By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)
Known for their incredible ability to learn human language and speak words, often in correct context, African gray parrots are perhaps the most intelligent species of bird commonly kept as a pet. They have unique personalities and can be very entertaining as they speak sentences and even sing complete songs. As such intelligent, highly social birds, African gray parrots need a great deal of socialization to thrive as pets. They need to spend a minimum of an hour or two every day out of their cages, interacting with their human “flock-mates,” plus they need activities (including toys to interact with, TV to watch, and acceptable things to chew on) in their cages to keep them psychologically stimulated. When they don’t have enough to do, they often become bored and develop destructive behaviors, such as feather picking, screaming, and damaging furniture. In addition, after they become sexually mature (around 5-7 years of age), they often select out one family member to bond closest to and may even become jealous of other people in the house. Therefore, it is important to socialize them early in life to all household members and to get them used to interacting with new people, or they may become aggressive to individuals who are close to the person they are most bonded with.
As medium-sized parrots, African gray parrots require a fairly large cage (as large as possible), as well as a play stand or perch outside of their cages on which they can sit when socializing with their human family members. They can be messy, throwing food at times, and loud as they squawk for attention. They need fresh water every day, as well as pelleted food as their base diet, supplemented with smaller amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit every day. They also enjoy an occasional healthy treat such as cooked pasta, egg, or unsalted popcorn. They should have an annual veterinary check-up and regular grooming (including nail trimming) as needed.
When cared for properly with adequate mental stimulation, proper nutrition, and regular veterinary care, African gray parrots can live 30 years or more. If you are looking for a highly social, lifelong pet that can provide endless companionship yet demands a great deal of daily attention, an African gray parrot may be a great match for you.