Owners of grey parrots are familiar with the impressive counting abilities and verbal prowess of these beautiful birds. They pick up on words and sounds quickly and can mimic the sound of telephones, microwaves, video games, and even barking dogs. The birds have a tendency to repeat words they hear, so owners must use polite language in their presence. One African Grey blew the whistle on a woman’s love affair by repeatedly calling out the other man’s name to her husband- – – mimicking the cheating wife’s voice!
A recent study documented these birds have the reasoning ability of a three-year-old human. This study also addressed criticisms of earlier research. In previous experiments, the animals were shown a pair of closed cannisters, one with food inside and one empty, and the top of the empty canister was briefly opened. The birds were then given the chance to choose one or the other, and inevitably selected the canister containing food. Critics complained the birds were merely avoiding the empty can.
In the current study, the researchers did not open the empty can. Rather they shook the cans so the birds could hear which one contained the food. To prove the birds were actually making inferences, they added an additional variation. Instead of using the canisters to make noise, they wore small speakers attached to their wrists that played shaking noises. Sometimes they shook the box in their right hand but emitted the sound from their left wrist. In some cases, they played the sounds from the correct side. The birds only made the right selection on a consistent basis when the sound lined up with the shaking. They made an inference not based on visual or sound cues along, but from noting the connection between them. No other non-primate species is known to have this abstract inferential thinking.
Irene Pepperberg’s research demonstrated these birds have the ability to associate words with meaning, and can intelligently apply concepts of shape, colors, and numbers. They are capable of performing cognitive tasks at the same level of chimps, dolphins, and human toddlers. One remarkable Grey named N’kisi had a vocabulary of over 950 words and was known for his creative language. One day during a visit from Jane Goodall, he greeted her with “Got a chimp?” based only on pictures he had seen of her with chimps in Africa.
Another study demonstrated they can collaborate and plan with each other. One bird stood on a perch to release a food-laden tray, while the other pulled the tray out from the test apparatus. They would wait for their partner to perform the necessary action and synchronize their steps. Both would then feed together. With discriminating taste, they would also show a preference for the test birds they wanted to work with.
Grey Parrots, also known as African Grey Parrots, are medium sized birds found in the African rainforests. They reach a size of 12 to 13 inches from beak to tail, and require a large size cage and lots of exercise when kept as pets. They should be provided a variety of bird safe chew toys to help exercise their powerful mandibles. They feed primarily on palm nuts, seeds, fruits and leafy matter
Properly cared for, Grey Parrots can live 50 to 60 years. Some were documented to live for 75 years. A caring owner will plan ahead in case the birds outlive them and arrange for rehoming. As with all your pets, don’t assume your children will step up to take of them.
One of the most intelligent bird species, their high IQ means they require more time and attention from owners. They thrive when put on a daily schedule. They form close bonds with their owners and are affectionate and captivating pets. Those same qualities require a special commitment by the owners to provide frequent one-on-one interaction and significant time out of their cages to exercise. If not kept busy, they can quickly develop unfortunate behaviors including feather plucking which can be difficult to remedy.
More rare than previously believed, the African Greys are now listed as “near threatened” by wildlife organizations. With 350,000 specimens exported between 1994 and 2003, the Grey Parrot population in natural habitats has severely declined. Under the US Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992, importation of wild-caught grey parrots is now prohibited. We need to ensure the preservation of these beautiful, sensitive, and intelligent creatures.