African Grey parrots have been popular pets for over 4,000 years — ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all kept pet African Greys, and England's King Henry VIII was known to have one. These birds are extremely sociable, loving, and intelligent animals. They are capable of learning hundreds of human words and sounds, which can be used in their proper contexts. Some researchers say that these parrots have intelligence equivalent to that of a six year old child.
One of the most famous African Grey parrots was a bird named Alex, who was owned by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg. From 1977 until the bird's death in 2007, Dr. Pepperberg engaged Alex in intensive language training activities to measure his innate intelligence, first working at University of Arizona and then at Brandeis University. The parrot learned more than 100 words, and was capable of answering simple questions, i.e. "What color is this toy?" A nonprofit organization called the Alex Foundation helped to fund Dr. Pepperberg's work with Alex and two other African Greys, Arthur and Griffin.
A parrot called N'kisi is also famous among African Greys for his language skills. N'kisi's owner, Aimee Morgana, has taught him over 950 words, which he is able to use in complete sentences. He is also known for coming up with his own imaginative phrases, such as "pretty smell medicine" to describe his owner's aromatherapy oils.
Because Alex and N'kisi underwent extensive training with their owners, they are exceptional cases. However, many pet African Grey parrots are able to recite numerous words and phrases, and even imitate sounds like laughter or a ringing phone. Because the birds are so intelligent, they have a tendency to be neurotic at times, and may engage in self-destructive activities like feather-pulling. They tend to bond very strongly with one person, and may be apprehensive or aggressive around others.
People who are considering buying or adopting an African Grey should make sure that they will have ample time to spend with the bird, and that it will not be confined to a cage all day long. When the parrot is in the cage, the owner should make sure that there are an assortment of toys to keep the bird busy. African Grey parrots are extremely intelligent and can be a wonderful addition to any home, but people who are planning to bring one home should make sure that they will be able to give the bird the home that it deserves.