If you own an African grey parrot or are thinking of adding one to your family, you might be wondering how long you can expect your partner in crime to stick around. How long do African grey parrots live? Spoiler alert: potentially a very, very long time, but it’s up to you to make sure that actually happens.
Let’s go into African grey parrot lifespan and what you can do to make sure yours lives a very long and happy life.
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What is the lifespan of an African grey parrot in the wild?
The genus Psittacus (African grey parrots) once contained a single species (Psittacus erithacus) as well as a subspecies (Psittacus erithacus timneh). Nowadays, the subspecies has been elevated to the status of an actual species: Psittacus timneh, also known as the Timneh African grey parrot.
There are some subtle but noticeable differences between the two African grey species and they don’t occur in the exact same areas in the wild. However, their potential lifespans seem pretty much the same.
Wild African grey parrots can reach impressive ages. As is to be expected, though, a large percentage of them don’t even make it to adulthood. The life of an African grey in its natural habitat can be harsh, with threats from disease as well as raptors and other predators.
The average lifespan of an African grey parrot in the wild was concluded in a 2002 study to be 22.7 years (Ryan, 2002), which is not bad at all considering the dangers they face on a daily basis.
Did you know? Both species of African grey parrot are endangered in the wild due to human activity. They prefer forest habitats in the wild, which are rapidly disappearing. Additionally, the pet trade has absolutely ravaged their numbers. It’s now extremely illegal to trade wild African greys but obviously it’s almost impossible to completely prevent this.
What is the lifespan of an African grey parrot in captivity?
As is to be expected, African grey parrots have the potential to live a lot longer in our homes than they do in the wild. Although bad husbandry still leads to huge numbers of African greys to pass away prematurely, their average lifespan in captivity is still noted to be around 45 years (“Psittacus erithacus, Linnaeeus, 1758”, PDF file).
It’s important to keep in mind that this number of 45 years is the average lifespan for the species as pets, not an absolute lifespan. They can live for much longer, with reports floating around of African grey parrots with the documentation to prove that the bird is or was over 80 years old.
Whether or not your African grey parrot will actually make it to a mindboggling eight decades of age probably has a lot to do with luck and genetics, since birds this old are really outliers.
Whether or not your bird makes it to something more realistic like 45 to 60 years old, though, depends almost entirely on YOU. With good care it’s entirely possible for African grey parrots to reach an age like this.
Did you know? The oldest parrot listed in the Guiness Book of World Records was Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo who passed away at 82 in 2016. There’s also Poncho the green-winged macaw, who was apparently 91 in 2017.
What influences the lifespan of an African grey parrot?
Now that we’ve established that African grey parrots really are friends for life, you’re probably wondering what you can do to make sure yours stays with you for years to come. Let me go serious mode here for a second:
As with all domestic parrots, it’s extremely important to think things through before you make the decision of adopting an African grey. They need just as much care, attention and stimulation as a dog or even a child in some cases, and they depend entirely on you for their health and well-being.
You can’t expect your parrot to thrive if you just stick it in a cage and view it as a decoration piece. To be a good African grey parrot owner, you’ll have to be willing to provide top notch care and lots of love for a huge chunk of your life!
Now that we’ve got that over with, let’s go into what it actually means, practically speaking. What care factors are important influencers of domestic African grey parrot lifespan?
Diet is probably the number one influencer of domestic parrot lifespan and unfortunately also the point where things go wrong for most. The problem is that myths about parrot diet are still very prevalent: most people who haven’t done specific research on parrot care still think they can thrive on just seeds.
Wild African grey parrots actually do eat seeds whenever they can find them. However, they are mostly frugivorous, meaning their preference goes out to fruits. That makes sense, as fruits have a high sugar content and therefore provide wild greys with the energy they need! Oil palm fruits are a big favorite (Enciclopaedia Brittanica, 2018).
In the wild, African grey parrots will also feed on pretty much anything else they can find. They supplement their diet with some types of leaves, flowers, tree bark and even any unlucky insect that finds itself in front of their powerful beaks. Additionally, they’ll visit farmer’s fields to feed on their crops.
Did you know? Wild African grey parrots are also known to eat small amounts of clay and dirt, which probably contain important trace nutrients.
So what should you be feeding your African grey parrot in captivity to keep it healthy? Although it’s true that some of the oldest African greys were fed a diet of mostly seed mix, the chances of yours making it to a respectable age are much greater if you offer a more varied diet consisting of:
- Vegetables: The more colorful the better, and don’t forget leafy greens.
- Fruits: Although wild African grey parrots eat a lot of fruit, they are also much more active than our domestic birds. Offering a variety of fruits is a great idea but don’t give your bird unlimited access, or the sugars might cause it to become overweight.
- A high-quality pellet: These make a great base food for your African grey and contain plenty of (micro)nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Some feed pellets exclusively but it’s better to offer a wide variety of foods.
- A high-quality seed mix: Yes, it’s true that you shouldn’t be overfeeding seeds, as they’re too fatty. No, that doesn’t mean seeds are the devil. You can still offer them as part of a varied diet. Try sprouting seeds as well.
- Extras: (Unsalted) boiled rice, pasta or lentils. Boiled egg. Garden weeds like clover and dandelion leaves. Freshly picked grasses. Bird-safe flowers. A mealworm or two (crush the heads). Be creative and encourage foraging behavior!
- Treats: It’s great to have some on hand for training purposes. Walnut bits, dried fruit or pre-made treats like Nutri-Berries can be offered in small quantities to reward your bird for a job well done.
Tip: Hypocalcaemia (calcium shortage) is particularly common in African grey parrots and can lead to serious symptoms like seizures. Hypocalcaemia is most common in birds that have been fed a seed-only diet (Stanford, 2007), so if you’re following the guidelines above you’re already on the right track. Still, make sure your bird always has cuttlebone and a calcium block available.
Try feeding high-calcium foods like kale and offering foods that block the absorption of calcium, like spinach, only sparingly.
Apart from a proper diet there are a bunch of other factors that affect African grey parrot health and therefore their potential to grow old. The lifespan of an African grey parrot depends, among other things, on the following:
Exercise. Obesity is a silent killer of domestic parrots because unless you weigh your bird regularly (which you should be doing!), it’s hard to notice under all those feathers.
Your bird should have a big cage and plenty of out-of-cage time to move around. It should be encouraged to forage for its food, and it should have lots of parrot toys to keep itself busy with.
- Air quality. Ever heard of the ‘canary in a mine’? Birds succumb to bad air quality way before we do. It’s logical that we shouldn’t be smoking around our parrots, but did you know they’re also highly intolerant to perfumes and other aerosolized cosmetics (hairspray, deodorant), candles and wax burners, cleaning products, teflon pan fumes and much more?
Stress. You’ve probably heard that stress is bad for humans’ health. It’s the same for birds! The biggest source of stress for African grey parrots is being alone, as they’re extremely social beings. This stress can manifest itself in feather plucking and other long-term issues.
Dedicate lots of time to socializing with your bird and avoid exposing it to rough handling, being spooked, feeling threatened by predators like cats and other stressors.
- Bird safety. A good parrot owner always has potential accidents in the back of their mind. Can my parrot get its foot stuck in that toy? Can it chew through that cable? Did I close the windows before letting it out of its cage, and did I put the cat or dog in another room so it can’t get to my bird?
Emergencies. Even if we’re always mindful of possible dangers, a highly curious animal like an African grey parrot can still manage to get itself into a sticky situation. Do you have a blood clotting agent at hand? Do you know what to do when your bird has a splinter lodged in its beak? Do you have the number for an avian vet on hand?
Read up on parrot emergency care and put together a little first aid box. It could save your bird’s life one day.
- Check-ups. Speaking of that avian vet, take your African grey parrot into their office once a year for a health check-up.
How old is my African grey parrot?
If you already own an African grey parrot, you might be wondering how old it actually is after reading all this. The bad news: as with other parrot species, it’s not really possible to tell the age of a mature African gray parrot by looking at it. However, there are a few things that might just help you out.
- If your parrot is ringed then you’re in luck, as rings usually list the hatch date. Even if there’s no ring, if you know who bred your African grey, you can shoot them a message and see if they keep records that might help you figure things out.
- If you haven’t had your African grey parrot for very long yet and it might be quite young, take a peek at its eyes. They won’t give you a precise indication of the bird’s age at all but they can at least help narrow things down slightly.
- Juvenile African grey parrots will have dark irises rather than the normal light yellow coloration. If the eyes are almost black (like the birds in the video below), that means the bird is probably under a year. After this they will go from brown to a dark yellow all the way to the very light irises that a bird of 4-5 years or up has.
- Still no idea? Ask your vet. They might be able to narrow things down at least somewhat for you, possibly performing a blood test to see if your bird has reached sexual maturity yet (which happens between 3-6 years of age) or has already passed it.
If you have any more questions about African grey parrot lifespan or if you want to share your own experiences with this amazingly intelligent species, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
If you’re wondering about the lifespan of other common pet parrots, have a look at the Parrot Lifespan category.
“African gray parrot | bird”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
“Psittacus erithacus, Linnaeeus, 1758” (PDF file). Retrieved 21 March 2020 from: https://www.cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/com/ac/22/E22-10-2-A1.pdf