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Avian Medicine:
Basic Information Sheet for the African Grey Parrot

African Grey parrot – Psittacus erithacus

Grey

Shown here, Congo Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus). Click image to enlarge.

Natural history African Grey Parrots are among the most familiar of all parrots. Originating from central Africa, many African cities now have feral populations. The Timneh Grey Parrot is localized to the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Habitats for Grey Parrots include savannahs, coastal mangroves, woodland and edges of forest clearings. African Greys are listed under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II, which means these species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is strictly regulated.
Taxonomy
Class Aves Order Psittaciformes Family Psittacidae Psittacus erithacus

P.e. erithacus – Congo African Grey Parrot
P.e. timneh – Timneh African Grey Parrot

Subspecies Two subspecies of the Grey parrot are the larger, more popular Congo Grey parrot and the smaller Timneh.
Physical description
  • The Grey is a medium-sized parrot with a bare facial patch.
  • Iris color is black for the first 4 months of age, but changes fully to yellow by 4 years old.
  • The Timneh Grey parrot has a horn-colored beak, dark grey body, maroon tail, and white around the eyes.
  • The Congo Grey has a black beak, silver-grey body that is lighter around eyes and rump, red tail, and white around the eyes.
  • African Grey parrots are sexually monomorphic.
Diet
  • Greys are granivores and frugivores. Free-ranging birds feed on seeds, figs, and fruits.
  • Known to be fussy feeders, African Greys prefer seeds, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies, including calcium deficiencies.
  • Since psittacines hull seeds before ingestion, they do not require grit. In fact, some individuals will overeat grit when ill putting them at risk for impaction.
  • All-seed diets are deficient in protein, vitamins, and minerals including calcium and vitamin A.
Husbandry
  • Grey parrots produce a lot of powder down. Offer daily baths or showers.
  • Offer a full-spectrum light to birds not exposed to natural lighting.
  • Cage bar spacing should be 0.75-1.0 in (1.9-2.5cm) with a perch diameter of approximately 1 in (2.5 cm).
  • Introduce new objects slowly to reduce stress.
Behavior
  • Grey parrots are very intelligent birds. They are often able to mimic many sounds and talk.
  • These intelligent birds require plenty of physical and mental stimulation.
  • If special efforts are not taken, Greys can easily become “one person” birds.
  • Feather damaging behavior is a common problem in Grey parrots, particularly in individuals that are not given the attention they need or with abrupt changes in routine.
Normal physiologic values
Temperature (average)* 41°C 105.8°F
Heart rate (beats/min) 340-600
Respiration (breaths/min) Approximately 25-45
Body weight (g) 300-400
Mean life span (years) 30-40 Congo Grey parrot
Sexual maturity (years) 4-6 years
Weaning age (days) 100-120
75-90
Parent-reared
Hand-raised
Weaning age varies with the individual, and should never be based on a pre-determined time period.
Fledgling age (days) 50-65
Mean number of incubation days 26-28
Average number of eggs laid 2-4
Weaning age 100-120 days
Target environmental temperature Mimic natural environment. Household temperatures of 70-80°F (21-27°C) are generally acceptable, however healthy birds can tolerate hot and cold temperatures.
* Routine avian exam does not include measuring body temperature
Anatomy and physiology
  • African Gray parrots produce lots of powder down.
  • Iris color is black for the first 4 months of age, but changes fully to yellow by 4 years.
  • Anatomic traits of Order Psittaciformes include:
    • Communication of the right and left nasal sinus
    • The only avian tongue with intrinsic muscles
    • Simply syrinx
    • Craniofacial hinge of beak is a synovial joint
    • Ceca absent
    • Gall bladder often absent
    • Zygodactyl foot: two toes pointed backward and two pointed forward
Restraint
  • Restrain Grey parrots by holding the thumb and forefinger under the mandible and securing the outer wing with the remaining three fingers. Use the opposite hand to hold the feet.
  • Facial bruising can be seen if fingers are placed over the bare facial patch.
Venipuncture Use a 26-gauge needle and 1 to 3-mL syringe to draw blood from the right jugular vein. Collection of up to 1% of body weight is acceptable in healthy patients.
Preventative Medicine
  • Obtain a complete history and perform a thorough annual physical examination.
  • Establish baseline data with regular clinical testing (complete blood count, protein electrophoresis, and plasma biochemistries.
  • Ensure proper nutrition and husbandry.
  • Recommend quarantine of newly acquired birds.
  • Perform additional testing for select diseases based on history and physical exam findings: avian polyoma virus and avian chlamydiosis.
  • Determine origin and history of newly acquired sick birds to contain and prevent further spread of disease.
  • Birds housed in large groups or aviaries are at higher risk of Pacheco’s disease virus and use of the vaccine may be indicated.
  • The avian polyoma virus vaccine is recommended for breeding populations.
Injections
Intramuscular (IM) Reasonably safe, most accurate.

Inject middle of muscle mass.

Ideal location –Pectoral muscle mass
Subcutaneous (SQ) Large volumes can be injected, poor absorption. Location:  Inguinal or precrural fold
Intravenous Effective, narrow safety range. Right jugular vein or brachial vein is most commonly used.

Alternative option: superficial metatarsal vein.

Important medical conditions
Non-Infectious Diseases

  • Aspergillosis
  • Feather destructive behavior
  • Hypocalcemia syndrome
  • Hypovitaminosis A
  • Rhinoliths
Infectious Diseases

  • Oral abscesses
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD)
  • Borna virus infection (proventricular dilitation disease or PDD)
References Beynon P (ed). BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996. 7-9, 37. Print.

Carpenter J (ed). Exotic Animal Formulary. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO; Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 278-279.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Appendices I, II, and III.  Valid from Apr 27, 2011. Available at: http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php. Accessed June 8, 2011.

Finkelstein A. Normal cloacal temperatures in multiple avian species. Proc Annu Conf Assoc Avian Vet;  2004. P. 383.

Harcourt-Brown N, Chitty J (eds).  BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds, 2nd ed. Quedgeley, Glouchester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2005. Pp. 4, 28.

Harcourt-Brown N, Chitty J (eds).  BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds, 2nd ed. Quedgeley, Glouchester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2005. Pp. 4, 28.

Harrison GJ, Harrison LR. Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery, Appendix 4, Philadelphia; W.B. Saunders; 1986. P.662.

Harrison GJ, Lightfoot TL (eds). Clinical Avian Medicine. Palm Beach, FL: Spix Publishing; 2006. Pp. 174, 176, 386, 583-585.

Koustos EA, Matson KD, Klasing KC. Nutrition of birds in the order Psittaciformes: a review. J Avian Med Surg15(4):257-275, 2001.

Lafeber Company. The African Grey Parrot. Lafeber Pet Birds Web site. Available at: http://lafeber.com/pet-birds/species/african-grey-parrot/. Accessed May 16, 2011.

Low R. Parrots in aviculture: A photoreference guide. Pickering, Ontario; Silvio Mattachione & Co; 1992. P. 82.

Morgan D. Bird Care. Neptune City, NJ: TFH Publications; 2005. Pp. 15-16, 17-18.

O’Malley B. Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. Edinburgh: Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 156-157.

Tully TN. Birds. In: Mitchell M, Tully TN (eds). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2008. Pp. 256, 262, 270-271, 276.

Tully TN, Lawton MPC, Dorrestein GM. Avian Medicine. Oxford; Butterworth-Heinemann; 2000. Pp. 26-34, 43-51.