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Species Spotlight: The African Gray Parrot

African Gray

Parrots are often thought of as one of the few animals that may rival the intelligence of the great apes. Alongside the corvid family, parrots are some of the smartest birds in the world. And yet, even amongst parrots, the African Gray manages to stand out. Though many parrots are colorful with feathers of bright blues, greens, and yellows, it is the mostly unassuming African Gray, also known as the Grey Parrot, that represents the brilliance of the order Psittaciformes. As the name implies, African Grays are a plain gray color except for their black bills and scarlet tail feathers. But looks are not what makes the African Gray special. African Grays are renowned for their incredible cognitive abilities and their almost unbelievable communication skills.

The African Gray is one of the parrots most know for being talkative. They can mimic a seemingly limitless variety of natural and man-made sounds with a startling degree of accuracy. But what’s more impressive is their ability to understand the phrases they mimic. African Grays can be taught the meanings of words and phrases to the extent that some individual parrots can count, identify objects by name, answer questions about color, and even tell you what something is made of!

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Fun Facts About the African Gray

African Grays are both beautiful wild birds and popular exotic pets. Even ancient Romans are said to have enjoyed the company of captive African Grays. Let’s take a look at some of the African Gray fun facts that make this bird so beloved!

Cognitive powerhouse: The African Gray’s intelligence is undeniable. Watch a video or two of pet African Grays engaging in uncannily meaningful conversation with their human caretakers and you’ll see for yourself how smart they are. Sure, a great deal of their speech is likely mimicry without meaning, but it should come as no surprise that African Grays do understand some of the words they use. African Grays are amongst the smartest birds in the world. It is often said that they have the equivalent intelligence of a human kindergartener. Some studies demonstrate that these birds can even surpass human children when it comes to certain intelligence tests. These birds are so smart that they continue to spark new revelations regarding the limits of animal cognition.

Social butterflies: The similarities between African Grays and humans don’t just extend to communication skills. African Grays are highly social birds who live in enormous flocks that can number over a thousand individual birds. This leads to a pretty complex web of social structures, perhaps explaining some of the African Gray’s incredible intellect. Much like humans, African Grays’ social bonds are deep and extremely important to their well-being. They breed by forming lifelong monogamous pairs that raise clutches of young parrots together year after year.

Lengthy lifespan: If you’re thinking of owning an African Gray, you’d better be prepared for a long commitment! Parrots are generally known to be long-lived birds, though there are some exceptions. Even amongst parrots, though, the African Gray is a super senior. In the wild they tend to live into their twenties, but in captivity anywhere from 40-60 years is typical. Some African Grays have even become octogenarians!

The Future of the African Gray

Being a popular choice for exotic pet owners may sound like a good thing, but African Grays as a species have generally suffered from their own popularity. African Grays are endangered in their native habitats and continue to decrease due to their value on the exotic pet market. Bans on the trade of African Grays, both global and in individual nations, have inspired some measure of hope amongst conservationists, but the issue of poaching has prevented the wild population from recovering.

As their species faces an uncertain future, individual birds face the grim possibility of neglect or abandonment as hopeful pet-owners purchase these birds hoping to enjoy the novelty of their speech capabilities. African Grays quickly prove to be a far more challenging pet than many of these owners expect. They are extremely intelligent and will destroy objects to satiate their boredom if not properly stimulated. Add to that the likelihood of a lifelong commitment and many African Grays wind up abandoned or mistreated.

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