Grey parrots, as the name suggests, are from Africa. They range
from the Ivory Coast to northwestern Tanzania. There are two different
types of African Grey, the nominate (Psittacus erithacus erithacus)
which are the Red-Tailed Greys, also known as Congo, Ghana, Cameroon
and Togo Grey parrots (more about this later) and the Timneh Grey
(P.e. timneh). The Red-Tailed is an overall grey color with bare
whitish skin around their eyes, black beak, and a red tail. The
size of a Red-Tailed is around 13" and weigh anywhere from
350-600 grams. The Timneh is smaller a darker grey color with a
horn colored beak (whitish) and a darker maroon colored tail. The
Timneh is usually around 11" with weights between 275-350 grams.
live on the forested plains of Africa but go foraging to sparsely
wooded savannas and to open country. There distributation is pretty
well identical to the African oil Palm as this makes up a portion
of their diet in the wild.
Grey parrot is such a fascinating medium sized parrot, not so much because
of it's coloring, which is less colorful then other parrots, but
because of their ability to mimic. The African Grey Parrot is reknowned
for its speaking ability. Their voices are not a nasal sound and
they are able to make many different sound effects and tones. They
can learn long sentences and even songs and poetry. They will often
regroup their known words on their own and seem to possess the ability
to connect objects with words. They also have the ability to use
the words in the right context i.e. Hello, when the phone rings,
Good morning when you get up and come in with a knock on the door.
Greys also have their own unique growl that can be used in fear
African Grey Variations...
By Jean “the African Queen” Pattison
The second most common question I’m asked is: “What subspecies of Congo Grey do
Going back to basic biology one needs to understand a type of trickle down
effect. Life starts at the top and can be divided into two “types:” animals and
plants. Each of these are split into “types.” In the animal world we find
mammals, insects, birds, fish, etc.. Each of these are further split into
‘types.” Bird “types” are split into flightless birds, water birds, perching
birds, birds of prey and parrots, as well as some others. Parrots are further
split into “types” known as Genus. A Genus is a group exhibiting very similar
characteristics. The Genus is broken down further into “types” known as
species. A species is a more finely tuned group whose members share the same
general characteristics. AND if that isn’t enough, the species are broken down
into even more “types” known as subspecies.
The African Grey belongs to the Genus ‘Psittacus.’ The Genus is always
capitalized so you know you are dealing with a Genus. The species is
‘erithacus’ which follows the Genus name and is always a lower case letter,
thus one knows it is a species of that Genus. When the Genus name is followed
by duplicate species names, example being ‘Psittacus erithacus erithacus,’ one
knows there are more than one species in that Genus. One also will know that
the duplicate name is the nominate subspecies of that species....in other
words, it is the first subspecies that was discovered. Once the Genus and
species have been established in published articles, the full spelling may be
dropped and the Genus and species names may be referred to by the first letter
of each, respectively.
Some of the guidelines for defining a subspecies are bone structure, size,
shape and color difference, habitat needs and physical separation, such as
mountain ranges, canyons, deserts or large expanses of unpopulated areas.
Unfortunately, there are many gray areas when defining a subspecies, and much
depends on the group of scientists involved.
In the Genus Psittacus, there is only one species, which is erithacus, and two
subspecies, plus a questionable third. The first is the “Congo” Grey, Psittacus
erithacus erithacus, (Genus, species, nominate species); the second is the
Timneh Grey, Psittacus erithacus timneh (Genus, species, subspecies); and the
third which is believed by many aviculturists to be a variation of Psittacus
erithacus erithacus, instead of separate subspecies, is called Psittacus
erithacus princeps (Genus, species, subspecies).
SO WHAT DOES CONGO MEAN?
Now where do all these subspecies of “Congo” Greys fit into the scheme of
things? Simply put, they don’t! They are simply variations of the same
subspecies based on the areas in which they live.
If you refer to the regional map, drawn based on an exhibit from Parrots of the
World by Joseph Forshaw, the lighter area is the range of the African Grey
((P.e.erithacus). It is one continuous range with no physical breaks or barriers.
Further, the expanding circles indicate the following: The smallest darkest
African Greys, about 300 grams and almost as dark as the Timneh Grey, can be
found in the countries nearest the center. As the circles radiate out through
the region of African Greys, the Greys get larger. Greys found in countries on
the outer fringes of the circles will have the largest Greys, well over 600
grams. I have spoken with people that live east of lake Victoria who claim
Greys from the islands in the Lake are in the 700 gram range.
As the circle radiates east through the
range, the African Greys also get lighter in color, and as the circle radiates
south from the center, the color remains the same, a darker gray. Logically,
African Greys in the middle circles east of center will be medium in size and
color while African Greys on the same circular ring southerly will be the same
in size but as dark as the Greys north of them.
When people refer to Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Congo and Angola Greys, they are
referring to the region or country from which these parrots originated. These
are their “street names” and they refer to “variations,” not subspecies.
The Cameroon Greys that most people erroneously refer to in the Untied States
are large silver Greys. However, these Greys actually came from the old Congo,
turned Zaire, and now turned back to Congo region. Originally, the Congo
exported their birds, and they were the largest and lightest in color, the
Congo Grey. The Congo ceased exporting their birds, but during this era, Africa
was exporting birds out of Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and other countries. But of
course, by this time, the term Congo Grey was a permanent “generic” label for
any red tail.
Trappers in Africa were trapping birds in Zaire (the old Congo) and smuggling
them to Cameroon. Cameroon would then legally export them out of Africa (legal,
but NOT legal). So we in the United States received birds from Zaire* (475-600+
grams) with papers saying the birds originated in Cameroon; and on top of that,
we continued to also receive birds that actually did originate in Cameroon
Brokers decided to get more money for the larger parrots, thus marketing them
as Cameroon Greys (also, they had to since it was illegal to have Zaire/Congo
birds), and then they sold the smaller darker birds as the common generic Congo
Grey (any red tail). Are you confused yet? If not, try this.... We now have
Cameroon Greys that are really Congo in origin, and we have Congos that are
really Cameroon in origin....We even have Zaire Greys that were imported out of
Togo; therefore, so much for the “street names.” HOWEVER, after all is said and
done, they are ALL one and the same subspecies, the nominate Psittacus
One more thing: the most common question that I’m asked is: “How do I know the
sex of my Grey?” Maybe next time.....
*NOTE: Importation of wild caught
parrots into the United States ceased in 1992 with the enactment of the Wild
Bird Conservation Act.
Jean Pattison again, she explains the difference between the Congo
(Red Tailed) Grey and the Timneh Grey as....
"A red-tailed grey is a proper English
gentleman, a Timneh Grey is the English gentleman gone awry."
differences between the two were mentioned above. It is believed
that the Timneh Grey is a bit more playful, a little less inhibited,
possibly a little more evened personality. At this time it
appears that they may be a little less prone to fears, and a bit
less prone to being one person birds.