Psittacus is a genus of African parrots in the subfamily Psittacinae.
It contains the two species: the grey parrot (
Psittacus erithacus) and
Timneh parrot (
For many years, the grey parrot and
Timneh parrot were classified as
subspecies; the former as the nominate, the latter as P. e. timneh.
However, in 2012 the taxa were recognized as separate species by
BirdLife International on the basis of genetic, morphological, plumage
and vocal differences.
These parrots are found in the primary and secondary rainforest of
West and Central Africa. They are among the most intelligent birds in
the world. They feed primarily on palm nuts, seeds, fruits, and leafy
matter, but have also been observed eating snails. Their inclination
and ability to mimic speech and other sounds have made them popular
1 Taxonomy and systematics
1.1 Illness and disease
2 Behavior and ecology
3 Status and conservation
4 Relationship with humans
4.2 Cultural depictions
5 See also
7 External links
Taxonomy and systematics
Two species are accepted:
Grey parrot, Congo grey parrot, African grey parrot or Congo African
grey parrot (
Psittacus erithacus, previously
This is the nominate species, larger than the Timneh at about
33 cm (13 in) long, with light-grey feathers, cherry-red
tails, and an all-black beak. Immature birds of this species have
tails with a darker, duller red towards the tip (Juniper and Parr
1999) until their first moult, which occurs by 18 months of age. These
birds also initially have grey irises, which change to a pale yellow
colour by the time the bird is a year old. The Congo grey parrot is
found on the islands of
Príncipe and Bioko, and is distributed from
Ivory Coast to western Kenya, northwest Tanzania,
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and northern Angola.
In aviculture, it is often called a "CAG".
Timneh parrot or Timneh African grey parrot (
Psittacus erithacus timneh):
Timneh parrot is slightly smaller in size than the Congo, but
intelligence and talking ability remain comparable. They can range
from about 22–28 cm in total length, and are considered a
medium size parrot. The Timneh has a darker charcoal grey colouring, a
darker maroon tail, and a light, horn-coloured area to part of the
upper mandible. Timneh parrots are endemic to the western parts of the
moist Upper Guinea forests and bordering savannas of West Africa from
Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and southern
Mali east to at least
70 km (43 mi) east of the
Bandama River in Ivory Coast. It
is often called a "TAG". As pets, Timnehs usually begin learning to
speak earlier than Congos as they mature slightly earlier. The Timneh
parrot also has a reputation of being less nervous around strangers
and novel situations than the Congo, but whether this is true or not
is still debated. In 2012,
BirdLife International gave the Timneh
parrot full species status and it was classified as vulnerable.
Some aviculturalists recognize third and fourth species, but these are
not distinguishable in scientific studies.
Illness and disease
The grey parrot (
Psittacus erithacus) has been known at times to
contract a non-infectious inflammatory lung disease called lipid
pneumonia. Lipid pneumonia can be classified as exogenous or
endogenous depending on whether or not the animal inhaled outside
material. A necropsy shows that the lungs of a grey parrot with
endogenous lipid pneumonia (EnLP) are firm with a diffuse grey
discoloration. EnLP is a common illness in other animals as well.
The grey parrot is also one of the three parrots that scientists found
to commonly suffer from dehydration. The scientists have used plasma
osmolality to find more information about the form of dehydration grey
parrots have. Another disease that the grey parrots get is
cardiomyopathy which is a heart disease usually presented at a young
age. The reason for this from having parents of the same breed. Some
other common symptoms in these birds are weakness, coelomic cavity,
and retardation. The grey parrot has been known to contract beak
and feather disease virus (BFDV) which causes a highly contagious and
sometimes fatal, psittacine beak and feather disease in parrots.
In a PCR-based study, Chlamydiosis an infectious disease of avians was
found to infect the grey parrot. In the study 253 clinical samples
were taken from 27 bird species belonging to seven orders. Thirty-two
(12.6%) samples were positive for Chlamydi and two new genotypes were
discovered: Chlamydophila psittaci and Chlamydophila abortus.
Another ailment that grey parrots commonly suffer from is
hypocalcemic-induced seizure activity. Birds between 2–15 years of
age contract it centers around a lack of calcium. A symptom of the
syndrome can be unsteadiness while standing or falling off a perch
along with neurological anomalies or problems.
Behavior and ecology
Grey parrots are monogamous breeders which nests in tree cavities. The
hen lays 3-5 eggs, which she incubates for 30 days while being fed by
her mate. Young leave the nest at the age of 12 weeks. Little is known
about the courtship behaviour of this species in the wild.
Like many large parrots, greys are long-lived birds. The
Longevity Database states the longest reliably recorded longevity
for the species in captivity as 49.7 years. Also acknowledged are
claims of captive grey parrots reaching the ages of 73 and 93,
whereas the World
Parrot Trust lists a longevity of 50–60 years for
a grey in captivity. The
Guinness Book of World Records
Guinness Book of World Records listed a
grey parrot that allegedly lived in captivity for 72 years as the
longest-lived specimen for the species.
Further information: Talking bird
Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and
neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness.
Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most
dramatically observed in African grey parrots.
— The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness
Unlike other parrots, wild greys have been documented imitating the
calls of several other species.
Irene Pepperberg's research with captive greys, most notably with a
bird named Alex, has scientifically demonstrated that they possess the
ability to associate simple human words with meanings, and to
intelligently apply the abstract concepts of shape, colour, number,
zero-sense, etc. According to Pepperberg and other ornithologists,
they perform many cognitive tasks at the level of dolphins,
chimpanzees, and even human toddlers. As well as labeling objects,
Alex could express what his wants were, suggesting that grey parrots
know the difference between features and feelings. In general, it
has been shown that grey parrots are able to learn relatively quickly,
though they are limited to simple and non-abstract mediums of
thinking. They have been shown to be able to make cognitive
inferences, but, like apes, have inter-individual differences in
intelligence. For example, in one experiment involving food hidden
under cups, it was shown that greys can identify where the food is,
usually if shown its original location at first.
Pet greys may learn to speak within their first year, but many don't
say their first word until 12–18 months old. Timnehs are
generally observed to start speaking earlier, some in their late first
year. Both subspecies seem to have the same ability and tendency
to produce human speech, but vocal ability and proclivity may range
widely among individual birds. Grey parrots tend to use more specific
calls for different species coming their way which can be known as
stimulus specificity, since there is a stimulus vocalization the birds
have. One notable grey parrot is N'kisi, which in 2004 was said to
have a vocabulary of over 950 words and, like Pepperberg's Alex, was
noted for creative use of language. For example, when Jane Goodall
N'kisi in his New York home, he greeted her with "Got a
chimp?" because he had seen pictures of her with chimpanzees in
A study published in 2011, led by Dalila Bovet of Paris West
University Nanterre La Défense, demonstrated grey parrots were able
to coordinate and collaborate with each other to an extent. They were
able to solve problems set by scientists—for example, two birds
could pull strings at the same time to obtain food. In another
example, one bird stood on a perch to release a food-laden tray, while
the other pulled the tray out from the test apparatus. Both would then
feed. The birds in question were observed waiting for their partners
to perform the necessary actions so their behaviour could be
synchronized. The parrots appeared to express individual preferences
as to which of the other test birds they would work with.
In an experiment about local enhancement in grey parrots, food was
visibly hidden under two separate cups. The experimenter then lifted
the first cup and either removed what was under it or put it back.
This was then done again in several different combinations, the cups
were lifted in a different order and the food was removed or put back
in a different order. Instead of remembering which cup had the food,
the birds would show preference to the one that was touched last. 
Another series of experiments further tested grey parrots' cognitive
abilities. In general, most animals cannot associate sounds with
objects, such as food, placed into a cup. While originally only the
great apes and young human children were known to make this
association with ease, it was found that grey parrots, under most
conditions, can also associate sounds with the presence of an object.
For the most part, grey parrots performed more successfully if the cup
was shaken horizontally before it is given the choice of selecting
which contained food, however, further experimentation indicated that
it is not a requirement and proved that grey parrots have very high
Wild grey parrots often whistle, click, or make other sounds. An
grey's owner should expect to hear regular renditions of microwaves,
telephones, alarm clocks, video games, and other electronic sounds, as
well as dripping water, wild birds, and any other sound often heard by
the parrot. Greys have even been known to repeat the profanity they
heard from an owner even after they no longer live with that owner.
Greys also have the ability to mimic, and distinguish between, the
different voices they hear. Grey parrots use different alarm calls for
different predators coming their way.
In an experiment to test the vocalizations of grey parrots, four bred
in captivity were placed in an aviary. Throughout the day they spent
time in a room with toys and came into fairly regular contact with the
humans taking care of them. The noises that these parrots could hear
consisted of the calls of canaries in the laboratory, people cleaning,
doors squeaking, etc. In the next 3 years, the parrots made over
50,000 vocalisations. What was interesting was that, although they
were bred in captivity, the sounds they made were not only ones of
their immediate surroundings. They also made calls similar to those of
other captive grey parrots in different locations and even wild grey
Status and conservation
Timneh parrot (wings clipped)
More rare than previously believed, the grey was uplisted from a
species of least concern to near threatened in the 2007 IUCN Red
List. A recent analysis suggests up to 21% of the global
population may be taken from the wild annually, primarily for the
pet trade. In 2012, the species was further uplisted to vulnerable.
As they are good in talking The species is endemic to primary and
secondary rainforests of West and Central Africa. Grey parrots
depend on large, old trees for the natural hollows they use for
nesting. Studies in Guinea and
Guinea-Bissau have found that greys'
preferred species of nesting trees are also species preferred for
timber. The relationship between the status of the species and the
status of primary forest is positive: where the forests are
declining, so too are populations of grey parrots.
Grey parrot in a bird park
The grey parrot is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES). This requires both that exports be accompanied by a permit
issued by a national authority and that a finding be made that the
export is not detrimental to the species in the wild. With exports
totalling more than 350,000 specimens from 1994–2003, the grey
parrot is one of the most heavily traded CITES-listed bird species. In
response to continuing population declines, exceeded quotas, and
unsustainable and illegal trade (including among range states), CITES
included the grey parrot in Phase VI of the
CITES Review of
Significant Trade in 2004. This review has resulted in recommended
zero export quotas for several range states and a
CITES decision to
develop regional management plans for the species.
In the United States, importation of wild-caught grey parrots is
prohibited under the US Wild
Bird Conservation Act of 1992. In the
European Union, an EU Directive of 2007 prevents importation of this
and any other wild-caught birds for the pet trade.
Relationship with humans
A pet grey parrot
These intelligent mimics can make interesting pets and companion
parrots. They have a devoted following among parrot owners. However,
the same qualities mean they require a special commitment by their
owners to provide frequent one-on-one interaction and supervised time
out of their cages. They must be kept stimulated and busy by people
and toys or they may become stressed and develop self-destructive
behaviors. Greys require large cages, varied diets that include fresh
foods, and plenty of safe and chewable toys. If not provided with
these items, these parrots can quickly develop unpleasant behaviours
and may eventually develop health problems (such as feather-plucking)
that are difficult to remedy.
Even the healthiest, happiest pet parrot will generate a fair amount
of mess and noise. Like most parrots, they are not domesticated, and
even a well-socialized, hand-raised, aviary-bred bird is usually only
one or two generations removed from its wild predecessor. Despite
this, there is a long history of these parrots being kept at pets by
the ancient Greeks, wealthy Roman families, King Henry VIII,
Portuguese sailors, and others.
The character 'Gerard' in Michael Crichton's novel Next is a
transgenic grey parrot with the capability of doing math.
The character 'Madison' in Dick King-Smith's novel Harry's Mad is a
The character 'Methuselah' in Barbara Kingsolver's novel The
Poisonwood Bible is a grey parrot.
The children's book Friendly Feathers: Life with Pierre, an African
Parrot by Fran Smith, illustrated by Deon Matzen, is about a grey
parrot. ISBN 978-0-615-22232-5
The bird owned by the character 'Linus Steinman' in the novel The
Final Solution by
Michael Chabon is a grey parrot.
In the book, We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews, a grey parrot
helps protagonist Meg Langslow apprehend the antagonist.
In the book, Sick as a
Parrot by Liz Evans, the parrot in the title is
a grey parrot.
Cat Marsala, the main protagonist in "Hard Christmas" by Barbara
D'Amato, has a pet grey parrot named Long John Silver.
In the book Somebody Else's Summer, Bilbo was a grey parrot which
belonged to George Carr.
The character 'Polynesia' in Hugh Lofting's
Doctor Dolittle children's
novels is a grey parrot. In the film version, the character was played
by a blue and gold macaw.
In Thomas Bernhard's play Immanuel Kant, the philosopher praises his
Psittacus eritacus without end, saying only he understands his logic.
Mercedes Lackey's short stories "Grey" and "Grey's Ghost" feature a
grey parrot that has a remarkable bond with her owner.
Web Comic Matthew Inman; also known as "The Oatmeal", wrote a web
comic about his pet grey parrot. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/grump
Parrot Personality "Felix" through who's subtitled life parrot
advocacy is shared. http://www.facebook.com/felixlafollett. Felix is
also featured in 3 books promoting proper companion parrot
communication and understanding by author Kathy LaFollett.
Psittacus erithacus) has been split into grey parrot
(P. erithacus) and Timneh grey parrot (P. timneh): are both eligible
BirdLife International (2011). Retrieved 27 March
^ "Trade in Africa's Grey Parrots and Timneh Parrots is currently not
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^ a b Forshaw & Cooper (1978).
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Parrot (P. timneh): are both eligible
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^ a b "Recently recategorised species".
BirdLife International (2012).
Retrieved 18 June 2012.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Wikispecies has information related to
Parrot Encyclopedia –
African Grey news & conservation
Parrot Centre information about supporting grey parrots
Parrot Club an excellent resource for keepers of all parrots
Tinkerbell & Riamfada Having a full flighted CAG as companion at
home and outside
Grey parrot (or Congo grey parrot) (supporting pages: Alex (parrot)
Timneh parrot (or Timneh grey parrot)]]
Rüppell's parrot (or Rueppell's parrot)