Congo Grey - This is the nominate bird, P.e.erithicus. About 14" long, light gray with a bright red tail and and all-black beak.
Timneh Grey - P.e.timneh, this grey is smaller (12" or so), much darker gray, with a dark maroon-colored tail and a bi-colored beak (black and horn colored). Timnehs used to be less popular and cost less, however they're just as intelligent, and just as good at talking as Congos; so they are gaining in popularity.
"Camaroons" or "Silver" - particularly large, light-colored Congos are often sold under these names.
"Ghana" Grey - A generally *not* accepted sub-species; basically a smaller, darker Congo. Princeps Grey - an occasionally accepted sub-species; these greys originate from the Princeps Island of the coast of Africa, and are generally slimmer and slightly differently colored than Congos.
Life span: Greys are very long-lived; they may well outlive you, with lifespan of 30 to 60 years, or possibly more!
Price: Varies quite a bit. Timnehs are usually but, always less than Congos. Weaned Timnehs from a breeder usually cost $500 to $800; weaned Congos, $700 to $1,000.(California prices, other states may vary)
Buying a Grey: The ideal Grey is a just-weaned baby from a breeder that was very careful to socialize and love their babies while letting them learning to fly before ever clipping thier wings and abundance weaned. These things are perhaps more important with greys than many other birds, because of their sensitivity to change and the need for socialization, especially early socialization.
Diet: In the wild, our Greys naturally feed pretty extensively on the fruits of the oil palm. References to this fact can be found in avicultural literature. Joseph Forshaw, Parrots of the World, “They are particularly fond of fruits of the oil palm (Elaeis guinensis).” According to aviculturist David Poole, these fruits contain 90% oil and are available throughout the year. It has also been observed that in captivity, African Greys appear to be better able to cope with slightly higher levels of fat in the diet than most parrots and in fact, such levels actually appear to be beneficial to them. I have heard anecdotal reports that Greys who pick at or pull their feathers have been cured of the problem when extra fats were included in their diet. So, in trying to feed our Greys as species appropriately as possible, I believe a good variety of fresh (organic if possible) sources of omega-3 fatty acids should be fed. Some foods high in omega 3s are: RAW walnuts and Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, flax seeds, legumes, and oats. In fact, flax seed has a unique feature that helps to regulate immune function, inflammatory response, and plays an important role in calcium and energy metabolism. The leafy greens highest in fatty acids are arugula, chicory, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, dandelion greens.
Greys in the wild also eat other native plants and flowers.
It was once thought that Greys had a greater need for calcium than other species. This has been found to not be totally true. Actually, it has been found that they are more sensitive to inadequate levels of calcium in their bloodstream. To supplement and give them a good available source of calcium, you can feed them kale, turnip greens, and other green leafy vegetables. Kale is actually an excellent source of absorbable calcium and some Greys love to roll in and play with the whole leaves.
Fairly recent findings are that Greys may not adequately absorb the mineral selenium; low levels of selenium promote cataract formation and unfortunately, blindness caused by cataracts is not uncommon at all in Greys. Some good natural food sources for selenium are Brazil nuts, wheat germ, oats, whole wheat bread, bran, and red Swiss chard. There is the problem of our soils in general being depleted of selenium and the greens/vegetables grown in our farmed soils will not have the levels of selenium needed. This is interesting in view of the fact that Greys in the wild are often seen feeding on the ground and digging in the soil and mud.
Cages: Like all birds, you should house your Grey in as large a cage as possible. It's best to spend the money and buy a good, permanent cage in the beginning, rather than have to buy a new one some time in the future; greys often become nervous, even afraid of new cages, and the transition can be difficult on them. Cages should, preferably, not be too tall; greys, especially young greys, are bound to take a tumble of a perch occasionally, and in a tall cage, this can hurt!
Sunlight: While we tend to keep our pets inside in our nice comfort controlled homes with often filtered air conditioning, behind closed windows, this is not necessarily healthy for our Greys... Again, think Wild parrot here. It has been noted that Greys in the wild live close to the equator and get the maximum possible number of hours of sunlight each day. They have even evolved a dark coloring to their feathers, much the same that dark skinned peoples have who live in these same geographical regions have. This dark coloring works like a filter of sorts, screening out much of the UV light which hits them. The hypothesis that may be drawn from these observations states that Greys may have evolved in such a way that they do not, in the wild, have to be as effective in absorbing vitamin D from their diets because they manufacture adequate amounts from their exposure to the sunlight. In other words, they may depend upon exposure to sunlight for their source of vitamin D, rather than getting it from their diet. If this is all true, this would suggest that it is critical for African Greys to receive daily sunshine or full spectrum lighting close to their cages for several hours a day.
Toys & Other Supplies: Most greys like to play, and love toys, especially those easily destroyed. However, some more nervous greys may be actually afraid of new toys. Again, early and then continued socialization is the key; greys exposed to a wide variety of toys in the beginning are unlikely to be afraid of new ones in the future. Once they decide they like toys, they really like toys! And a wide variety of toys, at that so they can be changed on a daily or at most weekly basis as they become "bored" and need constant mental stimulation. Toys with chewable blocks of wood or beads, while they'll need to be replaced fairly often, are also usually favorites. But greys also like toys they can climb on, hang from, etc. You'll be amazed when you're noble looking grey is hanging upside-down, playfully attacking a bell! Other supplies include perches, which should preferably be natural branches. Nothing provides a better grip than natural branches, and a good grip is required for clumsy greys, particularly young ones. You may want to change the position of the perches around occasionally, not to mention replace them sometimes; again, variety now is the key to getting your grey used to changes later.
Grooming, etc: Greys wings should of course be kept clipped if you are concerned about the bird escaping. If you're clipping a baby bird, please wait until the baby is already skilled at flying before clipping, if possible. Learning to fly properly is also learning important skills in balance and independence. It also excersizes breast and wing muscles; speaking of which, be aware of how many wing feathers you clip. It can be hard to figure out just how many to clip on greys, because greys with too many clipped feathers tend to fall like rocks, which can cause injuries. On the other hand, some greys with particularly strong wing muscles can almost fly, even with most of the primaries clipped. Try clipping 5 or 6, and if the bird can still fly, a few more. Nail clipping should be done with care; bluntly clipped nails mean less grip, and a clumsier, less balanced bird. Many greys dislike baths; the key here is starting early, and learning which type of bathing your bird prefers. Ideally the bird should be introduced to bathing well before weaning; however, even some birds that were exposed to water early, dislike baths. I started misting Nick when I first got him and today he acts like a crazy Amazon when he gets a "shower". He still dislikes taking showers with me but, he loves to be "misted" with a fine mist.
Noise Level: Greys are very quiet birds when compared to similarly-sized parrots, like Amazons or Cockatoos. Unlike these birds, they do not have daily periods of outright screeching. Greys do make noise, however; being expert sound mimics,and wanting to communicate, they often voice whatever they learn will get them attention.
Talking Ability: Greys are known as being some of the best talkers among parrots; among all birds. The reputation is certainly not undeserved! However, some Greys never become great talkers and may be birds of few words. There are those few that never speak a word. Most Greys will tolerate your showing their abilities to strangers; they usually clam up around strangers, and some won't speak in front of anyone but their favorite person. Still others are closet talkers", and only talk when they think no one is listening or when actually wanting the item they are talking about. Nick will ask for water when his gets dirty or low and let me know when he wants to go to his tree or outside on the porch. There are quite a few Greys's that speak "cognitively" and know exactly what they are saying at the appropriate time.
There is so much more to an African Grey than just speech. They are more human-like in many ways than some like to admit. They feel our emotions and act accordingly. They do not mimic, they learn from us. Speaking in sentences, responding appropriately to questions, the physical motions to comfort us when we are sad, the list goes on and on.
Personality: Greys are known as being introverted, somewhat shy. Some even describe them as "neurotic", however this is generally only true about birds that have not been socialized. Generally speaking, Greys are cautious birds. They have a tendency to sit back and watch you before giving themselves up freely. They tend to not be very outgoing towards strangers. Then are very intuitive to your feelings and it is always best to approach them with a calm and quiet demeanor. Once you win the trust of an African Grey, he/she will be your best friend for life. They are very dedicated and loyal birds.
Generally, Greys do not appreciate change, new situations, or unfamiliar things. How much they dislike change, and how slowly they get used to it, depends partially on an individual's personality, but even more on how much they have been socialized to change while they were still young (and continuing throughout their life). Even well-socialized greys may develop distinct likes and dislikes, often holding grudges for long periods of time. All Greys choose a "favorite person". Some Greys choose this person to the exclusion of all others, not allowing anyone else to handle them. Others will let certain other people handle them, although these people are not allowed certain liberties. Some Greys will allow almost anyone to handle them, although even here they will generally have certain people they prefer over others. In other words, they are all individuals.
The most common phrase I have heard regarding African Grey's is that they are "the perfect mix of brains and beauty". I often hear people say African Grey's are not as "colorful" as most parrots. They apparently have not seen the true personality of an African Grey Parrot. They have a remarkable, noble beauty that takes your breath away!
African Grey's have the intellectual capacity of a 5 year old child with the emotions of a 2 year old. Because of this higher intelligence, they can be demanding pets and rightly so. They require constant attention along with a stimulating environment that includes various types of toys, a large cage, a play-stand.
At home with no stressful things around, they are happy, intelligent, playful birds. They do get into their moods, although most Greys are actually less "moody" than the other large parrots. While not enormously cuddly, like cockatoos, most greys do love to cuddle, although this personality trait is very individual.
People Suitable as Grey Owners: Although one of the more popular larger parrots, probably because of their reasonable size and lower noise volume, greys do need a special owner to really thrive. First, you need to be able to understand as well as tolerate a grey's personality. This is perhaps the most important, because if you're looking for an out-going, impossible-to-stress-out bird, a Grey is not the one! I do not subscribe to the theory that Greys need to be in a situation devoid of change; the outcome of this would probably just be an even more nervous bird, that could not tolerate change once it *did* come along. On the contrary, Greys need some amount of change, to get them used to it. They do need a *stable* household; they do not need a *changeless* household. A Grey *can* live in a household with children if properly supervised. The children should be warned not to reach out to the bird; small children should not be allowed near the bird at all without great caution and again supervision. If the house is very active, the bird's cage should be placed somewhere quieter, perhaps a bedroom, so that if he seems stressed out by the activity he can go to his quiet cage.
Greys are not for everyone. They do stand apart from the rest. It is not easy being a caretaker of an African Grey (or any parrot for that matter). They do demand and require Lots of time, patience and effort to have a true relationship and the privilege of calling them our avian companions. They give us so much more than we can ever return....
So, if you think YOU are perfect perons for a Grey and you have the time and quiet gentle nature to be with them, GO FOR IT! You won't regret it.