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June 2024’s Animal Of The Month – African Grey Parrots

By June 27, 2024 No Comments

Our Animal of the Month for June tells us that they want to get a jump on the long Canada Day weekend. So it’s time for us to say good-bye to the African grey parrot. And if you were following us on “X” (a.k.a. Twitter) and Threads, you will know that the African grey is saying good-bye right back to us! But if you happened to miss any of our posts during the month, you can find a summary right here. Did you know?:

  • There are two main species of African grey parrots – the grey parrot a.k.a. the Congo African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) and the Timneh African grey parrot (Psittacus timneh).
  • The Timneh African grey was once scientifically classified as a sub-species of the grey parrot.
  • But in recent years, the Timneh has been re-classified as a completely separate species after further genetic and morphological (the structure, size and shape) study.
  • Grey parrots are endemic to equatorial Africa. In the wild, their range includes countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon, Congo and Uganda.
  • Timneh parrots have a smaller natural range and are endemic to the Upper Guinean forests of west Africa. They are found in parts or all of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
  • Both Grey and Timneh parrots are endangered and their numbers in the wild are plummeting by about 21% a year according to ENACT, which is an EU-funded project to help Africa tackle transnational organized crime.
  • The situation is so dire, grey and Timneh parrots are becoming locally extinct within their natural range and parrot specialist Steve Boyes says scientists are calling it the “African Silence.”
  • For example, a 2016 study found that since 1992, the grey parrot population in Ghana plunged by an estimate of between 90 and 99%.
  • Poaching grey and Timneh parrots for the pet trade and habitat loss are the main factors driving down the population of both species.
  • Both grey and Timneh parrots occupy the same types of habitats in the wild. Usually, they are found in dense lowland forests.
  • Grey and Timneh parrots can also be found at forest edges, in gallery forests along wetlands or rivers, clearings, mangroves and wooded savannahs. Sometimes they can be spotted in cultivated fields and gardens.
  • African grey parrots are not migratory, but those who live in the more western parts of Africa are known to move out of the driest parts of the region during the dry season (approx. the end of November to mid-March).
  • Humans present – by far – the biggest threat to grey and Timneh parrots, mostly through poaching and smuggling for the pet trade along with habitat destruction.
  • The ENACT project says grey parrots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, are captured as juveniles by poachers invading their nests. Poachers will also catch birds on the ground using large woven cages.
  • ENACT notes that instead of working in the risky illegal minerals, metals or timber trades in areas of conflict in the DRC, some locals choose to poach grey parrots as an easier and safer way to make money.
  • As for non-human natural predators, snakes and large cats are the main predators of grey and Timneh parrots.
  • To defend themselves against predators, grey and Timneh parrots will take flight to get away from the threat. If they are unable to fly away, they will try to fight back using their powerful beaks.
  • In the wild, grey and Timneh parrots will eat fruits, seeds, nuts and other vegetation. They are particularly fond of the flesh of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).
  • Grey and Timneh parrots typically forage in the tree tops in small flocks of up to 30 birds. There are reports of grey parrots seen foraging with Senegal parrots.
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology cites reports of large flocks of grey parrots seen on the ground at water sources to drink, eat aquatic plants and soil. Eating soil helps absorb and neutralize toxins and pesticides in their food.
  • African grey parrots are social and are well-known for their intelligence and speaking abilities, which unfortunately is what makes them highly prized by poachers.
  • One of the most famous African greys is Alex, who was the subject of a decades-long cognition and communication experiment. Alex’s name is actually a backronym of A-vian L-earning EX-periment.
  • Alex was about a year old when he was purchased at a Chicago pet store in June 1977 by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who left her field of theoretical chemistry to launch a pioneering study of avian cognition and communication.
  • The experiment with Alex the African grey lasted for 30 years. Alex’s abilities included learning more than 100 words and knowing how to use them in context through identifying objects and making requests, for example.
  • Alex also had math skills and developed his own “zero-like” concept. He was also able to understand categories such as same-different and big-small.
  • Based on her findings with Alex, Dr. Pepperberg determined that African grey parrots have the emotional capacity of a two-year-old human and the intellect of a five-year-old human.
  • Dr. Pepperberg’s work with Alex came to an abrupt and sad end on September 6, 2007, when Alex unexpectedly died at the age of 31. It’s believed he died of either a stroke, heart attack or fatal arrhythmia.
  • Dr. Pepperberg is still doing research on avian cognition and communication with her current African grey parrots, Griffen and Athena.
  • Not only do African greys display their intelligence in a lab, home or other controlled environments, but a lost African grey named Yosuke made the news in Japan for applying his knowledge in a real-life situation to find his way home.
  • In 2008, Yosuke became lost for two weeks after he flew out of his home in Nagareyama, near Tokyo. Police captured him after a woman called them to say the African grey was sitting on her fence.
  • Police took Yosuke to a local veterinary clinic, where he began repeating his name and full address. This information led the police to track down Yosuke’s family, who said they were glad they taught Yosuke to say his name and address!
  • African grey parrots are a very long-lived species and can live an average of between 50-60 years in captivity.

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