Trust Me: Give the African Grey the Time of Day

We are all guilty of it—I know that I certainly am.  When presented with the choice of the colorful or the drab, the ostentatious or the understated, I would posit that the vast majority of us tends to gravitate to the former.  We cannot help ourselves.  Something about rich and vibrant hues catches, and keeps, our eyes.  It’s why at Plett’s Birds of Eden sanctuary we gaze in awe at the flamboyant plumage of the male guinea fowl.  It’s why we scramble and fumble over ourselves (and each other) to capture a coveted picture of the red parrot in flight.  And sadly, it’s why we offer a bird like the African Grey the insult of a passing glance.  However, as is so often the case, there is far more to these nondescript parrots than meets the eye.  Trust me: give the African Grey its due, as it deserves.  It is well worth your time of day.

For one thing, these seemingly “bland” birds possess incredible intellectual prowess even among other perceptive and gregarious parrots.  In 1977, a scientist by the name of Dr. Irene Pepperberg obtained an African Grey whom she named Alex and who made the world his awed and adoring audience, captivated by his “complex… abilities” to “count object sets, identify colors, objects, actions and even [do] math” (Giret et al. 2012, 45; African Grey Parrot 2017).  Alex’s performances proved to the scientific community that these parrots possess “ground-breaking cognitive and communicative abilities… as intelligent beings” (African Grey Parrot 2017).  When Alex passed away suddenly on September 6, 2007 at the ripe young age of 31, his global acolytes mourned as though it were not merely a bird but instead an eminent mathematician who had experienced an untimely demise (African Grey Parrot 2017).  With the natural intelligence and probing curiosity of a five-year-old human, the amusing and lively manner of a toddler, and astonishing conversational capabilities, the African Grey has rightfully garnered the designation of the “Einstein” bird (African Grey Parrot 2017).

There are two varieties of African Grey Parrots—the Congo African Grey and the Timneh African Grey—but both exhibit the entertaining qualities that make the birds such unique creatures (African Grey Parrot 2017).  Beyond their prodigious mental capacities, they experience—and manifest—emotion.  If, for instance, they are especially content, their chests will quiver to indicate their satisfaction.  Grey parrots who are domesticated are even known to solicit head scratches by bowing their heads in the direction of their caretakers (African Grey Parrot 2017).  And on perhaps a less attractive—but no less interesting!—note, grey parrots will even regurgitate their food while in the presence of a loved one, so as to signal their intense affection (African Grey Parrot 2017).

The next time you head to Birds of Eden, ensure that you are particularly attentive to this miraculous parrot.  Though your eyes may be drawn to the glitz and glamor of the Grey’s counterparts, the Grey itself possesses enough personality to be worth your entire trip.  So seek it out.  You won’t be disappointed—trust me.


Giret, Nicolas, et al. “Context-related vocalizations in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus).” Acta Ethologica 15, no. 1 (April 2012): 39-46.

“African Grey Parrot.” African Grey Parrots. 2017. Accessed July 15, 2017.

Image Credit

Maggie Kennedy


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