So You Want a Bird That Talks? Life with an African Grey Parrot.

Yes???  (Timneh African Grey)
Yes??? (Timneh African Grey)

Just about every pet owner must wonder what their pet would say if he could talk. Mine does. I eagerly awaited those first words just like a parent does with a child. I was rewarded, greatly rewarded, when his first words were “I love you”. I cried. It has been a strange world since then.

African Grey parrots are considered the best talkers of the parrot family and the most intelligent. That intelligence is what makes a Grey one of the most fascinating, yet difficult, pets to keep. There are many reasons why they are so difficult to take care of. They are a bit fragile and they require a lot of time so you can develop a bond with them, plus, they love attention. All time out of their cage must be supervised. They will find trouble anywhere and get themselves into everything, just as a two year old child would. A Grey is so much like a two year old with the exception that they are much smarter and will have you trained before you even think of training them.

Which Grey?

There are two types of African Greys, the Congo and the Timneh. The Congo is larger, lighter in color and more reserved. Some have called them the “Queen” of the Greys. The Timneh is darker, a bit smaller, and two very accurate nicknames for them are the “Court Jester” and “Napoleon.” Timnehs usually talk sooner than a Congo but to say one would definitely have a certain type of personality is impossible. There are so many factors that will determine what the bird will be like. With this article, I hope to show you the reality of having one of these parrots.

The Reality

Taking care of a Grey is very similar to taking care of a child and with that in mind, you must accept the fact that caring for a parrot is a tremendous responsibility. Yes, some people think they are just a bird and you can just keep them in their cage, however, you will end up with a very expensive, very unhappy and loud bird in a cage. If you spend the time with them, you will soon realize that that little Grey has become a fascinating companion.

Since birds aren't domesticated like dogs and cats, they will not respond to training the way a dog or cat would but that is ok because your Grey will train you very well and very quickly. Once your bird has bonded with you, he lives to be with you, on you, hanging from you, calling out to you. YOU are the only thing he cares about (besides nuts) and he will make sure you know that. Did I mention they love attention?

"I can talk. Can you fly?"

I should state that I am a firm believer in letting your pet be what he is, not trying to train the wildness (or weirdness) out of them. Good luck with that if that is your intention. Letting them be their natural selves allows them to develop their personality to the fullest but there is a price to pay for that. Anything left in his reach is his. If it's yours, it's his. If he sees it, it's his, and they steal, especially car keys, and fly to where you can't retrieve them easily. In exchange for your whole house being turned into a birdcage, you get an adorable little Grey (funny how calling them Greys brings to mind aliens), who cuddles, kisses and makes you laugh constantly. Nothing you say is safe from being repeated but don't worry, he will choose the worst time to do so. Somehow, they learn the art of manipulation very quickly and upon finding your book shredded to pieces, you might hear “want to snuggle?” How can that not melt your heart?

"Who says it's not for me?"
"Who says it's not for me?"

Birds will be birds...

There isn't a lot of information available that can really get you ready for what is in store for you. A great place to start would be one of the many bird forums.

Parrot Forums are probably one of the best sources for current information.

BirdsNWays has quite a bit of information for all types of exotic birds and people that are very willing to help you get started.

The magazine Bird Talk has a list of breeders by state in the back plus it is filled with some great articles on all kinds of birds.

Some books suggest visiting someone who has a grey but even in the same sub-species, their personalities are as diversified as people. A friend who has the same type of bird has a calm, quiet but very opinionated little bird. Mine swings from whatever he can get to, hides and complains he needs a computer. The only things they have in common is they both love attention and love to look at themselves in a mirror.

The Myths

There are quite a few misconceptions out there that can hinder your bird from becoming the Grey he is meant to be.

Some books tell you they are a prey animal, so approach them slowly so you don't frighten them. Whatever you do for the first few weeks will be what the bird expects from you. A horse is a prey animal and you should never sneak up on one. I have never walked slowly or quietly to my bird's cage and I have yet to find anything he is afraid of. Greys do tend to be phobic so dealing with that issue right away helps a great deal. I really can't stress this enough. The first few weeks will set the whole stage for your parrot. This is how he will see his world and what he can expect from you. Do not waste this time, set up your routine and let him know what his life with you will be like.

Giving your bird a lot of toys to keep him busy. This is not exactly a myth but there is no replacement for your time. Some birds are actually hesitant to touch a new toy and you have better results getting him to accept it if it has been around, just out of reach, for a few days. They do like toys although they prefer to play with your things. There is no substitute for your attention. It is all he wants. Some birds need to be taught how to play. You can play with your bird and you will develop a loving, lasting relationship.

Greys are clumsy. Sometimes they do fall but it might be because he is always jumping on something, hopping down from something or he may have had his wings clipped too soon. Not learning to fly well can make a bird more clumsy. As a juvenile, putting towels on the bottom of his cage will cushion a fall. I have found this to be very helpful.

While African Greys are the best talkers, not all Greys will talk. Some just do not speak words, they will whistle and beep and make noises you never heard in your house until they have been repeated by the bird. Your involvement with your bird will be beneficial in this area as well.

You are the single greatest factor in determining how your bird will turn out. If you want a friend, spend time with him and cultivate the relationship. It is well worth the effort.


“You are forever responsible for what you have tamed.”

–The Fox, “The Little Prince”

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Comments 2 comments

MercyGrace profile image

MercyGrace 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, WriteAngled. I agree, it is a more satisfying relationship, and usually a happier and funnier one, when you allow them to be themselves. Your cats are lucky.


WriteAngled profile image

WriteAngled 5 years ago from Treorci, Cymru

Awww! I have no experience with birds, but have also found with my cats that letting them be what they are is the key to developing a real relationship with an animal.

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