Having an African Grey Parrot as a companion can be a lifelong commitment. With their lifespan, this decision can't be made lightly. For more info, read on!
African Grey Parrots, come in two (2) varieties. The Timneh African Gray, and the Congo African Grey. The Congo variety is slightly larger, and lighter in color at maturity. These parrots are highly intelligent, and sensitive. The skills they need to survive are learned, rather than instinctual.
There are a number of differences between the Timneh and the Congo varieties, both in their geography, and their physical characteristics. The Congo comes from Central Africa in areas such as the Ivory Coast, Tanzania, and Angola. The geographical homeland of the Timneh is much smaller, mainly along the coasts of Western Africa near Guinea, Ghana, and again the Ivory Coast. The Timneh has a lighter, rose-colored upper beak at maturity, while the Congo's beak is all black. Congo African Grey Parrots have a bright red tail (they are sometimes called Red-tails) while the Timneh's tail feathers are a dark maroon. The Congo is larger, with adults achieving up to a 14 inch height, and about one (1) pound, while the Timneh can reach up to about 10 inches in height and approximately ten (10) ounces.
It's safe to say that most people who choose to bring an African Grey Parrot into their lives are at least mildly interested in the bird's ability to talk. It's noted that the Timneh variety matures more quickly than the Congo, and therefore may begin speaking sooner, at around six (6) months of age. The Congo may not begin to use words until after they reach a year in age. The Timneh variety also seems to be more social, and less likely to bond with a single person. For that reason, first-time parrot owners may be a better match with a Timneh than with a Congo. Although there is a very good chance your bird will learn to speak, it is never a guarantee (unless you bring home a more mature bird that is already speaking).
The Congo African Grey is more likely to speak in a voice similar to their favorite person (or at times the perceived mate of their favorite person, more on that later). The Timneh African Grey usually develops their own voice. Their voice is often compared to the voice of a munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz" movie, or to that of a small child.
It has been illegal to import parrots into the United States since the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was adopted in 1992. For this reason, any African Grey available for sale in the USA today should be the result of domestic captive breeding. Because they are so long-lived in captivity, up to 50 years, most African Grey Parrots for sale today are no more than a couple of generations out of the wild. When looking for a parrot, be aware that there are parrot mills, just as there are puppy mills. Be sure to purchase from a reputable breeder. Someone who breeds and raises their birds with loving care.
This brings us to another subject, that of what happens to an African Grey Parrot if it outlives its owner. Depending on your age at the time you bring one of these parrots into your life, and the age of the parrot, there is a good chance your parrot may outlive you. This requires a couple of considerations. First, it is very important to be sure that your parrot is properly socialized, and that it can have friendly relationships with a number of different people. African Grey Parrots have a tendency to be one-person birds, particularly the Congo. There is a good chance that if you don't reinforce proper socialization, your bird will be miserable if he or she happens to outlive you. For their sake, and for your pace of mind, make sure your bird is confident, well-adjusted and social.
It is a good idea for owners of African Grey Parrots to make provisions for their bird's care in a last will and testament or a Pet Trust. Discuss this with friends and family members, so as to be sure an appropriate caregiver will be available for your beloved bird if you are no longer able to care for them. Knowing who will be taking care of your feathered friend will give you that peace of mind and it will allow you to be sure your chosen caregiver and your bird have an opportunity to bond in the event of your premature death. I asked someone once what was considered "premature death". They said, "If it's death and it has anything to do with me, it's premature!" I couldn't agree more!
Stay tuned, we'll be posting more information about the wonderful African Grey Parrot in the coming days with information about choosing a cage, proper nutrition, and much more!
A big thank you to Jen Budrock at www.birdhism.com for the artwork above and for her knowledge and advice regarding this article. Jen has rescued many birds, and works to bring awareness to bird issues, promoting kindness toward all birds, particularly those who are "other-abled". She is the President of No Feather Left Behind a bird rescue working in South Florida. She also founded the Chubby Bird Collection, selling merchandise in order to help fund further rescue efforts. In the world of bird nerds, Jen is a rock star!