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Unweaned African Grey

Expert Question

I am from Bucharest/Romania and I have a baby African Grey Parrot that is 17 weeks old. Without knowing I bought him unweaned so I feed him once a day. My problem is that I can’t get him back into his cage. How can I get him to go back into his cage without forcing him? I don't want him to hate the cage or me. I need him to use the cage as I will be returning to work soon and he will be alone. Also, how many hours should he sleep for at night? If he is sleeping in my room and I am watching television until 12pm could this be a problem for his health? When I am watching television the sound is off. He is now sleeping on the door or in a basket near me. I can’t let him in other rooms because they are too cold for him.
Submitted by: Onette

Expert Answer

G'day Onette,

Thank you for sharing. There are certainly some challenging issues that can be discussed from your questions. Your situation really does expose and highlight a lack of preparedness that is unfortunately all too common when people take on the significant role of caring for a companion African Grey Parrot, or any parrot species. You've taken an important step in seeking help and assistance, and for that you should be commended. It is important to realise that there now needs to be a major evaluation on your part concerning how you will need to create a safe and suitable captive environment for an African Grey from here on. Hopefully the resources available here at WPT will be of great assistance to you and your African Grey.

Managing the reluctance to return to his cage…
It's difficult to offer specific advice, as I have no idea what the environment in the room looks like, the degree of aversion your parrot has towards the cage, how you have set your cage up and the history that has been established in association with the cage. All of these considerations would feed into the approach one would need to take to achieve the goal of developing a more positive relationship between the parrot and his cage environment. Regardless of this, some generalised training principles should apply and there are a number of strategies that you can try. Any strategy should incorporate an approximation schedule that provides your African Grey with opportunities to gradually increase his exposure to the cage whilst ensuring that such opportunities are combined with highly motivating rewards. Your main indicator of success in this situation is derived from his body language. Observe him and make note of the visual indicators that convey a sense of comfort and confidence and this will help guide you in knowing when you can increase his exposure and/or proximity to the cage. He is already comfortable on the basket you are using so there's a great, familiar resource that you can start placing in closer proximity to the cage. Working towards the cage, your goal may be having him perch on the basket in front of the cage with the cage door open. Depending on his level of comfort around the cage, you may be able to also incorporate play and handling interactions using the cage as a stand, or utilising the top of the cage as an area where enrichment items and food can be delivered. Set up opportunities for him to explore the cage whilst the door is open and he is freely able to enter and exit. To achieve this, there needs to be a motivator within or on the cage that he is keen to move towards. The creative delivery of his supplementary hand feeding sessions on, or preferably in, the cage may also help to strengthen his association with the cage as a positively reinforcing and non-threatening part of his environment. Free feed opportunities during the day also need to be offered in gradually closer proximity to the cage until eventually you can feed him within the cage. To fully develop a plan for working on desensitisation towards the cage, and establishing approximations for getting him to use the cage willingly, you will definitely need to have a thorough read through the articles that WPT has provided in the Reference Library. Try starting with…

  • The ABC's of Behaviour: Dr. Susan Friedman
  • Shaping New Behaviours: Dr. Susan Friedman
  • Step Up -- Command or Request?: Barbara Heidenreich

Managing rest and exposure to stimuli late at night…
Opinions differ as to the effect on behavioural health of companion parrots that are exposed to various environmental stimuli, such as televisions, late into the night. The obvious answer to most situations where this is a concern is to simply remove the parrot from the room and establish an environment where the bird can achieve some rest without visual or aural distraction. You have noted that you do not consider this possible due to the other rooms in your house being too cold. This is another situation that is very difficult to give you a definite green light on in terms of a specific approach to take. Essentially -- how cold is `too cold'? If you purchased your African Grey in Romania, I assume there are other Grey owners there. It's time to start networking and finding out how other local parrot enthusiasts are catering for their parrots -- something that really should have been done prior to bringing such an animal into your home. Provided that we are not talking about temperatures below freezing, your Grey should adapt to low temperatures if it is allowed time to acclimatise. My own African Grey is kept outdoors year round, and has done in his previous homes for more than 25 years. Whilst our environment does not experience the extreme cold you are exposed to in Romania, overnight winter temperatures here still regularly drop to 0 to 3 degrees Celsius. We have never observed any ill effects of this with any of our birds. Provided he is not exposed to constant cold draughts and he is dry, in an indoor environment, even without heating, he should be fine. Monitor the temperature in the most suitable alternative room and make a judgement from there as to whether it is acceptable to house him there overnight. Also, consider the perching substrate you are using and ensure it is not composed of a material that becomes excessively cold, as this can potentially lead to health problems with his toes and feet in severely cold climates.

Some need for reflection…
In reading through your set of questions and the description of your situation, I personally feel there is a need for some considered reflection on your part as to the suitability of the environment you have for a pet African Grey parrot and what you may need to challenge yourself to do to improve it. I noticed that Dr. Brian Speer has responded to another question you submitted concerning an appropriate diet for an unweaned African Grey. It is important that we continue to reinforce to the parrot owning community just how completely inappropriate it is to purchase a parrot as young as this. This is perhaps the most critical stage of development in a parrot's life. A time where it needs to be socialised with other parrots, provided opportunities to forage, explore its environment, develop its flight skills, muscle tone and coordination, and given time to properly develop its independence. Breeders need to be challenged to ensure that each of these absolutely essential experiences have been catered for prior to being sold. We also need to properly educate ourselves on exactly what our responsibilities are when we make the commitment to keep a parrot in captivity, and what we need to have in place to cater for them in terms of adequate housing, areas for additional enrichment, dietary needs and an understanding of training fundamentals. They deserve no less than that.

Kind Regards from 'Down Under'
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations ( He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators ( and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at