THE NATURAL CHOICE: Once a Gray, Always a Gray ...

Eb Cravens

Abstract


'~ cat made her lodgings in one of
the nest boxes and brought up her kittens
in it, and two of the gray parrots
who had not been industrious enough
to lay eggs and have a family of their
own were seized with the idea that
these kittens were their children; they
kept up a constant warfare with the
old cat, and whenever she left the box
one of them used to get in and sit with
the kittens, and they were constantly
in attendance even when the mother
was home."
Charles Buxton, England, 1880s
It has been over 270 years since the
first documented breeding of a pair of
African Gray Parrots by a western aviculturist.
Millions of hookbill keepers
have maintained a lasting love affair
with this intriguing old-world psittacine.
Demand for these vulture-looking
gray parrots with the perceptive eye
and the virtuoso voice seems to
become only stronger with the years.
Locating new sources for handfed
baby grays in a market never saturated
is like trying to obtain male canaries in
September. "Sorry, all sold, thank
you!" 

With recent breeder success
amongst hundreds of Timneh Gray
Parrot pairs set up during import
booms the past ten years, one would
think things a bit easier. Not so. We
have customers in our area who own
two or three parrots, yet still come in
declaring, "I've always wanted a pet
gray. I'm only waiting for the prices to
comedown."
It may be a long wait. Even handfed
timneh prices have risen the past few
years to a level comparable to redtailed
birds. The last lingering criticism
of timnehs as "junk parrots" among
unenlightened dealers near southern
quarantine stations has all but disappeared.
It's about time.
"Timnehs were always considered
the poor man's gray," ventures Don
Wells, one of southern California's
most experienced hookbill breeders.
"Yet we find our timneh chicks can be
the nicest gray babies. They are outgoing,
comical, more voiciferous than
our red-tailed grays - less likely to
just sit there."
"I find the timneh personality calmer,
less neurotic," said Bonnie Zimmerman,
owner of a small, impeccable
facility near Los Angeles. "Half my 

breeders are domestic bred, half wildcaught.
The domestic birds may not
produce as many babies for me, but
there are no thrashings in the nest like
during an earthquake."
Though it is too early to present
concrete evidence, some aviculturists
characterize the Timneh Gray as less
likely to turn to feather picking in
unhappy situations. Picture this: baby
gray comes into his new home, is cuddled
and fawned over by the family
for weeks. Then begins a transition.
Routine settles back to normal; perhaps
the kids go back to school. The
new gray is like a toy whose first
attraction has worn off. Extra food,
treats and attentions are lessened. He
spends more time in his cage. Presto!
Boredom and frustration followed by
feather picking. We've had adorable
red-tailed gray babies who are sold
into seemingly agreeable pet homes
return with plucking habits barely 18
months later! Why grays, everyone is
asking? And why the larger red-taileds
in particular?
Randy Snow, a reputable breeder
and aviary consultant in the Willametre
Valley, Oregon, explains the situation
this way. "You have to remember
there are a tremendous number of
grays out there" he said. "In Amazons,
if one bird in ten plucks, we think little
about it. But, in grays, if ten birds in
100 pick, or 100 birds in 1000; then we
call it a problem." These psittacines
have been under scrutiny so often and
so long that pet owners and breeders
are constantly debating their habits
and propensities.
For example, are African Grays
more intelligent than many other parrots?
They certainly have been given
opportunity to display talents. Irene
Pepperberg's test gray "Alex" is only
one of a host of grays with suspected
cognitive powers. The truth is, had
scientists chosen to work with Yellow-
naped Amazons, Green-winged
Macaws or Black-capped Lories, the
continued years of training would
probably bring the same exclamations
of intelligence in these species. Since
their first "discovery" by Frenchmen
traveling to the Canary Islands in the
1400s, the African Gray Parrot has
been given the best of chances to strut
his stuff!
The past three years, Feathered
Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico has
made a conscious effort to specialize
in Timneh Gray Parrots as pets.


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