African Grey Parrot


Choosing and Raising a Baby African Grey Parrot
"Come-on In!", is the greeting you will get if you knock on our front door. Our first parrot, "Turkey" (a double-yellow-head Amazon) has been a member of our family for over 20 years since he was a hand-reared chick. We didn't know much about parrots in those days, and did not hand-raise him ourselves. I've taken care of him most of the time, so he has bonded mostly to me. Today, he will not allow anyone else to touch him, although he will take food gently from Norm's hand. When my mom visits, she delights in his antics and always asks how he is when we talk on the 'phone. He interacts and talks to everyone that comes through our doors and tolerates them right up to his cage. But, do not insert a finger unless you are in the market for a major manicure - to the bone! Most of this behavior has to do with our lack of knowledge about early socialization.

He has been a joy, filling our lives with amazing and often hilarious conversation, often at inopportune times. Turkey has invited the Sears repairman into the house, unknowingly by me, while I was studying on the "Throne" - with the door open. He whistles and calls the dogs by name, even some who have passed on years ago. Since his voice is barely distinguishable from mine at times, the dogs are often ticked-off when they discover it was the little green buzzard that disturbed them from their nap. He has called my mother-in-law a "Cow-Turkey", a feat I am sure she went to her grave thinking I'd spent countless hours training him to do. (Heh Heh, Heh) He wakes us up every morning with "Up and at 'em" and greets everyone with a "Come-on-in" and 'Shut the door' and then "Hi, Cowboy"! He always sends me off, when I grab my keys, with "See ya later, Bye, Bye". He tells us he loves us, gives me a sincere wolf whistle before I have even brushed my teeth, cheers on the! Dallas Cowboys and much, much more. All our house guests leave here having thoroughly enjoyed his amazing, vivacious personality. I am in awe at the volume of information stored in such a tiny little 'bird-brain'. He has been the healthiest animal we have ever owned, never being sick a single day of his life. He has been such a joy, that we decided to add a new feathered family member. Our goal was to choose a bird we could physically interact with more than we could with Turkey and one with a reputation for greater speech potential. After much research, we made our choice. Turkey will never take a back seat, however, and has the place of honor - in the kitchen!

This is Einstein who is a brilliant talker.
African grey

If you have always wanted a parrot that excelled in talking capabilities, I would suggest the African Grey. These parrots have been companions to people for hundreds of years because of their undisputed talent for clear and prolific speech. If you would like to achieve a strong level of bonding between the parrot, youself and your family, I would recommend starting with a chick that is still in pinfeathers and around 3-5 weeks old. Older birds, even if hand-raised by someone else will not give you the quality of attachment and affection that is possible with a baby hand-fed by you. I would like to warn you, however, that each and every African Grey (or other parrot for that matter) will have its own distinct personality and temperament. Much of the temperament is developed during the early months by handling and environmental conditions and becomes learned behavior that could be irreversible. This is why it is important that you buy and raise a baby that is kept in a ! prop erly stimulating atmosphere when it is in the critical growing period.

Einstein, my young African Grey, sits on my shoulder as I type this article, and is a wonderful and true companion. I love the feel and smell of his warm little body and the sound of his mutterings. I have great hopes for his future. Maybe he can take over the keeping the checkbook straight on the ranch. He doesn't know how to write a check, but has already become adept at making deposits, mostly on my shoulder. Thinking positive about his mental capabilities I named him Einstein, and he is beginning to show me that he is a very inquisitive and intelligent bird with great learning potential.

There are several types of African Grey Parrots with the three most popular in the US:

Plumage is a dark grey, with lighter feathers on the abdomen.

Tail feathers are a dark maroon, edged with brown.

They are the smallest of the grey parrots and a distinct subspecies

Plumage is medium to light grey with the head and neck feathers a lighter grey and edged with white. Primary feathers are dark grey. Tail feathers are dark red.

Camaroon Psittacus erithacus erithacus
Plumage is very pale grey with the head and neck feathers a lighter grey and edged with white. Primary feathers are darker grey. I have seen some of these that are almost a smoky white. Tail feathers are bright red. They are reputed to be the largest of the greys.

Each body feather is normally edged with a lighter color except in the tail, where it is edged with a darker color. Primary feathers are solid. When fully mature, these parrots range from 12-14 inches in length, or the size of a large pigeon. As babies, their eyes are black, changing to grey and eventually to the yellow of adulthood. Males generally have a broader beak and head than females, otherwise, sex must be determined by blood-typing or surgical examination.

In their native wild habitat - the forests of west and central Africa and surrounding islands - their diet consists of fruits, nuts, seeds, and buds. The parents are devoted to their offspring and feed the babies partially digested food until it is capable of fending for itself. If you decide to raise a baby, you will have to feed it a comparable diet.

If you decide to choose this species, first, locate a reputable breeder of these astonishingly, long-lived birds. Many large cities have bird clubs that maintain breeders' lists. That is how we found Einstein's breeder. I called a very active bird club in San Antonio several times, and was fortunate to reach someone who was very generous with help to all my novice questions. I called and interviewed a few breeders, because this was a long-term addition to our family who will most likely be a fought after and be a valuable part of our estate when we bite the dust.

Insist on a breeder whose personality radiates a caring attitude about the type of person YOU are and the care you will be giving the baby. Be wary of someone who just wants your bucks and asks nothing about you. You may have difficulty getting help when you have a mystifying problem. You will need someone you can call when you are at your wits end, if you get an independent bird like Einstein, or a finicky eater, or a health problem the breeder can help you with. Their follow-up advice is SO important because no one knows these birds as well as the breeders, period, end of conversation!!! Their knowledge can help you through almost any problems you have or they will be able to direct you to a proper avian veterinarian if necessary.

Once you find a breeder you feel comfortable with, be aware that most of them will not let you enter their aviary, and understandably so. First of all, the breeder birds are sensitive to outsiders and strangers can and will disrupt their emotions. Disease also could unintentionally be introduced and wreck havoc with any or all of the birds. Lastly, it is matter of respecting the breeder's privacy that should not have to be explained by them. Do not ask the breeder to see the parents in the flesh. Maybe a picture will do if you MUST see the parents but ask before you arrive so the picture can be available.

Order your bird ahead of time, asking the breeder for specifics about housing and feeding requirements for that particular adoptee. Have everything ready at home when you go to pick up your new companion. Bring along a notebook to take down essential commentary. You have chosen a knowledgeable and caring breeder who will have lots of information to share with you. Some will give you a care sheet with the essentials already covered, but if not, be ready for an avalanche of verbal information. Most bird people are sharing individuals who want their babies to survive and be happy and healthy.

Baby parrots can be kept in a 5 to 10 gallon aquarium during the first few weeks of life. As they mature, they will need a larger enclosure. A screened lid on the aquarium covered with a towel will help keep in the heat. You must leave part of the top uncovered for ventilation. This is very important. Recommended temperature is 85-90 degrees F . Depending on your room temperature, a heating pad, set on low, under 1/3 of the aquarium is recommended for several weeks, until the bird is fully feathered with adult plumage. Put an aquarium thermometer on the inside glass to be sure the temperature is okay.

There are several schools of thought about sub-strata for babies:

Pine wood shavings - This is the greatest for absorption of wastes and digging by the chick. When it reaches 6-8 weeks, you will think you have a yard chicken as it goes through this important exercise period for its legs. It will scratch throwing shavings many feet from an uncovered container. When the bird is first offered moist fruits and vegetables, however, the shavings will stick to the dropped food and make eating difficult. Shavings can look pretty clean, while in reality, after a day or so, they are moist and unhealthy for the chick, so change them often. One of the problems is that they can be messy in a home atmosphere with bits always on your rug.

Newspaper - This works well, for a while, but must be changed several times a day or the feces will cake up on the feet. When using this material put many layers of paper (20-30) and remove the top layers as soon as you see the top is soiled. Do not use shredded paper because it can loop around their feet and legs.

Towels - I used towels for two days. The towels must be turned over and kept clean or you will have feces caked on the feet. I think this is good for the first few days for some birds but others will not do as well on it. Also, I don't like doing laundry with bird poop on it, so I did not like this material.

Items in the enclosure: When the bird is about 6 weeks old, I put a rough branch (about 1 inch in diameter) about the length of the aquarium on the substrata. Be sure it is not perfectly round or it will roll. If it has a small portion of a branch sticking out, all the better to hold it in place. The baby will almost immediately begin perching behavior. I think this strengthens their legs. Baby parrots walk down on their hocks and even develop a little callous there. As they gain strength, they begin to stand up on their feet more. Add a few bird toys for the bird at an early age so that it will be accustomed to foreign objects. Before the bird gains sufficient strength in its jaws, you can use small rubber dog and cat toys. Once it is able to 'tear' up these toys, they MUST be removed so there will be no impacation of the crop or gut by removed pieces. It would be safer to stick to bird toys that are proven safe for them.

Water: A water bottle with a ball bearing spout should be hung in the enclosure at the same time whole foods are offered to the baby. Normally, the baby will experiment with the spout, and sputter a bit when it realizes that water comes out when he touches it with his tongue. Einstein did not really drink to any extent until he was 8-9 weeks old.

Food: Babies are fed by hand with a dental irrigation syringe with part of the tip cut off so that formula flow is smooth. There are wonderful breeder-developed hand-feeding formulas and several commercially ready-to-feed formulas. Ask your breeder for a recommendation and a supply of what your new baby has been eating. Any changes in diet MUST be made gradually to avoid digestive upset. Many breeders have developed wonderful formulas: One is made from dry baby cereals, special pulverized dry dog foods, a bit of applesauce, a tiny bit of peanut butter and vitamins. Another successful breeder uses masa (the stuff used to make corn tortillas), papaya juice, water and baby food fruits and vegetables.

Hand-fed baby diet:
  • Mix 2 lbs pulverized 23% hi-protein dog food
  • 1 - 8 oz box Gerber Hi Protein baby cereal
  • 1 - 8 oz. box Gerber Mixed baby cereal
  • 1 tsp. Avian 2000 vitamins or other powdered ones
  • Take 2 parts of above to 1 part applesauce to 1/4 part peanut butter
    (Ex. 2 tbl. mix, 1 tbl. applesauce, 1/4 tbl. peanut butter)
    and mix with hot water to consistency of soupy pudding.

    Feed 3 times a day until 12-14 weeks of age.

    At 6 weeks of age begin to offer a bowl of mixed fruits and veggies such as apple, spinach, squashes, corn off the cob, oranges, hot peppers, leaf lettuces) No iceberg. Leave apple in slices. Include water bottle also.

    Later, keep at room temp with a heating pad on low under part of the aquarium.

    As I mentioned, there are commercial formulas available that only need water added. These are convenient but I, personally did NOT have good luck with them. With one, Einstein developed a hard ball in his crop, which I had to treat. I had the best luck with the breeder-developed formulas.

    Temperature and consistency of the baby's formula is CRITICAL to encourage proper eating habits and digestion. Babies like their food HOT - around 105 degrees. It must not be so hot that it will burn their crop!!! Do not use the microwave as it produces hot spots you may not detect and you could severely injure your baby's crop. I used a tiny whisk to mix the food, and took the temperature the first few times until I had an approximate feel for the proper temperature. The whisk ensures thorough mixing to avoid lumps and hot spots.

    The consistency should be like a runny pudding. A very young baby needs a thinner formula than an older one, but it should never so thick that it is not easily swallowed. TEST the temperature with your clean finger. If it is correct, draw up a syringe of formula and insert the tip into the baby's beak. Some prefer the side, others the front. Einstein's clutch-mate sister, holds on to her owner's finger as she eats. I always had to guide Einstein's head with my free hand because he always wanted to 'fool around' during feeding. Young babies will take from 12-36 cc of formula at a time. This depends on each individual animal. If you have any left-over formula, throw it away. DO NOT refrigerate and reheat! This is cheap health insurance for your bird! Feed until the crop is nicely rounded but NOT tight. Baby birds will take larger amounts of formula until they reach a certain plateau. It is important that only enough formula is given to insure the crop emptying in! 4-5 hours. Do not feed the bird again until the crop is empty or you can have spoilage develop in the crop and get an infection. As the bird continues to develop, its breast muscles begin to develop and tighten the skin over the crop, which itself begins to shrink in capacity. You would think the bird should be eating more but it is eating less and less of the formula. Always disinfect feeding utensils after use.

    When the chick is about 6 weeks old, offer it raw sliced apple, broccoli, carrot, hot pepper, greens, squash, grapes, melon, orange, and other fresh fruits and vegetables. DO NOT give the following foods: iceberg lettuce, avocado, cherries. Stay away from oily foods. The pieces do not have to be tiny as the bird will soon learn to hold the food with one foot as it eats. Sprouted sunflower seeds can be added as the bird gets older. Also, at the same time offer another dish of dry parrot food. I use a mixture of Pretty Bird, Laefbers and Exact Professional diets. Einstein prefers Pretty Bird which smells delicious - and is not too bad! As the bird eats more of the fresh fruits, veggies and dry foods, it will drink more water. It will also begin to refuse the syringe and will probably lose weight.

    Einstein was refusing the formula more and more, but still not eating very much solid food. I could see he was losing weight. I put the perch a few inches from the bottom of the cage and put the two food dishes on the cage directly in front of the perch. Unless he wanted to look at the wall, he HAD to look at the food. He began picking at the food, out of sheer boredom. This bird wanted to be out, on my shoulder or walking about. He had little interest in eating by syringe or by himself. When offered the syringe he violently turned his head, and if I tried to force him, he coughed, sputtered and vomited, slinging food all over the place. If he got very angry, he tried to bite. I called the breeder who had seen him two weeks before. He told me to keep offering different fruits and vegetables. It didn't work. I was getting frantic because he was losing more weight. It was extremely traumatic for me because I had become VERY attached to him and was worried he wo! uld become sick. What was I doing wrong? A friend, who could feel my concern, gave me the number of a well-respected breeder who was very helpful, especially to my emotional state. She gave me some more ideas, an alternative hand-rearing formula and suggested a crop culture at the vet. It was 3 hours to their vet, so I found one who treated birds less than an hour away. My mistake! When that vet saw us, or was it my mastercard, he charged me $233. to tell me that most breeder formulas were not what he recommended and he must do a series of tests to determine ...............................? He changed Einstein's formula to a commercial brand, which he just happened to sell, of course! I used it and the next morning Einstein had a hard ball in his crop. I syringe-fed papaya juice and massaged the ball into a soup which passed through. He continued exactly as before, but never showing any signs of lethargy or sickness other than not wanting much formula or solid food. ! It has been 4 weeks, and I have not even had a call from the vet about the results of Einstein's NECESSARY tests. That REALLY ticks me off. I will never deal with him again!

    I had been putting Einstein on the floor for exercise as soon as he had full feathers. The breeder had warned me to shut off ceiling fans which I did. He had extremely powerful wings and could make paper flutter across the room as he rapidly exercised them. I lay on the floor, and called his name from across the room, and he would come running like a tiny dinosaur and dive under my neck for cuddles. I was smitten, for I had the affectionate bird, active I had dreamed of.

    He learned to finger and arm-perch at about 6-7 weeks of age. His claws were so sharp, I could hardly stand the acupuncture on my arm. I bought a "Pedi-Perch" for the cage, which is made of a rough concrete-like material. This files his nails and beak. There is a warning with one in the bag to closely monitor the bird's feet and bill and remove the perch, if necessary.

    At about 8 weeks he would 'pretend' sass me and go through many gyrations with his head, diving it here and there. At the same time, I switched him from the aquarium to the cage and draped a towel over the top to prevent air conditioning drafts. But every meal continued to be a fight.

    When Einstein was 10 weeks old, he refused the syringe entirely and began eating a bit more solid food. He had succeeded lifting off the ground the week before and had become a strong and independent bird even though he ate little. His clutch-mate was still scarfing from the syringe AND eating solids well. She was not as active and was about 2 weeks behind Einstein in physical abilities.

    Was he really independent? I perched him on a shelf. I knew he would want to fly. I stood about 6 feet in front of him and said, "Einstein, FLY!". He knew what I said! He was brilliant! Like a well-trained falcon, he flew to my outstretched arm. He perched and puffed out his chest as if to say, "Well, what did you expect, from an Einstein?" We gradually increased the distance and he never failed to reach my arm. One day, we went into the strange hallway, which he had never seen. I put him on the floor, and he flew - over my head - and crashed, like a kamikaze, into my office waste paper basket. Would he learn? That was the last time he flew over my head. Now he flies on command, I can hold him in 'dead bird' position upside down on my hand and we are working on other amazing feats.

    These birds can talk as early as 12 weeks, so I am waiting with anticipation for his first word. I expect him to rattle off "E=MC2 " or discuss the theory of 'black holes' within the month.

    He began eating a tiny bit more every day, and I now feel that his refusal to eat properly might have been to streamline his body so he could fly. He never acted sick and has not, to date. He is healthy and strong and a real athlete. I am so grateful for the help I received from those concerned when I was more tormented than the bird. I cannot stress enough that each bird is an individual that must be monitored carefully.

    The other night, I fell asleep, with the TV on. About midnight, I awoke to a crunching sound. It was Einstein eating his dry bird food, by the light of the TV. It just takes time, and patience!

    I am really proud of this Einstein, and adore him to the max. He has already taught me more than I will ever be able to teach him and he has become an endeared member of our family.

    Follow-up: Einstein will be 2 in April of 1997. At 6 months of age, he was word-less. His clutch mate who was with my friend, was whistling and attempting to talk.

    I told Einstein he better get with the program or with Thanksgiving right around the corner, he might just be the main course. At 6 months and 1 day, he could say EVERY word that Turkey had taken 20+ years to learn. Plus he could ring like every phone, imitate every squeak in any door, make computer and printer noises, copy the vacuum, blender, doorbell and my husband's belch. He is learning at the rate of one or two phrases a week. He could sing happy birthday after a week of me singing it and driving my husband crazy. I tried to teach him "Birds can't talk, and people can't fly." He says "Birds can talk " he absolutely refuses to say 'can't. Do you think he remembers the Thanksgiving Day threat last year?

    If you want a talker - get a congo grey. But remember they will bond to the one who raises them and plays with them and they may outlive you.


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