Misconceptions of the African Grey

by Monica Gonzalez

 

Date last edited:  06/20/12


 

 

 

 

 

 

Being the most sought after parrot in America, I feel it is important for humans to have accurate information in order for their parrot and the family to have a happy life together.  An essential ingredient is educating yourself.

I feel Grey's have many misconceptions over the years. I wanted to elaborate on some of the most popular ones. 

The most popular of them is that Grey's Are Clumsy.

African Greys and all parrots need to be fledged properly. The meaning of the phrase "fledged properly" means to allow a properly weaning baby parrot to learn to  become an agile flyer. There is no set time limit for a baby grey to learn to fly. They need to be able to become graceful in landings and take offs, to hover and turn on a moments notice, being able to land on your hand from 20 feet away. 

Giving a baby grey the freedom to learn to fly will give him the self-assurance he/she will need throughout their lives. I cannot express enough the importance of this. I have two birds that went through a terrible phase, luckily one recovered without behavioral issues. 

Clipping a birds wings also plays a major role in fledging the bird properly. A bad wing clip can be detrimental to any bird. African Grey's are not aerodynamically proportioned. Their heads are not proportioned with their bodies as an Amazon or a Macaw. They need to be clipped properly. Grey's  should never be dramatically clipped. Each African Grey will vary the amount of flight feathers that are clipped based on the size of the frame of the bird and the weight. Usually varying from 5-7 feathers.

Grey's Are One Person Birds.

Greys are flock animals. They need to be with their flock (meaning their family) in order to survive.  It is a natural behavior for greys to communicate and interact with their flock.  My greys will allow themselves to be approached from the front, as long as the person is not fearful of them.  A Grey's trust and love is earned and not easily given. It takes time for a Grey to trust a person.  It should be encouraged that a grey is allowed to develop multiple relationships from when they are young. People who are not willing to devote the time and energy to an African Grey will not earn the trust of one. They are very different from most species of parrots. I think it is important for them as babies to be introduced to as many new things as possible.  Safe outings, car trips in a pet carrier, harnesses, variety of toys, new objects, all the rooms in your home, etc.  Once your young grey is trained to accept change your lives together will be unsurpassing. (Note: By stating trained I mean in a delicate manner to fit the personality of your grey as an individual.)

Grey's Need More Calcium.

Calcium plays an important role in an African Grey's life ~ no doubt. However one must not assume that a Grey needs more calcium than the next parrot. It is important for greys to have a good natural calcium source in their diet. Over supplementation is very dangerous. According to the Avian Medicine: Principles & Application Book "Excessive levels of blood calcium can very serious and life threatening renal problems. Consumption levels of over 1% calcium in the diet have been observed to decrease the utilization of proteins, fats, vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, iodine, zinc and manganese." 

I realize there are Pellet Manufacturers that make special diets for African Greys which are supplemented with additional calcium. How much of that pellet are they actually eating? How much additional  calcium are they getting when you look at the overall diet? And lastly, how many thousands of African Grey's who do *not* eat that "Special African Grey Pellet" and are not calcium deficient? 

If a grey has been tested to have a low calcium level. Then follow your avian vet's guidelines with supplementation. Greys are known to get hypocalcaemia if a proper calcium level is not maintained. Some greys have trouble with calcium absorption and need the additional calcium supplementation.  I would not recommend calcium supplements without having a Blood Chemistry test done to confirm the calcium levels. 

My flock's regular diet consists of natural forms of calcium on a daily basis. Dark leafy greened vegetables have a high calcium level and I feel it is most nutritious for parrots and the natural enzymes are absorbed readily into the body. Calcium levels should be checked during your annual vet visit to ensure the appropriate calcium levels are met.

Another misconception is Grey's are feather pluckers.

It is my belief that Grey's are no more feather pluckers than any other parrot species (Amazons, Cockatoos, Macaws, etc). There are many variables to a bird plucking. The first thing that needs to be done is to rule out medical causes (zinc toxicity, liver problems, nutritional deficiencies, Giardia, etc). Once the medical aspect has been ruled out, you need to step back and look at the recent changes in your household. Did you change the location of the cage? Did you bring home a new pet? Is the cage up against a wall so that he/she will feel secure? New toys put in the cage recently? These are just a few basic things that you need to consider, if you bird is already plucking.  To get into greater detail, I would like to recommend an excellent article on this. Grey's Are Feather Pluckers.  

I hope that this helps give you a better understanding of the complexities of owning and befriending a parrot. 

Grey's Will Bond More To The Opposite Sex.

I feel it is a common misconception that male african grey parrots will bond to females of the house and visa versa.   If there is interaction with grey, playing, cuddling, scratching session that is all a part of bonding with them. The only foreseeable reason that a Grey will like one sex over the other is if they are getting more favorable attention from one person or the possibility if the bird was abused or neglected by a certain person and the Grey may associate the two and dislike one gender over the other.

Grey's Don't Need Much Attention

I have often heard the rumor that African Grey Parrots do not need as much attention as other birds because they are independent. There is nothing more further than the truth.  In general, all parrots need quality attention from their owners. Your family is your avian companion's flock.  It is so important for us to remember that parrots are not domesticated.  They need us to provide them with an enriched environment filled with love and devotion. Always build on trust. Interacting with your pet Grey is the most important key in a happy relationship.  Spend quality time with your pet bird. Have a perch or T-Stand in every room. Pull up a perch and have your Grey join you for dinner, bring your Grey in the bathroom when you are getting ready for work, have your Grey watch TV with you. The more you interact with your Grey the more of his/her personality will flourish... for many times they are only a reflection of our true selves.

Grey's Are Not Cuddly

The word "cuddly" is a matter of your interpretation. There are Grey's who are cuddly, maybe not as cuddly as a Cockatoo but some may sit and watch TV with you and cuddle under your chin. Some other Greys may not like to have that type of one on one contact. 

Some african grey parrots do not give trust easily. Trust is earned and not given freely. It depends on the individual bird and how willing they are to pattern. Some may learn easier than others.  You will need to determine what personality your Grey falls into.

An example for you would be my youngest grey who loves to cuddle and let me touch him all over.  My eldest grey, Oliver will tolerate me doing it as well as Abby.  I make sure when I bring home a bird, to "pattern" them to allow me to touch them all over. It comes in handy when you need to clip them or handle them because they are in danger, etc. You build trust then start from there delicately and slowly.

 

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