Friday, 1 February 2013

African Gray Parrot

order : Psittaciformes      Genus & Species : Psittacidae     Family : Psittacus erithacus

Although the African gray parrot is one of the most familiar of all cagebirds and is kept in captivity the world over, much of its behavior in the wild remains a mystery. Dextrous feet and a large, hooked bill double up as the African gray parrot’s versatile feeding and climbing tools in the forest canopy. They found in a range of forest types, but especially rainforest, in equatorial Africa: from Sierra Leone and Guinea- Bissau to Tanzania and Kenya in the east and south to the Congo–Angola border. 

Habitat : The African gray parrot lives in dense lowland rainforest and areas of open (secondary) forest, spending nearly all its time in the treetops. At certain times of year, when trees are fruiting, it’ll visit wooded areas of savannah. In the eastern Congo, the parrot frequents upland forest at 6,600'; it also occurs at sea level, in mangrove swamps along the West African coast. The African gray is an adaptable species and takes advantage of large oil palm plantations in West Africa. The plantations provide nesting sites and a rich and reliable food source: oil palm nuts. 

Food & Feeding : The frugivorous (fruit-eating) diet of the African gray is varied, comprised of seeds, nuts and berries of many forest trees. The species feeds mainly in the canopy; small parties of parrots clamber noisily on the branches in an energetic quest for ripe fruit. Once African grays finish feeding in a particular tree, they are reluctant to fly and instead make use of their climbing skills to move to the next feeding place. However, they will fly 3 miles out to sea to offshore islands containing fruiting trees. 

Behavior : Flying home near dusk, African grays congregate at their roosting sites, usually in tall trees at the forest edge or a clearing in the forest. Where available, they also roost on small islands near the coast or in the middle of a large river, provided there’s plenty of treecover. Some roosts may have hundreds, even thousands, of birds. African grays fly fast, with characteristic shallow and rapid wingbeats. While in flight, they whistle and shriek constantly, creating a huge amount of noise. Although they’re nearly always seen high in the forest canopy, African grays may sometimes visit the ground, since small pieces of quartz have been found in their stomachs. These mineral fragments are probably important in assisting the gizzard, or muscular stomach, to grind down the hard nuts and berries that form the basis of the parrot’s diet. Tool-use in birds is an uncommon phenomenon, but it has been recorded in the African gray parrot. One bird was seen preening its feathers with a small splinter of wood held in its bill. 

Breeding : Little is known about the breeding of African grays in the wild, but they generally breed in the dry season. The nest is usually in a knothole or broken tree limb 70-100' above ground. The female lays 2–4 white eggs on a bed of wood dust at the bottom of the nest hole and incubates the clutch alone. Once the chicks hatch after about a month, the male brings food while his mate continues to brood them.They fledge at 2–3 months. 

Bill : Hooked and powerful, the bill can crack tough nuts and shred fibrous fruit.The parrot also uses its bill, as well as its feet, to grip branches and haul itself through the treetops. 

Eyes : Eyes are positioned at the center of the sides of the head, which means that the parrot can detect movement from behind by moving its head only fractionally to one side or the other. 

Tongue : The tongue is thick, fleshy and very mobile. After cracking open nuts, the parrot uses its tongue to deftly remove the kernels. 

Feet : Long, dextrous toes (two point forward, the other two backward) let the African gray parrot climb effortlessly along branches and grasp larger food items. 

Plumage : The characteristic red color of the tail presents a striking contrast with the gray body plumage. In older birds, scarlet feathers eventually begin to appear among the body feathers. 

Weight : 12–16 oz. 
Length : 1'
Wingspan : 2' 
Breeding Season : July–January 

Famous for its ability to mimic sounds, including those produced by objects, such as creaking doors or ringing telephones, the African gray can copy the human voice with remarkable realism. One bird had a “vocabulary” of over 800 words.

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