I have two Congo African Greys as companions and I also breed African Greys. In caring for and loving these birds, nothing has been as valuable to me, in terms of making me a better owner and breeder, than gaining an understanding of my parrots’ wild natures. It makes all the difference to my being able to provide them with the best of care, and to more accurately interpret and understand their behavior.
Our African Greys are not domesticated animals. They may be tame, but they are not domesticated. They are genetically and biologically identical to their wild cousins. Further, they are "PREY" animals in the wild, and instinctively they know it and continue to react as prey animals even when safe in our world.
It is imperative, I believe, that we fully appreciate African Greys as wild creatures, genetically programmed to act and interact in certain ways. If we do take some "lessons from the wild," we will be better able to make wise choices when buying baby Greys. We will be able to be more effective in providing for their care. And, we will be in a position to more accurately understand what might, at times, otherwise be confusing behavior.
I often hear Greys described as "clumsy," "nervous," "neurotic," and "fearful." It saddens me to hear them characterized this way, for I don’t believe that any of those labels represent their true natures and abilities. If we watch wild African Greys, we do not find them either clumsy or nervous. They fly with power and grace. In behavior, they are conservative and watchful, but not nervous or fearful.
So-called "clumsy" Greys are often just those domestically raised parrots whose normal growth patterns were truncated too early. They were never allowed to fly enough to develop physically before their wings were clipped. A bappy whose wings are clipped before it has a chance to develop physically through gaining flying experience, may easily fall, which will then undermine its confidence and create room for anxiety and nervousness. It is critical that a baby Grey be allowed to truly fledge. Once fledged, that baby should be allowed to gain enough flying experience, before being gradually clipped back, to gain a full measure of coordination. Once clipped, this process of developing agility can be continued by encouraging swinging, climbing, flapping exercises and bathing.
When a baby Grey is allowed to fly for a time after fledging, its confidence grows along with its coordination. A coordinated parrot is a secure parrot and a confident parrot. It is essential that we make certain that our domestically raised parrots are secure, because we’re asking them to live in an environment very foreign to their genetic programming.
Similarly, the way we socialize babies will impact greatly that same sense of confidence and safety. If a bappy is exposed to a wide array of toys and experiences, is weaned to a diverse diet, before going to a new home, it will arrive there ready for whatever it finds. Then if the new owner continues to pattern the bird to accept new things and experiences, they will enjoy a well-adjusted and calm Grey. It will almost certainly be watchful and conservative and sometimes even aloof, because that is its nature. But, it will not be a nervous or neurotic bird.
IMPORTANCE OF THE "FAMILY" FLOCK
Looking to the wild will also allow us to provide our Greys with the most suitable care. Like many other parrots, they are pair-bonding birds. They form a primary, monogamous bond with one other bird in the wild until something happens to destroy that bond, often by death of one of the birds. We can understand then, that it is their instinctive nature to bond with just one member of the family, and that although this may be natural, it is behavior which does not have to be encouraged and can be modified to the benefit of all. As wild creatures living in our world, they must be gently led to develop behaviors that will prepare them for changes occuring in their lifetimes.
Unlike many Central and South American parrots, Greys live and breed within large social groups of between 100 and 200 Greys. Given this, it is easy to understand the importance of including our Greys in our family "flock" activities. Any time we invite Greys to join us at mealtime, or in the bathroom for morning grooming activities, or to join us at bedtime in sleeping cages of their own, we will strengthen the bonds we have with them.
At the same time, and perhaps even more importantly, we also offer them an enhanced sense of security and safety. For a wild Grey, staying with the flock is critical for survival.
An understanding of this one point can also help us to better understand how threatening it can be to a Grey to be left when the family goes on vacation. Rather than underestimating the impact this can have, we can opt to take some time to prepare our Greys well for our absence by making sure they are familiar with the people who will be providing for their care in our absence.
THE POWER OF UNDERSTANDING THEIR WILD NATURES
Remaining mindful of the wild natures of our parrot companions will always make us better friends with them. There is much information about wild African Greys that can be used in a practical sense to improve their lives and increase our own satisfaction as we share our lives with them. I look forward to exploring this topic with you further in future issues.
Our Greys are only recently out of the wild. Essentially, we have in our hands the interface between those "other nations" and man in civilization. What we allow ourselves to learn from them could have far-reaching implications. Sometimes I allow myself to wonder if they could conceivably have the power, by virtue of their place with us in space and time and their great beauty and intelligence, to finally convince man of the need to preserve what is natural and most precious.
They can touch us where we live.
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This article was first published in the Fall 1998 issue of The Grey Play Round Table® Magazine.