Keeping African Greys
(They are Delightful Birds)

By C. M.
San Diego County, California

My collection of African Greys started several years ago with the purchase of two unsexed birds advertised in the newspaper with cage included. I had no experience with large birds. I had been raising cockatiels, parakeets, and lovebirds. I really enjoyed them and as a matter of fact, my first cockatiel is still alive and 16 years old.

I made a little money now and then selling the offspring and bringing happiness to the people that bought them. It helped pay for their upkeep.

I put the greys in the living room, next to the TV. They were semi-tame and knew a couple of tricks. The previous owner put a peanut in a coffee can and the larger of the two birds, Clyde, would stick his head in the can, make a grunt noise and get the nut out. Bonnie, the feather-plucked smaller one, had a sweet personality and wanted to give kisses. I was always afraid to kiss her because she was so much larger than what I was used to. Maybe she sensed I was nervous. Anyway she pierced my lower lip and also my ear lobe. I didnít give up. I wanted to tame the birds. I knew they were smart and capable of learning. A few weeks later she pierced my nose! I started reading everything I could find on greys. I decided to give them a next box to sleep in. One night I heard a whimpering sound coming from the living room. I didnít know what it was. By the light of the night-light, Clyde and Bonnie were mating. I was so excited! Eventually 2 eggs were produced and both hatched. I thought this was great! The babies stayed in the nest, next to the TV until one day a terrible smell filled the room. I looked to find one chick had died at 3 weeks of age. I was in tears, picking up its little lifeless body. I located an avian vet and he ran some tests on the living baby and said they had a bacterial infection. I had to hand-feed it, medicate it and the parents. I had to sell the first baby that I loved so much. He was adorable. Even the thought of selling him brought a lump to my throat. Expenses forced me to sell him and I had my sights on a second pair. The baby went to a lady named Frankie. We still keep in touch and she is currently writing an article on his capabilities that I hope will be in this newsletter in the near future. Curty is extremely intelligent. I went into a state of depression the day she picked him up. I cried for days. My husband told me, "if this is going to happen each time, you had better not have any more babies." Well, that didnít stop me.

I purchased a second pair and built the first outside aviary and divided it into two sections. The female of the new pair had head wounds as a result of getting her head stuck in the wire and the birds in the next aviary had ripped all the skin off her head and damaged her eye. She lived for about a year and died while sitting on a clutch of eggs. I had to buy a incubator for these eggs. One out of four eggs hatched and that baby paid the veterinarian. You must understand, all of this was part of the learning process. I was determined to overcome these situations and setbacks. I began buying pets that people no longer wanted for one reason or the other. Some were wild, some were tame. Some were so tame that in a way, I couldnít understand why or how someone could part with them. Some talked and some did tricks. They were all different. I respected each one and tried to adjust to their moods and habits. We lived in a residential area and the neighbors said that the birds didnít bother them. The collection was growing. We decided for many reasons to move to North San Diego County. We wanted more land, a bigger house and wanted to get out in the country. Prior to moving I bought 3 pairs of Congo greys from quarantine. I had never bought wild birds before but a good friend got them for me and suggested that I get them checked out by an avian vet. They were kept separate from my first birds. After we moved I had my first birds checked out by Dr. Robert Stonebreaker who was, at the time, a mobile veterinarian. He came out to the house whenever new birds came in and gave them the appropriate tests. It cost a lot of money but the birds were a very important part of my life and their health was of concern to me.

I figured if they decided to nest they had to be healthy, no question about it. I couldnít risk losing what I had carefully accumulated over the years. To this date, I have only lost one adult grey. There are many other stories I could tell but I am now going to start with my conclusions.

The aviary was built under the guidance of Dan Perrin-Powers. We built it as soon as we moved into the house. All the birds filled up the garage and patio for weeks until the aviary was complete. We built one large enclosure under a huge tree. The tree grows up through the center. The cages are 3 foot X 3 foot X 5 foot with front-mounted boot boxes. All of the cages have barriers between them so the pairs canít see each other. I use an old blanket, blinds or peg board. I pack the nest boxes all the way up to the entrance hole with pine shavings. The birds will dig them out as they like it. Each cage has one smaller door for food. We used 1 inch by 1 inch wire and suspended each cage from the cross beams. The roof is Filon and black shade cloth. When it rains the food and nest boxes are dry. When itís not, I can mist them so they can bathe and cool off. Some parts of the aviary are darker and others are lighter. The pairs are placed where they seem to be happiest. I had one pair that was always clinging to the back of the cage every time I went in. They seemed scared and upset so I moved them to a darker area and now they are calmer. Some of the tamer birds are in front but sometimes I move them just for a change. I can tell within a few days if they like the change. I believe the birds need a change now and then. The aviary floor is dirt. I have three chickens patrolling for rodents and three dogs guarding the whole yard. The chickens eat all the food that is dropped. I have to rake the whole thing once a week and it is all thrown into a compost heap.

I would eventually like to build a long flight to put the pairs in for a month or two per year so they can get more exercise. Call it a vacation cage. They eat Toppers, a vitamin fortified seed. It costs more but I hate messing with additives. The birds are absolutely beautiful. I dump the seed dishes completely every four days.

Example:
Day 1-New seed.
Day 2-Shake the bowl and skim off 1 inch or so.
Day 3-Repeat day 2 and add 1 cup of new seed.
Day 4-Clean water dish and give new seed in it and the old seed dish becomes the water (not much is wasted).

They get clean water every day or more often if itís hot out or of course, dirty. I bleach the dishes twice a week and sun dry them. Iíve been fortunate to have a good relationship with a lot of farmers around here and get vegetables and fruit almost free. The farmers would rather sell it cheap or give it away so that it will be used rather than throwing it out. They always ask how the birds are doing. I get so much food that sometimes I have to give some of it away. My birds get everything raw. They all get the same thing and they eat it if it appeals to them. They favor some things over others, but Iíve noticed that eventually, at sometime or other, they will eat the particular vegetable that was ignored in the past.

Another thing I discovered is that the birds love toys. For years, they sat in a cage with two or three perches, a nest box and 2 feed dishes. How boring! Put yourself in their place. Here we have extremely intelligent birds with no toys! I started putting pine cones, tooth brushes, paper towel rolls, balls, chains, etc. in each cage. I would spy on them and could hear that the little guys were playing like children. They were talking to each other, playing, singing and having a great time! I make it a point, when I have some extra money, to buy them at least one or two toys a month. They also love the large link plastic chain they are selling at the bird marts and some pet stores.

They all have a name, I greet them by name and talk to them when Iím outside. I keep detailed records on each pair, recording where I got them, if and when they ever had babies. I also keep a log of where the babies went.

I take the chicks before the eyes open. I use Pretty Bird Hand-feeding Formula, with 8% fat. I spoon feed. I used to make my own monkey chow formula but I kept having problems with bacteria and weight gain. Pretty Bird seems to suite them and they are nice and strong. I give the parent birds that are feeding babies a soft food mixture with the Pretty Bird sprinkled over it so when I bring the babies in there is no problem with the switch-over. I also give all the birds cuttle bone and millet sprays. As far as breeding season goes, I find it hard to figure but according to my records there has only been two months (March and November) when no babies were produced. January, May, June, and August were the most productive and in all other months half as many were produced. Of course it would be nice to have lots of babies all the time but the reality is that some pairs produce a lot and some may only have one clutch every year or two. I have just the right amount of birds, so it works out that I am fortunate to have babies most of the year. Sure it is hard to take vacations and it is a lot of work but I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it all and wouldnít have it any other way.

I spend a lot of time with the babies. I spoon feed them, hold them and touch them all over. I think they need to be held and cuddled just like any baby. I talk to them and try to make their chickhood loving in hopes that a loving temperament will stay with them into adulthood.

I keep in touch with may of the new owners. I offer any help I can with the adjustment to the new baby. Sometimes I get nice letters, pictures and phone calls letting me know how wonderful the babies have turned out. That makes me happy.

I will refuse to sell a baby to a person if they are: working long hours, traveling a lot, unfriendly, buying it for a small child or if I feel the birds might not fit in to their life-style. I donít spend months taking care of the little guys and then let them go to just anyone. I screen the new owners. It is hard to part with a fully feathered almost weaned baby that thinks your itís mom. I still get melancholy.

I have and will continue to learn about my birds and I never tire of them. I have built relationships and learned a lot along the way from other bird keepers. There are very few people that I trust 100%. I donít let strangers on my property to look at my birds. I never let a private party out back to "see the parents".

I am not introducing any more birds to my aviary. Mine is now a closed collection. All the birds I get from now on will go to my trusted friends. We will set up new pairs in a breeder loan situation.

I will never regret keeping African greys. They are delightful birds. I am not an expert but any letters or questions can be forwarded to me by way of The African Ark, and I will be happy to answer them.

This is a reprint of an article published in the African Parrot Society
in the Winter 92 (Vol 2 # 3) issue and contributed by C. M.
Please do not reprint or redistribute this article in any form without the written consent of the author and the APS.
© 1996 African Parrot Society
Last updated: June 11, 1996
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