Parrots are extremely intelligent birds and African Grey parrots are considered to be among the most highly intelligent of all parrots. Famous for their ability to speak and interact with their caretakers, African Greys are popular pets who have been used in entertainment spectacles as well as academic research studies focusing on aviary intellect.
African Grey parrots are medium-sized birds which are native to the rainforests of Central and Western Africa. The birds’ coloration (and namesake) is defined by a mix of light and dark grey hues all over their bodies, except for their tails which are bright red. Unlike many birds, there is no way to determine the gender of an African Grey parrot without either seeing a female lay eggs or having a blood test done on the bird in question. Both males and females look identical without any notable difference in color, size, or even weight.
In the wild, African Grey parrots are excellent flyers and spend a lot of time on the branches of tall trees. They mainly eat nuts, seeds, fruits and leafy matter although they occasionally indulge in small insects, such as snails. African Greys tend to live a long time. Most experts believe that African Greys have a life expectancy of about 50-60 years, although the “Guinness Book of World Records” noted that one African Grey lived to be 72.
African Greys can mimic many sounds, including words in human languages, and that has made them a popular pet. Historical artifacts suggest that African Greys have been kept as pets for centuries. The Ancient Greeks, Ancient Romans, Portuguese sailors, and even King Henry VIII reportedly owned African Greys. Although most African Greys that are currently sold in stores were born in domestic settings, the smuggling of wild ones remains an issue in certain parts of the world and laws have been put into place to save the wild-born birds from this inhumane and risky practice.
Although African Greys have the innate ability to make whistling and clicking sounds, their ability to mimic is what is most notable about them. However, in recent years academic professionals have suggested that African Grey parrots are far smarter than anyone suspected. Instead of simply mimicking sounds, there is now firm basis to suggest that African Grey can think on the same level as a five or six year old human child.
Perhaps the most famous African Grey parrot of all time was Alex, a bird that researcher Dr. Irene Pepperberg used to prove that parrots have the ability to associate human words with meanings and to apply the concepts of shape, color, and number to objects that they see. For example, Alex knew what numbers were shaped like, could name colors, and understood concepts like quantity and zero-sense (understanding what “zero” and “nothing” means). Dr. Pepperberg firmly believes that African Grey parrots have cognitive skills on par with other creatures renowned for their intelligence such as chimpanzees, dolphins and human toddlers. To see a short documentary about Alex, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzPiTwDE0bE
African Greys are intelligent but also highly sociable and they tend to need a lot of attention in order to remain healthy and happy pets. African Greys who are deprived of toys, interaction with their owners, or even company from another bird are far more likely to become stressed and engage in self-destructive behavior such as feather-plucking. Anyone who wishes to own an African Grey must make a special commitment to the care of the bird, including frequent one-on-one interactions and supervised time out of their cage. African Greys are extremely curious and it is never a good idea to leave them unsupervised if they are not inside their secured cage. African Greys are known to be extremely loud and somewhat messy but dedicated owners of these charming birds usually insist that the companionship they offer is worth the work.
African Greys are fascinating creatures whose true brain power remains unknown to humans. Yet undoubtedly, aside from their advanced cognition, these birds are extremely funny, loyal, and even loving to anyone who is lucky enough to own and care for one.