The African Grey Timneh Parrot Psittacus erithacus timneh has all the great attributes of these popular birds. Though the Timneh is a less common subspecies than the African Grey Congo, it’s a very intelligent and clever bird. African Greys are known to be the best talkers in the bird world. They are able to learn 200 or more words and all kinds of tricks. They also frequently imitate the sounds of their environment, and including people.

   Many ornithologists have studied the African Grey Parrots for years. They have determined that cognitive ability in these birds is classed alongside that of the most intelligent animal species, even a human toddler. Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her grey, Alex, have made major strides in the studies of this parrot and its ability to speak, recognize shapes and colors and have an understanding of numbers.

   The Timneh African Grey Parrot has the ability to reproduce any noise it hears in the home. It can sound just like a dog, a spouse, or anyone else that interests him. Some examples are rather funny, like getting you to answer the phone when no one has called. Or getting you to go to the door and open it for your children, and your children have not arrived home from school yet. One Timneh African Grey would love to watch the Ninja Turtles on television. One day some friends came over to visit. Upon entering the door “Billy” stated quite clearly, “drop your drawers, I have a pistol”. Everyone, struck completely dumb, just looked at each other and then went into fits of laughter.

   Timnehs have all the good qualities of their popular African Grey Congo counterpart. It has taken a while, but the African Grey Timneh is now getting more recognition. It has established itself as an excellent speaker with the perfect tone quality required by its humans to be understand, and can precisely mimic sounds in its environment.

  The African Grey Timneh is equivalent in intelligence and ability to that of its Congo counterpart, yet with unique strengths of its own. Timnehs can learn to speak earlier than Congos and are generally less nervous. In coloring they are a slightly darker gray and have a maroon tail rather than red. They are also bit smaller and less expensive, but makes an equally fine companion. Being a more laid back version of African Grey, some keepers actually prefer this more relaxed parrot to its cousin.

Scientific Classification


Scientific Name

Psittacus erithacus timneh


   The African Grey Parrots Psittacus erithacus are native to various parts of Western and Central Africa including Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, and islands off the west coast of Africa. The Timneh African Grey, Psittacus e. timneh, naturally occurs in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the westernmost parts of the Ivory Coast. In the wild, these birds live in flocks of one to two hundred birds.

   The two other African Grey subspecies are:

  • Congo African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus
    This subspecies is the most popular subspecies found in the pet market
  • 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 a regular found in the trade

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


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


   The Timneh African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus was first described by Linnaeus in 1758. It has been a lesser known Grey found in the pet market, with the Congo African Grey being the most familiar. But today they are becoming increasingly more available. In aviculture it is known as TAG, a shortened version of Timneh African Grey.

   The Timneh is darker gray than its Congo counterpart, with a maroon patch of feathers on the underside of its tail. The beak is primarily black but has an ivory or pinkish color on the upper third of the upper mandible. Juveniles have black eyes that become a yellow cream color by about two years of age. The Timneh ranges between 11 – 13″ (27.5 – 32.5 cm) in length from beak to tail, with a weight between 275 – 400 grams. This is about two thirds the size and weight of the Congo.

   African Greys usually reach maturity at about 4 or 5 years of age. These parrots are very long lived. In captivity they can live 50 or more years, 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 cuttlebone 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 occurring 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, raisins, 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 handheld 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 trimmed 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.

African Grey Timneh
Psittacus erithacus timneh-parrot on cage (Image Credit: Peter Fuchs, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)


   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 playpen 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.


   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 Timneh African Grey is its own bird. It has a different look and a different personality than the Congo. The Timneh is not as “king-like” and demanding as the Congo. But like the Congo the Timneh is a little shy, yet far more outgoing than its counterpart. Timnehs will tolerate more commotion, doors banging and the general noises going on around him. Being a more relaxed parrot than its cousin it is easier to have around.

   African Greys have a strong pair bond in the wild and it carries over to captivity. The Timneh will prefer a singular individual, and often someone of the opposite sex. He will tolerate others in the family but stay attached to pretty much just one person. The Timneh can be silly and likes to play and frequently considers its human one big personal toy.

   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. Timneh African Greys don’t really start speaking until they reach a year of age or older. 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, Greys are neither overly noisy nor tend to engage in loud shrieking calls like some of the other vocal parrots. 

  The Timneh, like most birds, are far more intelligent than humans realize. They are more than a pet. They are a permanent 3 year old dressed in feathers with an unending capacity to love and a need to learn. Greys require a lot of attention and stimulation to be a happy healthy member of the family. They want to learn throughout their lifetime and are interested in expanding their knowledge on just about anything.


   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 Timneh 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.


   African Grey Parrots require a special human to hold their attention span and keep them from being bored. Exercise and play are important activities for the physical well being and psychological health of your parrot. 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. They need a lot of stimulating toys at the same time, 3 to 5 work well, and rotated out with other toys on a regular basis. These activities help deter distress and prevent problems like feather picking and biting.

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.


   In the wild, the Timneh 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, breeding the African Grey Timneh is not difficult. The reproductive years for this species is quite long. The Timneh can start to reproduce around 4 years of age. 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 about 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 Timneh 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.


  The Timneh African Grey is readily available in the pet market. The cost of the Timneh is usually a little less than the cost of the Congo, however they might be harder to find. The reason is for this is the Timnehs were not imported to the same degree the Congos were and so breeding these feathered creatures has to catch up to demand.



Featured Image Credit: tristan tan, Shutterstock