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AFRICAN GREY

Introduction
Size, personality, talking ability
Audio clip, lifespan
Owner testimonials
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African grey
No bird brain, the handsome African grey is a great talker.   (Wyckham, Congo African grey. Owner: Kathrin, Trinidad, Calif.)

THE DAPPER African grey might not be the most colorful parrot but it's considered one of the smartest. Greys can clearly enunciate human words and phrases and many people believe they're capable of speaking in context. Alex, an African grey trained by MIT professor Dr. Irene Pepperberg, could identify dozens of household objects. The two species of African greys are the Congo (Psittacus e. erithacus) and the Timneh (Psittacus e. timneh). Congos have a black beak and red tail coverts. Timnehs are darker grey with lighter-colored abdomens, horn-colored upper mandibles and maroon tails. Both species have bare facial areas and pale-yellow irises.

Countries of origin: Congos occur in western Kenya, northern Angola, southeast Ivory Coast, southern Congo and northwest Tanzania, and on the nearby islands of Fernando Poo and Principé. The rarer Timneh can be found in southern Guinea, Liberia, western Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

African grey
Young Congo African grey.   (Owner: Isabelita, Puerto Rico.)

Size: Medium, 12 to 13 inches long and from 275 grams up to 650 grams (1.4 pounds). Congos are slightly larger and heavier than Timnehs.

Personality: Shy but can be affectionate. Tends to bond strongly with one person. Relatively quiet voice, although capable of loud calls. Congos are more prone to feather plucking.

Talking ability: Excellent in general although some individuals might not speak at all.

Listen:
african greyCongo African grey mimicking owner's voice. (Thanks to Rosie's Page.)


Average lifespan: 50-60 years.

Additional reading:

African grey
Congo African grey.   (Roseanna Launstein, Pinckney, Mich.)

What owners say:

BUSTER, MY TIMNEH, is smart and a big clown. He does not like my husband (his favorite thing to say is, "Daddy stinks, shooooo!") and he doesn't mind telling my four other birds they are stupid (my children's favorite word, of course). Every morning he is the first one to tell me good morning, not my husband or the kids, who are too grumpy. He loves to sing and dance and I think he is in love with one of my youngest daughter's Bratz dolls, whom he tells, "You're gorgeous." I used to think that bird people were a little overboard, but now that I have five parrots I can see what the big deal is all about. There is nothing like it. --Michelle

MY HUSBAND'S Congo African grey hated me, screaming whenever I came into the house and biting me when I got near her. I honestly couldn't comprehend the joys of avian friendship. When she died he was devastated since she had been his friend for 27 years. To cheer him up, I suggested we look at some babies. Well, guessing what happened next isn't too difficult. We found a breeder with only one breeding pair and two birds. When it came time to leave, one started eating and the other came over to me. Tica became my bird, happily spending hours on my shoulder or cuddling and I became besotted. He now is bonded with both of us. How did I ever live without this character in my life? He's two years old now and very smart. He has an amazing vocabulary, picking up at least one new phrase or sentence every week. I think he speaks so much because I talk to him all the time. Now we can carry on a conversation. He will answer appropriately and tell on his "sister," a 4-year-old Meyer's we adopted a year ago, when she starts getting into trouble. He is learning colors now. I gave him some yellow squash yesterday, and he took it and said "yellow." I'm amazed at the dimension of joy and love he has added to our already rich lives. A grey is a real commitment, and takes patience, but it is something we do without feeling of duty or resentment. It is just pure love. --Carol Milton, Santa Monica, Calif.

I ALWAYS LIKED spunk in a parrot and thought I never wanted a grey, but after owning our Cleo for seven years now I wouldn't sell her for anything in this world. She's the most loving bird I have met to date - such a big heart, so funny and entertaining. Her talking ability is awesome. She knows the right words for most occasions. She can call the dog, repeat all the grandchildren's names when they walk into the house, and when we're eating supper she yells "Grandpa! Cleo wants to eat, too." And says thank you when Grandpa runs to her cage to spoil her a titch more. --Mary VanPuymbrouck

I HAD CALLIE since she was six weeks old. A precious Congo, she learned to talk, and wolf whistle, call the dog, answer the phone, and mimic so many household sounds you felt that your every move was being watched. Our front door squeaked, so when we went near the front door she squeaked, even once it was fixed. When the phone rang, she said "hello, ok, ok, ok, bye bye...." She could make the sound of the smoke alarm, the phone, a siren, and the tea kettle, and much much more. She loved to eat noodles and peanuts. I had her for two and a half years and she was my heart. No matter how much I gave her though, it never seemed to be enough. And my husband didn't like her and my daughter was afraid of her. One day I brought her to school (I am an elementary teacher) and met another teacher who loved birds. A few weeks later I asked her to keep her for the weekend. Callie loved it over there. She actually fell in love with one of the dogs. I didn't want to lose Callie, but I knew my family was not happy with her. So I did the most unselfish thing I could do for Callie and gave her to my friend, who now owns her. I miss her terribly and my heart hurts, but I can still see her, and when I do, it confirms my choice. So remember this before you ever purchase a grey, they need lots of time and are a one-person bird. --Ginger Kleypas, Texas

DALLAS, MY 18-month-old Congo African grey, provides endless hours of laughter! She started with a wolf whistle and has graduated to "shoo wee" when she has to potty and "peekaboo" when she wants to play. One day I heard her scream "Let go!" and when I went to check on her she had her foot caught in a toy and was telling the toy to let go. She does coyote, rooster, chicken and duck sounds on command. She rings like a telephone and then answers herself. One night when I told her it was time to go to bed, she looked me in the eye and said "No!" She's so much fun and I'm so glad she's a member of my little family! --Amanda Smith, Camden, Tenn.

CAPTAIN FLINT, our 9-year-old African grey, has been a member of our family for almost nine years. He has a varied vocabulary and has taught us that we are very polite people. He says, "Excuse me," and "Pardon me," and never swears, though I'm certain he has probably heard a few invectives particularly when he has partaken a meal of human finger. We have an active and social farm lifestyle so he is exposed to a variety of guests whom he delights in entertaining. He will not speak if anyone is in the room with him, but has developed very effective begging techniques that garner him substantial amounts of cheese and crackers without voicing a word. His voice kicks into gear the moment we leave his kitchen. He laughs with glee in all of our voices. Calls the dogs to eat and to insult. "Bad dog Ryker!" or "Oh, Tasha you're so pretty." He used to call our old lab mix with, "Pearl! Pearl! Come here you fat dog." Interestingly, he never called her again after the day she died. It seemed as if he knew. He likes men's voices better than women's and can imitate both my husband and son with such clarity that I have been duped into providing a beer for my husband when he never said a word. I suspect that trick was carefully negotiated, but I have no proof yet! When in a panic or wanting attention, Captain will call out in my voice, but most of the time he will not say anything I try to teach him. We adore Captain and thoroughly enjoy his contributions to our happiness. --Robin Stanback, Triple Try Farm, Versailles, Ky.

African grey
Timneh African greys lack the Congo's bright red tail feathers.   (Owner: John and Marlene Lucas, Miami Lakes, Fla.)

CIRILO, our 4-month-old Congo African grey, is very curious about our dogs and his surroundings. He's picky about veggies and he won't let my husband touch him. He makes sounds as if he is being killed. Cirilo and I have bonded and he even tries to feed me. I tell him, "Thank you but I have just eaten," and distract him. Patience is something grey owners need a lot of. Despite this, Cirilo is a joy. --Beth Irigoyen, beth_irigoyen@hp.com

AS A VERY PROUD owner of an 8-year-old hand-reared African grey, I'm still absolutely astounded at the fun and pleasure these fantastic birds can bring - and also the jealousy they can possess. I can do no wrong - he constantly tries to feed me and preen my hair, but it's "bye bye husband's fingers." He can whistle three-minute rock songs, but no nice love songs that I like. He speaks so clearly that visitors are astounded. He will chew anything; there hasn't been a toy made that he could not break.--Lynda Cartmer

WE HAVE HAD COCO for 32 years. He is a phenomonal talker, whistler, maniacal laugher, etc. He speaks using either my wife's voice or mine. I have received some very severe bites from him, but mostly he is very gentle. Coco has had a horrible plumage problem most of his life due to plucking. In fact, in the first years a vet recommended we euthanize him but we resisted. Another vet several years ago said he was in fine health and the problem was certainly not due to anything we were doing wrong. He has always received a variety of food, human and bird. Since we are senior citizens we will probably have to make a provision in our will for Coco - I think he's good for another 30-plus years. --Jgausch@aol.com

SCOOBY HAS BEEN part of our family since she was a hatchling. We lived in Ohio for nine of her first 12 years, but upon my husband's retirement we all flew down to "nest" in Florida. I always felt bad for Scooby during the winter months in Ohio. It could get pretty cold, and it wasn't unusual for Scooby to say, "Scooby want a fire," which was the signal for the fireplace to be lighted. Now we live in Miami, and she goes out to the cabana every day. She delights in all of the pool activity and the children who come to visit her. We purchased a wonderful backpack called a Birdie-Tote-Mobile, which is fitted with a perch and two bowls. Without a doubt this has been the best thing we've ever bought for her. We're able to take trail walks without worries about flight or predators. She has become quite a talker while in her backpack, watching the seagulls and kitty cats along our ocean walk. The backpack folds down flat and will fit into a suitcase for travel. A dark screening shades the interior nicely. --J. Smith, Miami, jsmith@the-beach.net

OTIS CAME TO US a very scared bird. We made 19 calls to try to place him and several people were brave enough to come see the "nasty" bird, but he was still in need of a home. I couldn't live with myself if I left Otis behind. His cage was broken. He had no toys or perches. We put him in a carrier screaming, bought him a new cage, and it was off to his foster home until he could be vet checked. He lived in my bedroom for another 30 days of quarantine and screamed and growled at anything that moved. The noises were unbelievable and deafening. Through a lot of determination, time and effort, I found that Otis was all growl and no bite. It is still a day-to-day effort to work with him, but well worth the effort. Otis has become very affectionate with me. He will tolerate just about anything I do to him, even cradling him like a baby. --Lisa Bocchiaro, New Jersey

WE ARE LUCKY enough to have two wonderful greys. Casper is a Congo; Frankie is a Timneh. Casper was born in October, and loves to say, "I'm Casper the Ghost! Happy Halloween!" Frankie is the baby of the family and was named after my dad. Casper has an amazing vocabulary. He loves to sing Jingle Bells and tell people that "Mommy's garden is good." His "brother" mimicks him in a deep voice, but doesn't pick up anything my husband or I say. They call the dogs, they answer the phones, they know when to say "good morning" or "good night.. are you tired? Are you ready to go to sleep?" Needless to say, they add an amazing amount of joy to our lives and we could not imagine a household without them! They, along with with Tango, our Quaker parrot, and our three dogs make for a very "talkative" house! --Christine Tichy, ctichy@labnetics.com

I PICKED my baby Congo from a choice of just three. He seemed to follow my moves and take great interest in me. I brought him home at the age of just 8 weeks. I had been taught to handfeed him and I'm glad that I did. The bond I like to believe came from that early interaction is irreplaceable. I looked into many African names and their meanings before settling on Rafiki, which means "friend" in Swahili. What more could I ask for? Rafiki is comical and affectionate with me but doesn't accept my boyfriend. Outside trips on the dreaded harnass and leash have become tolerated. Oh, how he loves to go to "grandma's" house!! Rafiki and my 3-year-old cat have an understanding. Neither really bothers the other though Rafiki sometimes like to chase and instigate a stand-off. Fortunately, my cat retreats graciously. Currently 13 months old, Rafiki has yet to grasp a real vocabulary, fooling with the word "hello" and the sounds of my voice. Getting him to try new foods can get messy (my poor walls). I think I still have much to learn as Rafiki grows with me; but he has many years in a home that loves him like none other could. --Pamela Naab, panaab@kksl.net

What's life like with your African grey? Share your experiences with other ParrotChronicles.com readers!

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