Animal-World > Birds > African Grey Parrots > African Grey Congo

African Grey Congo

Congo African Grey Parrot, Red-Tailed Grey Parrot, CAG

Family: Psittacidae Congo African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus, also called the Red Tailed GreyPsittacus erithacusPhoto: © Animal-World Courtesy David Brough
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The best little people in the world.  sam

   The Congo African Grey is one of the most loved parrots, and renown for its talking ability!

   The African Grey Congo Parrot Psittacus erithacus is one good looking parrot, and is also said to be one the smartest birds. They are known to be the best talkers in the bird world achieving an unparalleled vocabulary which is extremely articulate. The African Greys can learn 200 or more words and all kinds of tricks. They also frequently imitate the sounds of their environment, including people.

   One well-known Grey, N'Ski had a vocabulary of 950 words back in 2004.  N'Ski actually greeted Jane Goodall with the words "Got a chimp", as he had seen pictures of her with her chimpanzees. Once we had an African Grey Congo and a Blue-fronted Amazon at the store. The African grey would ring the phone "ring-ring" and the Blue-fronted amazon would answer with a very cordial "Hello".

   Dr. Irene Pepperberg has worked with and studied these parrots for a number of years. The most notable of these is a grey by the name of Alex. Greys have demonstrated an association of human words with meanings, differentiate colors, and even have concepts of numbers and shapes.

   Congo African Greys have a gentle nature over all. Their demeanor, along with the ability to talk and mimics sounds have made them popular pets. Yet keeping them as a pet companion is challenging, and not for everyone. These are long-lived, highly intelligent birds that need a great deal of stimulation to keep from becoming bored.

   Greys are often described as having the intelligence of a five year old and the temperament of a two year old. I truly believe they are 3 year olds dressed in feathers. A bored, unstimulated African Grey is prone to developing unpleasant behaviors and even health problems. Problem behaviors like feather plucking are very hard to reverse one they start.

   With dedication and care, you can have a happy healthy African Grey Parrot and a great family pet. Getting an African Grey that has been well socialized with people and different situations as a young bird will help ensure a good pet. Provide your grey with a large cage, play areas, and a proper diet. Make sure you give your pet lots of interaction and toys for stimulation.

To learn more about parrot care in general, see:
Bird Care: How to Take Care of a Pet Bird


Geographic Distribution
Psittacus erithacus
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Data provided by GBIF.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Psittaciformes
  • Family: Psittacidae
  • Genus: Psittacus
  • Species: erithacus
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Scientific Name

Psittacus erithacus

Distribution

   The African Grey Parrots Psittacus erithacus are native to various parts of Africa including Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, and islands off the west coast of Africa. The Congo African Grey, the nominate species, is found in the west-central part of Africa mainly within 10 degrees north and south of the equator. In the wild these birds live in flocks of one to two hundred birds.

   The two other African Grey subspecies are:

  • Timneh African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus timneh
    This subspecies is also found in the pet market, though not are regularly as the Congo
  • Psittacus erithacus princeps
    This African Grey Parrot only inhabits on the islands of Principe and Gernando Po in the Gulf of Guinea. This bird is darker than the regular African Grey, and is not often found in the trade

To learn more about the African Grey Parrots origins and background, see: African Grey Parrots

Status

   The Psittacus erithacus is on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species as Near Threatened (NT).

Description

   The Congo African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus was first described by Linnaeus in 1758. It is the best known of the African Greys and is the nominate species of its genus. This parrot is also known by the common name Red Tailed Grey, and in aviculture its name is shortened to CAG.

   The African Grey Congo is gray with a red patch of feathers on the underside of its tail. Occasionally this bird can be seen with some red feathering throughout its body, and this variant is known as the Red Factor Grey. Juveniles have black eyes that become a yellow cream color by about two years of age.

   Congo African Greys vary between 13 - 16" (32.5 - 40.6 cm) in length from beak to tail, and weigh between 400 - 650 grams. They are somewhat larger than the Timneh African Grey. African Grey parrots are very long lived and can live 50 or more years in captivity, possibly up to 70 years. They make a nice "jungle" sound when relaxed. When threatened or frightened they make a growling sound.

  There has been a lot of work by specialized breeders to develop Grey mutations, utilizing both the Congo and the Timneh African Greys. Varieties developed include red pied, albino, Ino, blue, cinnamon, and more. The most spectacular mutation is a Red African Grey first developed in 1998.

Care and feeding

   In the wild the African Grey Parrots eats seeds, nuts, fruits, and leafy vegetation. These birds will climb around the tree, rather than flying, picking up food and holding it with a foot while eating. They enjoy eating the outer flesh of the oil-palm nut, and have been observed eating snails. In West Africa, with a fondness for grains, it is said they have become rather bold pests attacking the maize fields.

  Foods for your pet bird will include a ready made large hookbill seed mix enriched with vitamins. Their dietary requirements include sources of calcium and Vitamin A. They eat a variety of sprouts, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, commercial pellets, as well as the same nutritional foods humans eat. A cuttle bone or a calcium block is a good source of calcium.

   African Greys should not be fed a diet that is high in fat and protein. A lean diet is recommended as recent studies have indicated heart disease and arteriosclerosis occuring in Greys in their late teens and twenties.

  • Fresh vegetables you can offer include mustard greens, green peas, cucumber, young dandelion greens, sweet corn, beet greens, carrots, broccoli, unsprayed lettuce, chickweed, dandelions, eggplant, green peppers, sorrel, spinach leaves, tomatoes and zucchini.
  • Fruits that you can offer include, apples, peaches, apricots, bananas, pears, plums, raisons, and most other fruits.
  • Avocado and chocolate are considered toxic for birds and sugar and salt should be avoided.

   Most parrots enjoy and occasional shower or bath. A shower can be accomplished with either a hand held shower sprayer or a hose with a fine spray head and lukewarm water. A bath pan or ceramic dish 12"-14" (30-35 cm) can be placed on the bottom of the cage or mounted at about 39" (1m) above the floor in an aviary.

  The wings of parrots should be kept trim if you want to discourage flight and to prevent the loss of your pet through an open window or door. However you must take care to only trim a few (3-5) feathers because this is a heavy bodied bird, and can be hurt if it falls while taking short flights. The beak and claws need to be trimmed if they are not worn down from climbing and chewing.

Housing

   A roomy cage is required, and the bird needs to be let out for regular, extended periods. Make sure the cage is large enough so that a normal sized Grey keeps from rubbing its tail on the bottom and has plenty of room to extend its wings. Make sure the cage is placed in a well lighted area free from drafts. Many birds can spend most of their time on a play pen or parrot perch.

   Perches should be natural wood ranging in size from 2 - 4 inches in diameter. Various sized fruit tree branches work very well. Playthings can be such things as climbing ropes, chains, bells, parrot swings and wooden or other destructible bird toys.

   An outdoor or breeding aviary needs to have a protected shelter that can be heated and cooled if necessary. It should be no smaller than 4 feet by 6 feet with a floor space of at least 3 feet by 3 feet (1 m x 1 m), be off the ground by 4 feet, and have an attached flight cage. The flight should be 79" - 118" (2 - 3 m) long with a perch at each end. A climbing branch and a bird bath are nice additions too.

Maintenance

   The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Weekly you should wash all the perches and dirty toys, and the floor should be washed about every other week. A total hosing down and disinfecting of an aviary should be done yearly, replacing anything that needs to be freshened, such as old dishes, toys and perches.

Social Behaviors

   The African Grey Congo is a gentle parrot, tamed easily, and they are very sociable. Because of their social nature and their intelligence, their humans become quite devoted to these feathered creatures. Greys in turn love their humans and also get along quite well with other birds in the home. However, they can sometimes become a "one person" bird, often bonding with a person of the opposite sex.

  Besides talking, African Greys can and will make all the sounds they hear in the home. They can mimic all the other birds and pets, and of course, they can use any voice that they hear in the house as well.  They can begin to mimic even before they are weaned, but not usually in clear sounds for some time. Congo African Greys don't really start speaking until they are around 2 - 3 years old. As you interact with them, they will talk and associate words with meanings. Many Greys become quite articulate with a large vocabulary, but vocal ability and the inclination to talk may range widely among individual birds. Although they can talk and mimic, they are neither overly noisy nor tend to engage in loud shrieking calls like some of the other vocal parrots.

   Despite its wonderful attributes, an African Grey Parrot is not for everyone.  A grey is a nervous bird by nature and doesn't do well with a great deal of commotion, such as a full house of children, dogs, people going in and out, or a great deal of outside noise. They are frequently a one-person bird and will tolerate other members of the household. If there is a great deal of commotion, they will growl or hide.

   These parrots require a special human to hold their attention span and keep them from being bored.  They need a lot of stimulating toys, 3 to 5 at a time works well, and rotated out with other toys on a regular basis. African Greys are notorious for plucking their feathers if they do not receive enough active stimulation, or enough desired attention from their human.

Handling/Training

   African Greys like being handled, but are also perfectly content to just be around the family. They have natural wild instincts still intact so must have supervision and care taken when interacting with people. They are strong birds with a powerful bite and can scratch with their claws. They need strong socialization when young, and then ongoing training to be good members of your family.

   You should give a new arrival a few days to get use to you, your voice and its cage before trying to handle it. The Congo African Grey Parrot is somewhat shy and cautious by nature and they need a period of adjustment. They are reserved with new people and objects too, so will tend to sit back and watch before giving of themselves freely. A hand fed baby will not need much taming and can often be handled right away, but be patient and go slow. Allow them to hear your voice, and get used to you and their new environment..

   Remember that taming and training a bird takes patience, never 'punish' your pet! This only serves to destroy the trust you've spent so much time building. For more information on training your African Grey, see Parrots: Handling/Training.

Activities

   Exercise and play are important activities for the physical well being and psychological health of your parrot. These activities help deter distress and prevent the problems like feather picking and biting. Provide your parrot with lots of activities in the form of large link chains, destructible bird toys, bird ladders, parrot swings, ropes, fresh branches for gnawing and chewing, and rotate new bird toys on a regular basis.

Sexing - Sexual Differences

   There is no easily visible means of sexing these birds. If gender identification is important (for example for breeding birds) DNA / Feather or surgical sexing is recommended.

Breeding/Reproduction

   In the wild, the Congo African Grey Parrots breeding season is variable. Greys enter into a lifelong monogamous bond when sexually mature. Like macaws, they pick their mates carefully. The pair will show a great deal of devotion and affection to each other in the form of sitting closely and preening. These birds breed in loose colonies, with each pair occupying its own tree.

   In captivity, African Grey Congos are easily bred under normal conditions. Grey's will normally start to breed in their fourth year and they have a very long reproductive life.  Because there are so many being bred the price of Congos has been coming down.

   When it is time to breed, the male feeds his mate and both will sing soft monotonous notes and perform mating dances where both sexes droop their wings. African Greys will need a deep nest box that is mounted as high up as possible. They do not use any nesting material, but wood blocks should be provided for chewing, which stimulates breeding. The female at this time will sleep in the nest cavity while the male guards it.

   The female will lay from 3 to 5 roundish or oval eggs, each one layed at intervals of two to five days. The female settles on the eggs to incubate them and is fed entirely by the male at this point. Incubation lasts 30 days after which the male now stays busy feeding the whole family! The young emerge from the nest at 12 weeks at which time both parents will be feeding them.

Potential Problems

   An African Grey Congo that is well cared for will seldom become ill. Though it is often difficult to determine illness, some visible signs of illness to be aware of are:

  • ruffled plumage
  • listlessness
  • drooping wings
  • sagging body
  • extreme mood changes
  • having no appetite
  • bulges in feathering
  • partially closed or watery eyes
  • swelling of the eyelids
  • rasping
  • difficulty breathing
  • excessive saliva
  • dirty vent
  • any change in the feces not apparently diet related.

   Some of the more common illnesses are:

  • Psittacosis (chlamydiosis or parrot fever)
  • bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
  • feather picking (results of boredom, poor diet, sexual frustration, lack of bathing)
  • allergies
  • chewing flight and tail feathers by juveniles
  • beak malformations in chicks
  • Papillomas
  • kidney disease (gout)
  • toxicity
  • heavy metal poisoning
  • lipomas in older birds.

   If you notice any of this bird illnesses in your African Grey, immediately provide a warm, draft free, secure environment kept at about 86°F (30°C). Place food and water close to the perch where it is easily accessible. An ailing parrot should be taken to a avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

   Behavior problems usually stem from something missing in the bird's environment. Boredom, lack of trust, lack of interaction with other birds or people can lead to problems like biting and feather plucking. Try to develop a bond of trust and spend time with your bird to help avoid these problems.

Availability

  The Congo African Grey is readily available. A hand-fed young Congo can be priced anywhere from about $800 to $1200 USD.

References

Author: Clarice Brough CAS, Cheryl Galloway
Lastest Animal Stories on African Grey Congo

sam - 2013-10-09
The best little people in the world.

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Leanna - 2004-01-07
Williebird came to live with me about 3 years ago, after one of my best friends died. My life has not been the same since! She is a total chatterbox, which I love, I am mummy, the dog is called by her name, and the cat is called by her name. Intelligence is not enough of a discription about this species. I cannot imagine life without her now, and to think I was scared of birds before she came along! They are a lot of work, they need LOTS of attention, but worth every effort!!!!!

  • sam - 2013-10-09
    I have a congo now for 11 years and I can not be with out her. She is my life. I work the midnight shift so I can be with her all day. She is very jealous of girls, so I don't date. I keep her very happy as she does me. If anything happens to her, I don't know what I'll do. I will die. She keeps me going as my significant other passed away about a year ago. I cry just thinking about her. The smartest girl I have ever known, better than some people I know, no joke. Time and care is all they need, oh, lots of love.
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Claudia - 2004-07-22
I have three of these wonderful birds, two girls and one boy. I am their mom and they are my kids. They each have their own personality. Every morning I get the "good mornings" and we begin our morning ritual which involves cleaning their cages and preparing their meals. They are practically always outside of their cages while I am home. But when I leave the house, I put them back in their cages and the long good-bye begins. They start with "bye-bye" and "I love you" and it never fails to make me feel bad for leaving them, even for an hour. If you are thinking of getting a grey, please note that they are extremely intelligent and with that comes the need for lots of mental stimulation that you will always have to provide them with. In return, you will get the love and affection of a life-long friend.

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Rhonda - 2013-03-22
Hi! I am adopting a African Congo Grey 17 wk old in the next 10 days. I am making a home visit twice and plan to set-up my home; like the current one. However she has had a Dx. of Yeast infection (and it has cleared according to the vet) and she did pluck-out her breast feathers; but these are grown in an totally covered w/new feathers. What else can I do to ease-her-transition? And what IS the ideal care-diet-etc. for Prevention of Yeast infections? Any INPUT sincerely Appreciated! libertykat@hotmail.com

  • Clarice Brough - 2013-03-22
    Yeast are found everywhere in the environment. However most healthy birds with good hygiene care will generally not be affected by yeast. Proper cage cleaning, sterilizing hand feeding equipment, and a proper diet can help avoid infection. Fresh foods can spoil quickly, in just a few hours, especially when its hot and humid.



    Other things that can help avoid yeast include lactobacillus supplementation (good bacterial normally found in parrots). Benebac is one psittacine-specific probiotic that has been specifically developed for the avian gut and intestine. Some keepers also add a bit of organic apple cider vinegar in the drinking water from time to time to help make sure the GI tract is too acidic for yeast to multiply.
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Ellen - 2012-12-02
My parents have two birds. One is an African Grey and the other is a Green Amazon and they have lived in very sunny California for 15 plus years but have recently retired and will be doing too much traveling to maintain the birds. They want them to come live with me in the middle Georgia area for a couple years . My question is will they be ok to fly here and with stand the cold. It gets down to the mid 20's two months of the year and gets to 111 or more with high humidity for 2-3 months. They have always lived outside and if it got hot where they are but like desert heat and no lower than 30 during the winter months and that was only for the morning hours. Any help would be great . Ellen

  • Charlie Roche - 2012-12-03
    It really depends on the setup you provide for them while they are at your home.  They can tolerate temperatures from 40 - 90 without difficulty given a nest box (for cold) and something to protect them from the sunlight (shade).  Below 40 degrees it would be best to use a heat lamp on part of the cage or bring them onto the porchor in the home.  Above 95 degrees - again you wold probably want to bring them into the home or have them on a porch. Many raise birds outside and the avairies are essentially close in the winter to prevent some of the cold and wind and then sprinklers can be run over the tops of the aviaries to cool in the summer.  It can be done without to much difficulty.  Neither the grey or the amazon is a very large bird, it might be easier for you to just purchase two amazon cages and have them inside the home.
  • iftikhar ahmed - 2012-12-31
    I need a Gray Parrot African Cango please any one tell me any website or contact number on My Email Address Allthebest_Kahuta@Yahoo.com
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gary - 2011-01-09
My birds name is ozzie. He is an african grey congo and is 15 years old. Recently he has been having seizures of some type. He eats and drinks well. I only feed him ZuPreem and peanuts occasionally for rewards. He shares a small temperature controlled room with another conure. They have been buddies for years. At any time day or night several times a week he falls off the perch and screams for several minutes as he seems cramped up on the bottom of the cage. If I am there I usually hold and pamper him for several minutes until the event subsides. Then he is back to himself. All vets that I have visited have very limited avian knowledge so I don't take him to the doctor for check-ups. He seems not to be unusually quiet and I am concerned. Is there anyone out there that may have knowledge of this condition? I don't know what to do for this little, very smart guy.

  • ann - 2011-01-14
    Well I don't know much about greys but I do know that all parrots need fruit. You mentioned that you only feed him zupreem and the occasional peanut, so try giving him a little fruit and dark leafy greens and take him to an avian vet ( they might know more about birds). Also put something soft (but nothing that he could ingest or get his nails or body stuck in like a soft towel or blanket) below his perch so he doesn't get hurt when he falls. Make sure there is still a place for him to eliminate and keep the grating on the bottom of the cage or whatever you have on the bottom of the cage. Plus if it's a disease make sure your conure doesn't get it so supervise them and maybe don't let them share food. Above all please take him to the vet even if they do have little knowledge on birds they can still do something for him. I am not very experienced but based off research I think I am giving good advice. Even if you don't go to the vet (which you should) you can call and they will give you some advice. Also if money is an issue the clinic will probably have some financial plan of monthly payments. You could also keep a baby monitor near his cage so you know when he's having an episode. hope this helped and good luck! :)
  • ann - 2011-01-14
    Sorry I left a few things out in my comment. Don't let the fruit sit there for too long or it will spoil and make him sick and when I said " ...not something that he could ingest and get his nails or body stuck in like a soft towel or blanket..." I meant that a soft towel or blanket is safe to use. Don't use a towel with the tiny loops all over them he'll get his nails caught. Greys also need a lot of calcium, even the males. Also feed him fruits and veggies, but NO avocado. Also they have trouble digesting dairy so don't give him calcium from dairy, try a cuttle bone.
  • Theo - 2011-01-30
    Try giving him calcium supplements. That usually solves seizures in African grey s.
  • April Chapman - 2011-12-04
    Hello!!!I also am a Grey parent and there are several sites out there that are knowledged on these conditions. KNAPP-TIME and petfinder are great sites that have links to avian vets that are very knowledged in parrots. The fresh fruits and vegtables along with calcium are all good for your grey, but you need to find out exactly what is going on instead of guessing for they are our Feathered kids. I wish you and your sweety all the best and hope this will be helpful to you. In my Prayers
  • Renae - 2012-01-15
    The two things I can think of right off would be lighting and perches. Birds need natural sunlight or full spectrum lighting or both for them to get the nutrition they need from food. I'm pretty sure you can search this for more explanation if needed. The other thing is that they need to have different sizes and types of perches if they are confined to a cage for long periods of time. Working in a vets office we would see people bring in birds that had only a small round perch to stand and they usually had so many problems that all started from the wrong size of perch. All of my cages have wood (which varies in size), rope and perches that help to keep the nails worn down so I don't have to trim quite as often. Fresh fruits and vegetables might give more variety however Zoopreem is an awesome brand of food and I don't think the problems your describing could have to do with a Zoopreem diet. On the other hand food allergies do so many strange things. I have a fourteen year old German Sheppard that suddenly developed an allergy to grains about 18 months ago. While trying to pin point the exact allergen her health has really gone down. I know she is old but it is as if the body turned on itself. She developed sores all over her body, it was a drastic reaction to the food she had always eaten. The very best advice is to keep looking for an avian certified veterinarian that can draw blood and do an in depth complete check up. Even if you have to travel a couple hundred miles I would do it. Don't overlook veterinary schools such as Kansas State University where they have student doctors as well as their instructors. These type of places will go the extra mile to find the problem. I have actually had them ask me to bring in one of my healthy birds so that they would have "normal" results to compare to the results they got on a sick bird. If you are anywhere near Manhattan Kansas you might check into that (I happen to know that they have the normal results to compare for a CAG). They are not the only school out there that can do this so SEARCH for a good vet and don't settle for less. Try the different type perches though because just going from what you said that might be all it is. Good luck!
  • Charlie Roche - 2012-01-16
    WOW that is a rough one question as it could be anything. The problem is can it be fixed or medicated and possibly into many hundreds of dollars or more to find out. Branson Ritchie, DVM is probably one of the best avian specialists in the world. He is at the University of Georgia and is known throughout the avian world. This is a link to him Branson Ritchie and his office telephone is 706 542 6316 and his email is britchie@uga.edu. I doubt you will get through to him but possibly one of his students or another member of the research department. It is worth a try. A little fella having seizures is pretty unusual - possibly just enough unusual that they would take an interest in your Ozzie. I trust him 1000 million percent. I don't know that he can or could do anything but never know.
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