African Greys — Congo or Timneh

© Jean Pattison — The African Queen

African Grey — The proper Englishman, who doesn't want to get his grey tweed suit mussed.
Genus: Psittacus
Nominate subspecies: erithacus erithacus

Forshaw, in "Parrots of The World," (the most widely accepted reference book on parrots) shows one continuous region, starting at the south-eastern Ivory Coast, arching slightly upward and turning east in an ellipse around the north, east, and south of Lake Victoria, through Kenya, and eastern Tanzania, heading back west to the coast through northern Angola. There are no natural barriers to split or divide the nominate species, which could create subspecies of the African Grey. If this is true, then why do we hear so much talk about the different, subspecies, races, or types of African greys?

There are only two recognized subspecies, the nominate African Grey: Psittacus erithacus erithacus (the red tail) and the subspecies: Psittacus erithacus timneh (the maroon tail). What we are finding is regional differences in size and shades of grey within the nominate subspecies.

If you start in the country of Ghana or Togo and radiate outward in all directions it will help you understand the progressive change in shade and size. The African Grey that is indigenous to Ghana and Togo are near the size of the Timneh grey (about 275-350) grams, and about as dark as the Timneh, which could be termed, a charcoal grey. As you radiate out in all directions the African Grey gets larger. As you radiate Eastwardly, the shade of grey lightens, and as you radiate South, the shade of grey remains the same. In essence, if you have an African Grey with parentage from the old Congo (Zaire, and now Congo again), it would be large (roughly 500-600 grams) and a very light grey in color. An African grey from Angola would be large and dark grey. An African Grey which is truly from the region of Camaroon would be a medium sized grey (roughly 400-450 grams), and a medium grey in color.

Most dealers refer to the African Grey as the Congo grey, and some will call them Camaroons, which are touted as bigger and lighter. This is not the case. All African Greys are of one species. The so called Camaroon Greys (bigger lighter ones) are in actuality African Greys who were taken from Zaire and moved across borders (smuggled) to Camaroon. Their papers then showed that they came from Camaroon, the country of export.

If you have researched pet birds and have seriously decided on an African Grey as your choice, do not purchase any other species. Your thirst will not be satisfied, and you will eventually end up getting a grey as well. African greys, to the uneducated, may seem to be a problematic bird. It is important to do your homework beforehand (as with any pet bird). African greys are very intelligent, gregarious in nature, and very sensitive to their people and surroundings. It is important to find a pet shop or breeder who understands their nature and has worked in shaping and guiding their temperament as babies.

Greys are among the best talkers in the parrot kingdom. They have the ability to have hundred word vocabularies, as well as being able to mimic in a multitude of very clear, human like voices. The clearness of sounds probably puts them over the top in mimicking (talking) ability. Please note that African Greys will normally start talking well after one to two years old. As with a human baby, they need to practice sounds and develop muscles to control word formation.

The African Grey should have a spacious cage, and plenty of interesting toys. They need time out of their cages on a regular basis, and interaction with all members of the family. Due to their sensitive nature and extreme intelligence, an African Grey should never have negative reactions in the training process. Ignoring a behavior while changing the subject seem to work much better with "not" reinforcing a behavior. Excitement and praise seem to work well in reinforcing good behaviors.

The average retail price is from $1,200.00 to about $1,800.00. All prices will depend on locations in the United States.

Timneh Grey — The proper Englishman, gone awry.
Genus: Psittacus
Subspecies: erithacus timneh

The Timneh Grey doesn't have nearly such a confusing background as the African Grey. When studying the range of the Timneh Grey, we start in the same country as we did with the African Grey, but we start at the western edge of the Ivory Coast and go in an arch north-west, ending up in southern Guinea. In following Forshaw's "Parrots of The World," this shows that the range of the Timneh Grey and the African Grey do not overlap. Some people speculate that perhaps they do. Timneh greys inhabit a very small area as compared to the African Grey.

It is a shame we use the African grey as a comparison when trying to describe the Timneh Grey. This is, no doubt, due to the overwhelming abundance of the African Grey as a companion bird, as opposed to the infrequency of available baby Timnehs. Actually, they are quite a bit different in looks and temperament.

The Timneh grey weighs about 250-350 grams and is a deep charcoal grey, with a maroon tail. The scalloping on the feathers is very delicate and breathtaking, due to the contrast of white against charcoal. The tail, can be almost red, through every shade of maroon to browns and even almost black.

The Timneh Grey doesn't seem to carry the same regal air, or dignity, the African Grey projects. Because of this, Timnehs seem to be more capable of being silly and more apt to go to extremes to get your attention, and join in the fun. Timneh Greys are family oriented, and will interact with strangers more readily than a lot of pet parrots.

Timnehs should also have a spacious cage, with a multitude of toys. Most parrots like to hang and swing on toys that hang from the ceiling in their cage, and the Timneh is no exception. They enjoy fighting with their toys. Toys for chewing is a must, so provide plenty of soft wood, especially for that recreation.

Timnehs are excellent talkers, some with hundred word vocabularies. They too, can mimic many different voices and sounds. A natural sound that some seem to find is a short "smoke detector" beep.


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