African Greys ... An article written by Chet Womach

Chet graciously offered for us to put his article on training African Greys on our Parrot Training pages.

This is an article that he just co-authored with aparrot behavior specialist who writes for Bird TalkMagazine on how to raise African Greys so theydon't become phobic.

African Grey Parrots

10 Tips For Not Owning A Grey That Is Afraid Of His Own Shadow!

You’ve done your research and decided an African grey parrot is right for your family. Maybe you’re anxiously waiting to bring your new baby home.

Or maybe you already have a grey, and want to make sure you do everything right so he becomes the rewarding companion you’ve always wanted.

Either way, whether you’re the proud owner of a bouncing baby grey, or an older grey who’s maybe not so bouncy but is still a good bird, please read on. I’m going to tell what to do to help your grey stay friendly, confident and happy. Nature made the African grey parrot one of the smartest animals in the world. You can make him a friend.

It’s important for young greys to be exposed to new situations in a way that doesn’t make them afraid, but instead makes them confident and adaptable. Even when they’re very young, they’re constantly taking in what’s going on around them. As they learn that what’s out there isn’t dangerous, they can relax and enjoy exploring.

You’ll want to provide your baby a variety of age-appropriate toys and foods, and have different people hold and talk to him when possible. They say by the time a puppy is four months old he should meet 100 people. It would be great if your parrot could do that but it’s not practical. Instead of having your grey meet 100 different people, show him 100 different toys and objects around the house.

Take it slowly if you need to, but know that by experiencing so much when he’s young, new stuff isn’t as likely to freak him out when he’s older. There will be situations he won’t like, and no bird will be 100% confident all the time, but you’ll go a long way towards preventing the “phobic” grey you’ve heard about.

Phobic greys are often birds that were raised without much interaction or environmental stimulation. It doesn’t necessarily mean something bad happened to them to make them afraid. It might mean nothing much happened to them at all.

So one of the keys to having a laid-back, take-it-all-in-stride grey is to help him explore, play and discover in a safe, nurturing setting. Even if your bird isn’t a baby, you can start introducing more variety into his life. It’s never too late for him to learn.

Teaching your grey about the world can be fun. Many people choose parrots as pets in the first place because parrots usually are fun. Intelligence is often given as a reason people choose an African grey.

You may have encountered people bragging about how smart their greys are, and there’s actual science research to back this up, too. Parrots are smart, and the grey is one of the smartest, with an intelligence level similar to a 5 year old child.

If you’ve ever been around a 5 year old, then you know how easily they get bored, and a bored kid is often an unhappy, frustrated and whiny kid. A grey parrot is just like that, but no graduating and going off to college for him. He’s going to rely on you to entertain him forever.

Boredom may be the number one enemy of companion African greys. When they don’t have something to occupy themselves, they can become unhappy and frustrated. Maybe not whiny, though. Instead, they may pick their feathers. How can you keep your grey from getting bored? One way is by providing the right toys.

Another is through spending time with him. Petting and just hanging out is great, but you can do other activities like teaching him tricks and games. This gives him something to think about. Another activity that will keep him busy is the opportunity to forage for food.

In the wild, parrots spend a lot of time looking for things to eat, but in our homes, we lay it out right there for them. Encourage your grey’s natural foraging instincts by hiding food in his cage and by using treat holders and rod feeders.

Some grey owners worry that if their bird spends a lot of time alone, he may need a companion bird. Another parrot is an option, but there are other ways to keep a grey from feeling lonely and bored when you’re not there. Set your television and radio on timers to turn on and off at various times.

Put your bird’s cage near a window and provide an outdoor bird feeding station where he can see it (although not all parrots like being by windows, so use caution here). You could even set up a simple fish tank. If the idea of more pets isn’t for you, a “lava lamp” or other object with moving features can be interesting.

Spending time with you will probably always be his favorite thing to do, but providing something to look at and listen to when you’re gone will make your grey’s day more enjoyable.

Another responsibility you have is to establish limits and rules, just as you would for a child. For example, he should learn basic commands like “up” and “down”, and shouldn’t be allowed to go wherever he wants, whenever he wants.

You may think that as a baby, he can do no wrong, or be tempted to let him get away with naughty behavior because you want him to like you. However, providing structure and being consistent with your grey when he’s young will help you manage if he does go through a stubborn period once in a while.

Proper socialization, environmental enrichment and guidance doesn’t mean you will never have any struggles with an African grey, but if the right upbringing doesn’t happen, the chance of behavior problems increases greatly.

According to parrot behavior experts, a majority of the greys who become feather pickers, cage bound, aggressive or phobic (all common African grey behavior problems) come from less-than-ideal backgrounds. Troubled greys become a challenge for their owners, and the birds may end up being passed from home to home. Eventually, someone knowledgeable may step in and help, but so many problems could have been prevented if the right care had occurred in the first place.

So please realize that your grey’s education began when he was very young, maybe even before his eyes were open. From the moment his handfeeder first held him and coaxed him to eat his formula, he was being exposed to a very different world compared to that of a wild African grey. As he grew, his handfeeder guided him and showed him how to trust people and look to us for food, and hopefully, comfort and companionship.

Now that he’s with you, you’ll help him continue his journey as he learns about his new world—your home. His instincts tell him to be cautious of new things, but his baby parrot curiosity and his trust in you will allow him to explore and learn more every day. You’ve got a very important job ahead of you, and your grey is counting on you to do it well.

Copyright © 2006 Womach Brother Productions - African Grey Parrots
This article was co-authored by Chet Womach & Kim Bear. Kim Bear runs a parrot behavior counseling service and can be reached for consultation at this number 850-683-9696. While Chet Womach helps thousands of African Grey Parrots along with other breeds of bird, overcome their behavior challenges.

Thanks Chet, I'm sure that many people with African Greys will start implementing your suggestions. Best of all, there will be some happier Greys in the world now.

If you need more help with your African Greys, check out Chet's training course! He starts you out with some free advice, but you can't go wrong if you decide to purchase the whole series.

Back to the Parrot Training page for more help with African Greys