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African Grey Parrots : (Psittacus erithacus)

18 August 2014 Comments::DISQUS_COMMENTS

African Grey Parrots : (Psittacus erithacus)

Congo African Grey & Timneh African Grey

African Grey parrots are as the name suggests grey feathered parrot birds which are pre-dominantly found in the rainforest of West and Central Africa.

They are presently listed on CITES Appendix II and has been uplisted from the Least Concern status to the Near Threatened status in the2007 IUCN Red List. It is one of the most heavily traded parrot species in the Cites Listed bird species.
This parrot is much sought after for its ability to mimic human speech. An in-depth study and research carried out on African greys by the renowned Dr. Irene Pepperberg has further proved that the grey parrot has comprehending abilities far beyond what was thought capable by our so called bird-brains.
Her studies have discovered the parrot's abilities to comprehend and respond with appropriate and correct responses equivalent to a five year old human.
There are two subspecies universally accepted in the Pet Hobby.

African Grey Parrot

1. The Congo African Grey Parrot CAG (Psittacus erithacus erithacus)
Characteristics : The CAG is about 13” 14” in size. The body is covered with scalloped grey feathers ending in a vivid red tail. The beak is black in colour and the face is devoid of any feathering with exposed white skin surrounding the eye. The size and depth of grey varies from bird to bird depending on the region of origin. DNA feather / blood sexing is the only accurate non invasive method of sexing the birds and visual sexing is by no means accurate.

Timneh African Grey

2. The Timneh African Grey Parrot TAG (Psittacus erithacus timneh)
Characteristics : The TAG is about 10” 11” in size. The body is covered with scalloped darker grey feathers ending in a maroon grey tail. The upper beak is horn in colour, however is the less sought after African Grey Parrot species of the two.

Feed: Black sunflower, safflower, striped sunflower, paddy, corn, oats , millet and wheat should be the basic contents of the Seed Mix made available throughout the day for the bird.

Fruits and soft food : All types of fruits and vegetables are readily accepted by greys ranging from apples, pears, carrots and peas on the pod. They are especially fond of mangos, guavas and pomergrantes which are seasonally available and provide the necessary trace minerals and vitamins in the diet. Corn on the cob is much preferred and new birds of which some are picky eaters definitely take to this immediately.

Some greys will also learn to eat boiled eggs, rice and a concoction of par boiled vegetable like carrot, beans and pulses.

Mung, chana sprouts are also relished, however excess must be removed to prevent spoiling and causing an upset stomach if ingested.

Breeding African Greys is the ultimate aim for all aviculturist keeping parrot like birds.

The first most important aspect of breeding African Greys is the acquisition of a true pair. This can be achieved by DNA sexing few birds and housing them together after properly identifying them. Allowing them to choose the mate of their choice would ensure compatibility and hasten the breeding process.

Once the greys have bonded and paired off, they must be separated into individual cages to prevent unnecessary distractions and disturbances from the single birds present.

Greys are intelligent parrots which take their time to settle down before deciding to breed. One must be patient and if you do have a pair, success can be achieved only through patience and hardwork. If you can provide your greys the correct environment, along with the correct food and privacy, there is no reason why a true pair should not breed. Perseverance will bear fruit eventually.

Breeding Accommodation: The minimum size should be 48”x 24”x 24” Height plus the box which should be attached outside this dimension. This allows the bird sufficient exercise when not breeding. The nest box could be of different shapes recommended like the “L” or “Z” shaped nest boxes, however one can even successfully use the normal grandfather type vertical nest box of a minimum internal dimension of 12” square.

Basically, all boxes that have been recommended on the net are boxes which have been tried and tested by one breeder or the other successfully, hence he/she advocates the use of that particular shape/size/dimension/make.

You have the grandfather clock vertical box, THE "z" Shaped box, the Horizontal box and so on and so forth.

The nest box shape and size is basically 12"x12" internal dimensions. This allows for the grey female to ensure the eggs do not roll beyond the 12.5" length (grey basic size)and get chilled due to neglect from the brooding hen.

The standard size is 12x12x21 inches for a vertical box.


Inspection Hatch:
What is important is the inspection hatch which would vary from cage setup to cage setup. This inspection hatch requires to be installed at the most convenient edge of the box to ensure minimum disturbance to the breeding pair. It would be preferable if this hatch was accessible from outside the cage which is the bird's domain (secure area) to further minimize stress to the pair. An important tip is to make sure the hatch does not open at the absolute base of the box as this may cause the eggs/chicks to roll out on opening the hatch. (sketch of these probabilities attached later)

A 2 inch prevention strip from the base would help prevent these mishaps as i am assuming a 1 inch nest bed prepared by the pair during nesting.

The key to successful breeding is the placement and positioning of the nest box . It is a far more important factor than many of us tend to believe. SECURITY REDUCES STRESS AND A STRESSLESS BIRD WILL THEN ATTEMPT TO BREED.

It must be noted that some pairs refuse to take to the newly placed box for various reason which can be deduced after closely observing the pair.

The box needs to be placed preferably in the highest corner of the cage, farthest away from the cage entrance or the area most frequented by the keeper. This ensures the feeling of security for the pair thus encouraging the exploration of the box.

The entrance hole can be left slightly smaller ie. around 3” dia to stimulate the bird by chewing and making a larger hole entry for its nesting receptacle. This invariably leads to the destruction of the entire box after a few years but the final outcome of successfully breeding grey far outweighs the cost/effort of replacing the nest box.

The box must be placed so that there is minimum light for increased privacy and very often, it would be observed that the birds avoid entering the receptacle only because of light entering the box during some parts of the day thus disturbing the nesting place.

If there is no apparent reason and the birds still refuse to enter the box, then just a change of positioning to the next best place could do the trick.

Be positive of your success by also thinking ahead by placing the box such that the inspection hatch is easily accessible and causes the least intrusion into the pair's privacy.

Material to construct the box needs to be sturdy, organic and porous. Timber hardwoods like teak, saal, bhind(local language) are good materials to use. Generally I use 5/8” thick planks to construct my nest boxes and have managed to keep them functional for the last 5 years.

It is better to dovetail and screw the joints instead of just hammering nails as these could get exposed and injure the inhabitants or the keeper whilst inspection.

I have lost / maimed a pair and chicks by overseeing and neglecting this detail and would prefer if you could incorporate this method to avoid experiencing the pain.

The shape of the boxes could vary from breeder to breeder as earlier mentioned. I have had successes with both the vertical tall boxes as well as the L shoe box shaped receptacle.

The Z shaped box is designed to prevent the spooked parent bird from damaging the eggs/chicks from the immediate vertical fall in the box during its flight to security inside the receptacle. The Z shape hampers this direct fall and slows down the fleeing bird. It however takes more space and is not flexible whilst installation.

The L shape box too provides this feature as the pair invariably nest at the far corner of the shoe and not directly under the entrance hole.

I prefer to give my pairs soft wood chips for nesting. These chips are generally around three to four inches in length and about 1.5” x 1.5” cross section. The pairs readily take to these pieces and shred them in no time making a layer of around one to two inches in depth, This depth varies from pair to pair as I have seen some pairs throwing out extra pieces of wood from the nest box.

There are many advantages in letting the birds make their own nest bedding.

The chewing process stimulates the pair into nesting and general bonding which hopefully results in breeding.

This organic soft, yet firm bed allows the eggs to breathe and not roll in the nest pan. This ensures that the eggs are brooded uniformly and efficiently by the hen.

When the chicks do arrive, it also ensures cleanliness as the droppings are absorbed efficiently and immediately.

This layer of nesting material is removed every season and replaced with fresh chips at the start of the season.

Greys come of breeding age in 4-5 years time. They can continue breeding for the entire period of their life which could easily exceed 50 years if nurtured correctly.

When the pair is ready to start breeding, the male performs an unusual courtship dance where the wings are held at an unusual angle and a hissing sound is emitted. The Male generally feed regurgitated food to the female which she readily accepts. Sometimes the female reciprocates by in turn feeding the cock bird, after which the female crouches into the usual mating stance of hen birds. Greys “top-mount” where the male actually mounts the female on her back and mating takes place in this position. The pair mate frequently and are usually oblivious of onlookers.

The clutch consist of 3-5 eggs which are laid on alternate days. The Hen starts brooding after the second egg so the chicks hatching dates are staggered. The eggs take around 28-30 days depending on the weather and ambient temperature.

The chicks are born helpless and naked with their eyes closed. They survive the 1st day on the yolk they are born with, after which the hen feeds the chicks on food regurgitated by the Cock bird.

At this stage the regurgitated feed is very thin and liquid in nature for easy digestion and the chicks requires constant feeds at regular intervals.

The growth is fast and apparent and the chicks are usually fledged in 65-70 days, looking very much like the adult birds, however the eyes of young greys are fully black and do not have a white/yellow iris like the adults.

These cage-bred baby greys make the best companion birds.
The young are removed for hand feeding after two weeks. This period is most taxing for the human foster parent as they require to be fed frequently. Kindly note, hand feeding must be done by trained hands only. Hand feeding formula is now available abroad and it comprises of all the elements/nutrients required to enable the chick to grow normally. After the fifth week, the chick starts sampling fruit, soaked and soft feed till they are completely weaned off their baby food diet. These hand fed birds make the best companions as they have complete trust in humans.

Housing Single Companion Birds: A single tame grey can be comfortably housed in a vertical box cage measuring 21” x 21”x 24” height. The general rule for all cage birds is “ the bigger the better” as this enables the caged bird to acquire as much exercise as possible when the owner at times cannot take the companion bird out to spread and exercise its wings.

Tame greys need to be taken out to exercise and stretch their wings. This also helps strengthen the bond between owner and pet. Greys love to be scratched behind their heads and a bonded bird will more often than not extend its head forward to be obliged. Companion Birds must be taught to step up on to the outstretched finger of its owner without fear. This regular contact assures the companion bird of being secure in its open surroundings.

Greys are usually vocal in the mornings and evenings. Teaching them to mimic the human voice must be concentrated during these periods. During the day, to successfully teach the bird, one must be able to keep its attention and it is best to start off by repeating a single word / name ending in “EE”” as some trainers claim that this sound is the easiest for young birds to pick up.

Greys are usually one man birds and show their preferences distinctly. Their affections are focused and they display their emotions openly. They are shy and sensitive birds and most refuse to perform or talk in front of strangers. Bird safe toys and enrichment feed and matter must be provided in the cage.

Their inherent intelligence can sometimes cause them to self mutilate and pluck their own feathers if left devoid of attention and companionship. Proper socialization and interaction with your pet Grey can be a wholesome fulfilling experience.

Owning a pet grey should not be done on a whim as this companion is long lived and is a life long commitment.

Kindly note : These notes are part of my experience with grey breeding and may differ from other breeders. Please let me know your experiences so that I may in the future incorporate ideas which may have been overlooked.

Christopher Liang

Last modified on Saturday, 13 September 2014 10:48