Perhaps the greatest challenge a breeder is faced with is how to properly set up new birds to ensure the best chance for breeding success. The quest to find the magic formula has proven to be frustrating and very time consuming for many. The nervous nature of African Grey parrots, (wild caught in particular) makes this task even more challenging for the species. Greys are just like people in that they are each individuals. You cannot expect them all to conform to one set of standards and be happy. It is necessary to keep an open mind and use common sense regarding what will contribute to breeding success in your environment.
I recently spoke with an individual who was having no luck breeding his pair of Greys. He decided to replace the female of the pair simply because she did not have any interest in her mate over one year. The complete absence of pair bonding behavior prompted his decision. In my experience, I doubt that playing musical parrots will solve his problem. In fact, there may not have been a problem in the first place other than a lack of patience. To quote a very successful breeder and club member, Mr. John Doole, "Bird keeping is an art, not a science."
I am very fortunate to have two proven pairs of African Greys. Other than matching each other clutch for clutch, they are as different as night and day. Initially, I had what I believed to be one true pair. They proved me wrong however, by laying an infertile clutch of seven eggs. I enjoyed these parrots so much that rather than replace one of them with a male, I purchased each of them a mate. I placed all four Greys together in one large cage to encourage natural mate selection. Within a few short weeks, two birds paired off. The other birds were stuck with each other by default. They have now been paired up individually for approximately three years.
The first pair are so highly bonded that it is almost unbelievable. They eat, play, and sleep in unison. They are more like one bird and its shadow than two separate birds. The incubation and brooding periods are the only times you find them apart. During this period, the male diligently guards the nest box entrance waiting to attend to his mate.
The second pair couldn’t care less about each other most of the time. They are rarely seen together on the same perch. The female hogs the food dish and the male has to be satisfied with her leftovers. Two food dishes only makes the female twice as busy and doesn’t solve the problem. She eats fast and that’s all there is to it. I have yet to catch them roosting together. They are probably as far from acting like a bonded pair as two birds in the same cage can be. They often remind me of the problem the individual with the musical parrots thought he had.
In spite of the above mentioned differences, the breeding results from both pairs have been exceptional. The fertility and hatchability factors are now virtually 100%. Based on my own experience, the strength of pair bonding in African Greys may be of little consequence to the breeding results. It would be very interesting to learn if other breeders have had similar experiences with different parrot species such as Amazons regarding pair bonding. Patience, privacy and proper nutrition can be, in my opinion, more important factors in achieving breeding success with African Greys.