African Grey Parrots Dissertation

African Grey Parrots are now being bred on a commercial scale in South Africa, mainly for the export market. In order to produce the best breeding results it is necessary to formulate balanced diets but no research has been done on the feeding value for African Grey parrots of ingredients used in formulating diets. Once the apparent metabolisable energy (AME) of extruded maize for African Greys has been established it will be possible to calculate the AME of other ingredients such as full fat soya, soya oil cake or sunflower oil cake. By feeding an extruded mix containing a known amount of maize mixed with a known amount of soya oil cake and establishing experimentally the AME of the mix, the AME of soya oil cake for African Greys can be calculated by difference. This information will make it possible to decide whether AME results obtained for poultry can be used in formulating diets for African Grey parrots. The study consisted of two parts where the determination of the apparent metabolisable energy (AME) of extruded maize and the practical application thereof in formulating parrot diets, and the economic viability of a commercial African Grey parrot breeding operation was investigated. A reference procedure adopted by several European laboratories for the in vivo determination of metabolisable energy (ME) was used to determine the apparent metabolisable energy (AME) of extruded whole maize for African Grey parrots. The long term goal is to make a well balanced, extruded diet for these birds. Extruded maize is the form in which maize is generally included in commercial parrot diets and was therefore chosen as the experimental feed. Maize can be conveniently extruded with other single ingredients such as full fat soyabean meal, soyabean oil cake meal or sunflower oil cake meal to determine, by difference, the AME of those ingredients. For the first part of the study, ten, 3-year-old African Grey parrots were individually housed and fed in cages designed to facilitate collection of the faeces. Cage design varied between a tall type (n=6) and a low type (n=4). The parrots were acclimatized to their new environment before the trial commenced to ensure normal feeding behaviour. The average AME value established for the ten African Grey Parrots was 16.8 MJ/kg. In the trial it became apparent that it is very difficult to get consistent results with the cages used and a modified cage design is proposed for the future. The second part of the study investigated the economic viability of breeding African Grey parrots commercially, with extruded maize as part of their diet. It was generally concluded that the breeding of African Grey parrots for the pet market can be considered as an economical venture.

To look at him, Griffin doesn't seem like he'd be smarter than your typical 4-year-old—he's a bird, after all. Yet the African grey parrot can easily outperform young children on certain tests, including one that measures understanding of volume.

The classic Piagetian test works like this: Show a child two identical glasses of juice and ask which he or she wants. The child will giggle and say the amounts are the same. Then pour the juice into separate containers—one tall and thin, the other short and squat—and again ask the child to choose. Until about age 6, children typically choose the taller container, believing it now holds more.

Griffin, by comparison, wasn't thrown—and was even smart enough to see through subsequent tests designed to fool him—in experiments conducted by Irene Pepperberg, a research associate in Harvard's Psychology Department, and Francesca Cornero '19.

The bird was shown two cups with different amounts of juice, which were then poured into cups—one with a false bottom designed to make the new cups look equal. Each time, Griffin recognized which cup held more, even when the researchers crossed their arms while pouring in an effort to confuse him.

"We first performed tests to see if he would pick the cup that has more, and whether, when we poured them into new but identical cups he would be able to track our hand movements," Pepperberg said. "Then we showed him which has more and which has less and poured the juice into containers that look like they're the same but that are rigged. The idea is that if he's tracking our movements, he can remember which cup has more and won't be fooled by what now looks the same."

These tests are just one way Pepperberg and Cornero explore the intelligence of birds in an effort to better understand the roots of human intellect.

"The idea here is that in their environment, [birds] would need to know that changes in appearance have no effect on quantity: for example, that a squished piece of fruit has the same amount of nutritional value as an un-squished piece of fruit," Pepperberg said. "Birds are separated from us by 300 million years of evolution, and their brains are organized differently than ours … but obviously this type of knowledge is evolutionarily important, because they have it."

Explore further:Research shows sharing tendencies in parrots

This story is published courtesy of the Harvard Gazette, Harvard University's official newspaper. For additional university news, visit

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