Part of the appeal of owning a bird as a pet for many people is that most birds don’t have very long life spans, so they don’t represent a very long commitment. However, this is not the case with the African Grey parrot. To say that this majestic bird from Central Africa has a long life is an understatement, when you consider the typical life spans of other household pets.
These birds are medium-sized and tend to measure between 12 and 14 inches from head to tail. As the name implies, they are always gray in color. The body is usually a darker shade than the head. They have a black beak, are white around the eyes and often have some red coloring on the tail feathers.
African Grey parrots can live between 50 and 70 years, and even beyond that. Individuals who want to purchase an African Grey parrot as a pet must be confident that they or their family members will be able to provide for the pet throughout its entire life span. For a bird, the African Grey has an extremely long life span. However, other parrots can live even longer. For instance, the Amazon parrot has a life span of about 104 years.
African Grey parrots typically mature between the age of 3 and 5 years of age. Before this age, an African Grey may behave more like any other type of bird—that is, it may vocalize sounds but may not talk. In fact, there is no guarantee that a Grey will become a speaker, so someone who wants an African Grey for conversational purposes may be better off purchasing a mature bird that has proven itself to be a talker.
Young Greys with a propensity for speech may start speaking, at the earliest, at around 1 year of age. They can develop a vocabulary of more than 2,000 words. Prudle, one Guinness Book of World Record holder, is an African Grey with a vocabulary of 800 words. Alex, another record-breaking African Grey, could not only talk, but also count and even read a bit. However, African Greys don’t just speak; they also can imitate almost any sound, which can be an extreme annoyance if you live near a fire station or construction site.
At full maturity, African Greys are thought to have the intellectual capacity of a 5-year-old human child and the emotional equivalent of a 2-year-old. Because of this, they can be challenging pets to have, since they require the attention and mental stimulation of a small child.
African Greys are not often as demonstrative and outgoing as other types of speaking parrots. Rather, they tend to be shy and reserved. However, with early and frequent interaction, they can be drawn out of their shells.
African Grey Parrot image by mickkid from Fotolia.com
Cynthia Gomez has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. She is currently an editor at a major publishing company, where she works on various trade journals. Gomez also spent many years working as a newspaper reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.