African Grey Parrots and Dark Cages?

During the heyday of the bird trade (mid-1970s to mid-1990s), the African Greys Psittacus erithacus was a common trade species; it still continues to be exported to Asia, but Europe, the USA and South Africa have banned the import of wild individuals. When the EU, USA and South Africa allowed imports, the vast majority of the individuals received were adults and were destined for breeders. The wild birds were nervous, growling incessantly and piling up in a cage awaiting a buyer. They were frightened. Many breeders acquiring these birds kept them in subdued lighting in order to calm their nervousness. This method of housing had a positive effect: the birds became less fractious and bred. The generalization that African Greys need dark quarters to breed arose from this early experience. Many wild birds are still breeding and are housed in the same manner.

The question of “Do African Greys need to be kept under low light to breed?” is being answered in this article. The answer to that question is a resounding “No!”

All freshly trapped parrots undergo a dramatic ordeal. They are confined, often the flight feathers are clipped, they are typically fed an unnatural diet and are forced to live in close contact with a large group of birds in a cage. This creates stress. The stress can be eliminated in a multitude of ways. The birds can be kept in a larger space, some branches can be added to the cage, part of the cage can be covered with a blanket and some of the foods they normally eat in the wild can be placed in a food bowl. In the case of African Greys, the combined effect is the same as keeping them in subdued lighting.

For parrots to breed, they require a nesting box, a good diet and an environment where stress is minimized. For wild African Greys, which initially are normally fed only peanuts and/or sunflower seed, the diet can slowly be expanded to include items that are nutritious, rich in carotene (which they derive from eating Oil Palm Elaeeis guinensis seeds in the wild) and fiber. Any nesting box is usually accepted by these parrots, which initially use them to hide. Their nervous disposition typically results in the breeder providing a horizontal or L-shaped nest, as this prevents a fractious bird from diving into the nest and on top of the eggs, breaking them. Finally a quiet place away from other birds (especially noisy cockatoos, macaws and conures) complement what is needed. You will note that a dimly lit room is not a prerequisite.

I have been breeding African Greys for 35 years and never did I house them in a dark room. Initially I did keep them in a small cage, feeling (as was widely believed at the time) that this had a positive effect towards breeding. I no longer accept such an argument. Today I house my birds in flight cages. The most successful African Grey breeders in the world, the South Africans, not uncommonly place their birds when not breeding in large cages where they can exercise. The birds do breed in cages, but they are not nearly as small as the 40 inch (1 meter square) cubicles that early breeders tended to keep them in.

Many breeders still keep their African Greys in subdued lighting, but this is simply because their structures were built long ago and have not been modified. Many breeders also house their African Greys like they would their other birds: in roomy, good sized flight cages exposed to a normal level of natural light or artificial light. They may keep them away from other birds, but not under different lighting. In my case, mine are housed outdoors and except for a shaded area, have access to full sunlight and the natural photoperiod. The African Greys belonging to a broad array of breeders that I know that live near my home in South Florida are similarly housed. I have bred wild and multiple generations of African Greys in both subdued and normal lighting and have not noticed any difference in reproductive output. I keep them in normal light, as that is the environment in which they live in the wild: forest with open areas nearby, which the birds commonly traverse or feed in. They do not live in a somber habitat.

So the answer is simple: House them as you would other parrots but in a quiet area.