alarms, telephone conversations and ringtones among others. Additionally one of the African grey was reported blowing off a woman’s love affair by repeatedly calling out the other man’s name in front of her husband while using the cheating wife’s voice. Scaring of all, once they learn a word or sound, it is impossible or difficult to forget or unlearn it however it can be suitable for owners living in apartments or condos although neglected birds may scream their dissent for being ignored and can get noisy.

Feeding

African grey parrots are herbivores and frugivores which means that the vast majority of their diet consists of fruits. Their primary food sources are fruits, seeds and nuts but they are also known to eat tree bark, insects, flowers and snails. Their favorite food source in the wild is usually oil palm fruit and when searching for food, these birds fly or climb to the ground to forage for ripe fruit that has fallen from tress. The best food for an African grey parrot in captivity is a high-quality formulated pellet supplemented with fruits such as pomegranate, organic mango, apples, pears, carrots, oranges, bananas, cucumbers, peas, celery, seeds, melon and more. Additionally also provide fresh vegetables such as leafy greens like sprouts and healthy seeds like flaxseeds. Stagnant grey parrots can become overweight, so they should have plenty of time for play and exercise outside of their cages, this is also important for the bird’s mental health, and poorly-stimulated birds can become sick, causing destruction and becoming boisterous and loud.

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