Exotic Breed Profile: The African Gray

African Grey

If they were handing out superlatives in the bird world, the African Gray parrot just might win “most intelligent feathered friend.” This gorgeous bird, a native of Africa, is known for its smarts.

While many parrots excel at mimicry, African Grays can actually associate words with their meanings, and some actually have a vocabulary of hundreds of words. In fact, the most well-educated of African Grays, N’kisi, knew more than 950 words as of 2004 and is said to once have greeted noted primatologist Jane Goodall with these words: “Got a chimp?”

Because of their keen observational abilities and amusing repartee, African Grays click easily with their families and are a valued, if rare, breed of pet.


African Gray parrots originally hail from the islands of Principe and Bioko in the Congo, as well as the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. They’re sometimes referred to as CAGs (Congo African Grays).

Alas, over recent years the bird trade in Africa has begun to threaten the population of African Gray parrots. Starting in 2007 they were listed as a “near threatened” species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, up from a species of “least concern.” One study found that a fifth of the bird population is being poached from the wild each year and illegally sold as pets.

The birds are also hurt by the timber trade, which is gobbling up the trees that the African Grays use for nesting. This has led the United States to ban the import of wild-caught CAGs; those sold at pet stores must be bred in captivity.

Personalities and Traits

CAGs are smart and witty, but that doesn’t make them any easier to keep. They require large cages and toys that they can destroy for their own amusement. They also eat a varied diet and crave frequent one-on-one interaction with their owners. If they don’t receive this, they can become destructive.

These birds live long lives. Most survive to an average age of 50, and the “Guinness Book of World Records” lists the oldest known African Gray Parrot as 72 years old.

Famous Owners and Pop Culture Presence

Little wonder that CAGs have taken on an almost legendary status. Their owners include wealthy families in ancient Rome and King Henry VIII. They’ve also been commemorated in works of fiction and non-fiction over the years. An African Gray appears in the classic story “Doctor Dolittle,” and Michael Crichton included the birds in two of his novels, “The Final Solution” and “Next.”

Methusaleh, a character in Barbara Kingsolver’s bestselling work “The Poisonwood Bible,” is also an African Gray Parrot.

What You Need to Know About the Cockatiel

A cockatiel

If you’re looking for a bird that keeps you company and entertains you, the cockatiel is a great choice. It’s one of the most popular pet birds in the United States, and with good reason.

The cockatiel, the male in particular, is famous for constant vocalizing, as well as for being sociable and bonding with its handlers. Cockatiels make great pets and can be a real conversation piece (if not part of the conversation), but they also require special care to live a long and healthy life.

Cockatiel Basics

Originally found in Australia, the cockatiel is a relatively small bird in the pet market, reaching a full length of 12 to 14 inches. It reaches sexual maturity after 1-2 years and can live anywhere between 16 and 25 years.

Cockatiels are known for feathers that stand upright on their heads – or as I like to call them, their “mohawks” – but they have other distinguishing characteristics as well. The male bird has brightly colored feathers along the face, usually yellow or bright orange, while the female has more subdued colors like gray and pale yellow.

In terms of behavior, the males are more extroverted and self-impressed than their female counterparts. Males are more vocal than females and will whistle and call at will. Females, on the other hand, might screech in certain situations, but remain quiet otherwise.

Caring for Your Cockatiel

If you’ve decided to buy a cockatiel for your home, be prepared to care for them. Remember, they can live as long as 25 years, so you’ll be living with them for a long time. In particular, keep these things in mind:

Food: If left to their own devices, cockatiels would eat nothing but seeds. However, seeds only provide a small portion of the nutrients they need. Instead, make seeds only one-third of their diet and fill the rest with bite-size pieces of fruits, vegetables and bean sprouts. The biggest no-no for cockatiels is avocados; they’re poisonous to the birds.

Cage: Cockatiels are active birds, so they need a large bird cage in which they can fly around They’re less adept at climbing, though, so add bars no more than one inch apart so they don’t end up falling in their cages. Also, install different types of perches, and add a cuttle bone to minimize the need to trim their beaks.

Surroundings: Cockatiels are especially sensitive to smells; some odor-causing products can even kill them. For example, the spray you use for mole and gopher removal might be great in your yard, but keep it away from your bird. The same goes for smoke and room air fresheners. Also, keep them away from windows or any other drafty area of the house.

Cockatiels can be a great addition to your menagerie. With the proper care and the right environment, they can entertain a household for many years to come.

Are Pet Finches Right for You?

Male Zebra Finch

Of all the birds I’ve owned, finches remain among my favorite. I affectionately call them “the happiest little creatures on Earth.” Finches are simply the peppiest, most joyful birds out there – and it’s impossible to be unhappy watching them as they chirp and flutter about. Another benefit? Finches are fairly easy to care for. Read on and you’ll see what I mean!

Finch Basics

There are literally dozens of different finch breeds and varieties within each breed. Finches are incredibly diverse in terms of appearance, so if you’re looking for a brightly colored finch, the Gouldian Finch or the Strawberry Finch (yes, they look like little strawberries!) are probably more your speed, whereas fans of more muted colors will enjoy the Spice Finch or the Society Finch.

Finches are small – just a few inches from head to tail. Their lifespan is also relatively short (for a bird), as most have a life expectancy of 6 to 10 years. Their diet is simple, consisting of seeds, fruits, nuts and vegetables. And they don’t require an expensive cage, though their cage should be on the larger end of the small cage spectrum (i.e. a small flight cage) in order to provide plenty of room for the birds to flutter and fly.

Keeping Finches

Finches are social birds and they must be kept with at least one other finch. Various finch breeds can be housed together, but finches cannot be caged with other birds due to their unique dietary requirements and potential for injury when placed with other types of birds.

Finches are essentially ornamental songbirds. They do not relish direct human contact and handling like other birds such as the parakeet. But nevertheless, finches enjoy passive human companionship and many will sing and flirt when their favorite humans are near.

Finches are capable of some very delightful vocalizations and unlike most other pet birds, finches are not prone to unpleasant squacking and screeching.  Each breed of finch has a slightly different “song” and some breeds – like the Spice Finch – tend to be quieter, while the Zebra Finch or the Society Finch tend to be more vocal.

In terms of daily care, finches require little by way of a daily time commitment. Finches require fresh water and fresh food (seeds and fresh foods like fruits) daily. The perches and grate on the bottom of the cage must be wiped down to remove droppings and the cage liner must be changed. Some finch owners also provide a small, shallow dish to serve as a bird bath of sorts – a treat for finches of all kinds. In all, it takes about five minutes per day and about $15 per month to provide quality care for 2 or more finches.

Adopting Finches

While finches can be purchased from many pet stores, the healthiest and best-bred finches are purchased from professional finch breeders. A major benefit of purchasing a finch from a breeder is the ability to adopt a young finch.

Adult finches who have not been in close contact with humans – like the finches found at most pet stores – are frightened of humans, and they will panic if you get too close of if you place your hand inside the cage. But a young bird is naturally unafraid of humans and by regularly placing your hand inside the cage and allowing the birds to become familiar with your presence, the birds will remain comfortable with humans.

A fearful bird can be difficult or impossible to handle for nail clippings and he will be more difficult to catch if he escapes from his cage. A fearful bird will also be more difficult to treat the event of an injury or illness.

Finches vary dramatically in terms of cost. A Society Finch may cost $15 or less, while a colorful Gouldian Finch can cost well over $200. And remember, a lone finch is an unhappy finch, so you’ll need to adopt at least two finches if you decide that this is the bird for you.

Considering a finch? You may also enjoy learning about canaries, another popular songbird.

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