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
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
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
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
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
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.
R-Zu-2-U Animal "Terms"
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