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The African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus), also known as the Grey Parrot, is a medium-sized parrot found in the primary and secondary rainforest of West and Central Africa. Experts regard it as one of the most intelligent birds in the world. They feed primarily on palm nuts, seeds, fruits, and leafy matter, but have also been observed eating snails. Their overall gentle nature and their inclination and ability to mimic speech have made them popular pets, which has led many to be captured from the wild and sold into the pet trade. The African Grey parrot is listed on CITES appendix II, which restricts trade of wild-caught species because wild populations can not sustain trapping for the pet trade.
There are two subspecies universally accepted: * Congo African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus): This is the nominate subspecies, larger than the Timneh at about long, with light grey feathers, cherry red tails, and an all-black beak. Immature birds of this subspecies have tails with a darker, duller red towards the tip (Juniper and Parr 1999) until their first moult, which occurs by 18 months of age. These birds also initially have grey irises, which change to a pale yellow colour by the time the bird is a year old. The Congo Grey parrot is found on the islands of Prncipe and Bioko and is distributed from southeastern Ivory Coast to Western Kenya, Northwest Tanzania, Southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Northern Angola. In aviculture, it is often called a "CAG". * Timneh African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh, or Psittacus timneh): These are smaller in size, have a darker charcoal grey colouring, a darker maroon tail, and a light, horn-coloured area to part of the upper mandible. The Timneh Grey parrot is endemic to the western parts of the moist Upper Guinea forests and bordering savannas of West Africa from Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Southern Mali east to at least east of the Bandama River in Ivory Coast. It is often called a "TAG". As pets, Timnehs begin learning to speak earlier than Congos and are often said to be less nervous around strangers and novel situations. In 2012 Birdlife International gave Timneh Parrot full species status and it was classified as Vulnerable. Some aviculturalists recognize a third and fourth subspecies, but these are not distinguishable in scientific studies.
Like many large parrots, the African Grey is a long-lived bird. The Animal Ageing and Longevity Database states the longest reliably recorded longevity for the species in captivity as 49.7 years. Also acknowledged are claims of captive African Grey parrots reaching the ages of 73 and 93, whereas the World Parrot Trust lists a longevity of 5060 years for an African Grey in captivity. The Guinness Book of World Records listed a grey parrot that allegedly lived in captivity for 72 years as the longest lived specimen for the species.
More rare than previously believed, the African Grey was uplisted from a species of Least Concern to Near Threatened in the 2007 IUCN Red List. A recent analysis suggests that up to 21% of the global population may be taken from the wild annually, primarily for the pet trade. In 2012 the species was further uplisted to Vulnerable. The species is endemic to primary and secondary rainforest of West and Central Africa. Grey parrots depend on large old trees for the natural hollows they use for nesting. Studies in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau have found that African Greys' preferred species of nesting trees are also species preferred for timber. There is a positive relationship between the status of the species and the status of primary forest: where the forests are declining, so too are populations of Grey parrots. The African Grey parrot is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This requires both that exports be accompanied by a permit issued by a national authority and that a finding be made that the export is non-detrimental to the species in the wild. With exports totalling more than 350,000 specimens from 19942003, the Grey parrot is one of the most heavily traded CITES-listed bird species. In response to continuing population declines, exceeded quotas, and unsustainable and illegal trade (including among range states), CITES included the Grey parrot in Phase VI of the CITES Review of Significant Trade in 2004. This review has resulted in recommended zero export quotas for several range states and a CITES Decision to develop regional management plans for the species. In the United States, importation of wild-caught Grey parrots is prohibited under the U.S. Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992. In the European Union, an EU Directive of 2007 prevents importation of this and any other wild-caught bird for the pet trade.
Unlike other parrots, wild African Greys have been documented imitating the calls of several other species. Dr. Irene Pepperberg's research with captive African Greys, most notably with a bird named Alex, has scientifically demonstrated that they possess the ability to associate simple human words with meanings, and to intelligently apply the abstract concepts of shape, colour, number, zero-sense, etc. According to Pepperberg and other ornithologists , they perform many cognitive tasks at the level of dolphins, chimpanzees, and even human toddlers. Many pet Congo African Greys learn to speak in their second or third year. Timnehs are generally observed to start speaking earlier. Both subspecies seem to have same ability and tendency to produce human speech, but vocal ability and proclivity may range widely among individual birds. One notable African Grey is N'kisi, who in 2004 was said to have a vocabulary of over 950 words and, like Pepperberg's Alex, 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?" because he'd seen pictures of her with chimpanzees in Africa. A study published in 2011, led by Dr. Dalila Bovet of Paris West University Nanterre La Dfense, demonstrated that African Grey parrots were able to coordinate and collaborate with each other to an extent. They were able to solve problems set by scientists—for example, two birds could pull strings at the same time in order to obtain food. In another example, one bird stood on a perch in order to release a food-laden tray, while the other pulled the tray out from the test apparatus. Both would then feed. The birds in question were observed waiting for their partners to perform the necessary actions so that their behaviour could be synchronized. It was also noted that the parrots appeared to express individual preferences as to which of the other test birds they worked with.
Wild African Grey parrots often whistle, shriek, squeak, click, etc. An African Grey's owner should expect to hear regular renditions of microwaves, telephones, alarm clocks, video games, and other electronic sounds, as well as dripping water, wild birds, and any other sound that is often heard by the parrot. African Greys have even been known to repeat the profanity they heard from an owner even after they no longer live with that owner. African Grey parrots also have the ability to mimic, and distinguish between, the different voices they hear.
Their sociability and intelligence can make African Grey parrots excellent pets. They have a devoted following among parrot owners. However, the same qualities mean that African Greys require a special commitment by their owners to provide frequent one-on-one interaction and supervised time out of their cage. They must be kept entertained and busy with people and toys or they may become stressed and develop self-destructive behavior. African Greys require large cages, a varied diet that includes fresh foods, and plenty of safe and destructible toys. If not provided with these items, African Greys quickly develop unpleasant behaviours and may eventually develop health problems (such as feather-plucking) that are difficult to remedy. Even the healthiest, happiest pet African Grey will generate a fair amount of mess and noise. Like most parrots, they are non-domesticated, and even a well-socialized, hand-raised, aviary-bred bird is only one or two generations removed from its wild predecessor. Despite this, there is a long recorded history of African Greys being kept by the ancient Greeks, wealthy Roman families, King Henry VIII, Portuguese sailors, and others.
Several mutations occur naturally in the wild, like the F2 Pied Mutation, which results in a broad red band across the abdomen. In 1998, the first created Grey mutation occurred when South African bird breeder Von van Antwerpen and New Zealand partner Jaco Bosman selected F2 Pieds and created the first red African Grey. Other mutations include: * Albino (no pigment) * Lutino (yellow pigment) * Incomplete Ino (mostly white, but with a small percentage of melanin) * Grizzles (soft pinkish scalloping in the feathers) * Blues (white pigment in the tail) * Parino (very light scalloping found in the feathers)