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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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