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Good News for African Gray Parrots – A Conservation Milestone

Adult in wild

Image uploaded to Wikipedia by Snowmanradio

Despite clear evidence that African Gray Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are declining in the 23 countries to which they are native, conservation horror stories continue to mount.  Recently, for example, 750 parrots died on board an airplane in South Africa, and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo returned 500+ wild-caught birds to smugglers.  So it was a pleasure to read that Uganda has recently taken a giant step forward in parrot conservation.  For the first time ever, African Gray Parrots seized in Europe have been returned to the wild.  The historic 3-year effort also illustrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation between governments, zoos, airlines and conservation organizations.

Can 32 Birds Make a Difference?

Conservationists estimate that at least ¼ of the adult population of wild African Gray Parrots are trapped each year. The return of 32 birds to the wild in Uganda may, therefore, seem to be insignificant.  However, I believe that the operation’s value goes well beyond the number of birds that were rescued.
For too long, wildlife criminals have operated with near impunity once they managed to get parrots and other African wildlife out of the continent.  Cooperation with unscrupulous officials in Africa and abroad, and the inability of under-funded law enforcement agencies to compete, have kept convictions low and penalties inconsequential.  Uganda’s dogged determination to see justice done has recently broken new ground, and has hopefully set a standard for neighboring countries to follow. Read More »

African Gray Parrot Populations in Decline Throughout Central Africa- Bird Conservation


African GraysStrict regulations requiring that all parrots sold within the USA be captive-bred have been very effective in controlling the trade in wild-caught birds, and in spurring captive breeding efforts in this country.  So it came as quite a surprise to learn that both legal and illegal collecting is still taking a significant toll on wild African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus).  Studies showing declines in most of the 23 countries in which this magnificent bird occurs have sparked a review of its CITES and IUCN listings.

The Continuing Trade in Wild Parrots

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) statistics show that 360,000 African gray parrots were legally exported from Africa between 1994 and 2003, 93% of which went to Europe.  This is also surprising, given that adults trapped in the wild make poor pets, and chicks are difficult to ship safely.

These figures do not take illegally collected birds into account, and there is no way to access the environmental havoc caused by the felling of nest trees (a common collecting technique).

Proposed Conservation Initiatives

In view of the fact that current quotas have failed to protect the African gray parrot, CITES will review the matter when its members meet in July of 2009, and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) may reclassify the species as “endangered”.  One nation within the parrot’s range, Angola, is not a CITES member and hence would be unaffected by any decisions rendered.

Leading conservationists are calling for a ban on all exports of wild-caught African gray parrots.  European Union nations temporarily suspended the importation of African gray parrots in 2008, after several wild-caught individuals were found to be infected with a lethal form of avian flu.

Further Reading

Please see my article on the Natural History of the African Gray Parrot for further information on this species in the wild.

You can read the most recent CITES report on the status of wild African gray parrots at http://www.cites.org/eng/com/AC/22/E22-10-2-A1.pdf.


The African Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) in the Wild: Natural History Notes on a Popular Pet

Today I’d like to take a look at how this most desirable of parrot pets gets along in its natural habitat.


African GraysThe gray parrot may be found across the breadth of central Africa, along, above and below the equator, and on islands in the Gulf of Guinea.  The huge range extends from Guinea Bissau on the west coast to Cameroon and continues southeast to Kenya in East Africa and south to northern Angola.  Three subspecies have been described, but there are questions as to their validity.


The gray parrot is a bird of moist lowland forests and coastal mangrove swamps, but also forages in wooded savannahs and cultivated areas.  Flocks of up to 200 individuals roost together in very tall trees, preferably located in forest clearings or on small river or lake islands.  Tall forest-edge trees are also utilized.

Feeding Behavior

Flocks of African gray parrots depart for their feeding grounds earlier than do most birds, flying very high and fast while calling loudly.  The parrots take regular routes to and from favored feeding grounds, and stay to the uppermost branches of the trees while foraging.  They tend to climb rather than hop or fly from branch to branch when feeding.  Gray parrots are difficult to approach when feeding, and very shy in general.

Oil palm nuts are a favored food, but a wide variety of other nuts, fruits, seeds and berries are taken.  They are rarely observed on the ground, but flocks in West Africa sometimes raid maize fields.  This, along with the reported presence of quartz in the stomach of some individuals, indicates that they may leave the treetops on occasion.


The breeding season apparently varies in accordance with local conditions, as eggs have been reported in March, June and July through September in different regions.  Gray parrots favor nest cavities that are located 90 feet or more above the ground.  Suitable nest sites are likely a major limiting factor on population levels.

Population Status

Wild populations are everywhere in decline due to deforestation and collection for export.  The gray parrot is considered to be “Near Threatened” by the IUCN and is listed on Appendix II of Cites.

An article on the habits and status of gray parrots in the wild is posted at:


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