Monday, May 9, 2016

African Grey Parrot

African Grey Parrot, Courtesy of Animalia, Inc.
The Organ Lab is excited to partner with Animalia, Inc., to provide high quality skeletal material for public science outreach events. Animalia is a non-profit public charity dedicated to connecting people to animals and nature. Through its numerous presentations of live animals during education outreach programs in schools, libraries, etc., Animalia helps tens of thousands of children each year engage with nature, in order to foster appreciation, conservation, and responsible care for natural habitats and animals. Because Animalia is licensed by the USDA and permitted through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Indiana Department of Natural Resources for wildlife education, possession, and rehabilitation of wild and captive animals, our partnership allows us to bring a wide variety of interesting critters for The Eatles to snack on, and for you – the readers – to feed your brains!

Our first Animalia-supplied animal is an African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). These birds are legendary for their vocal mimicry of a diverse array of sounds and human speech. More impressive, however, is that there are anecdotes suggesting these animals are capable of basic addition and subtraction for numbers less than 8, and that they can use correct names of numbers when counting. African grey parrots can live up to 60 years. Therefore, keeping them as pets is a lifelong investment - financially and emotionally. They build strong relationships with their caretakers and that relationship needs to be nurtured and carefully managed. Their hooked beak is strong enough to crack a nut yet delicate enough to pick flowers (and eat them). They are excellent climbers, using their beak and feet like hands to grip, grab, and hold on.

The African grey parrot has, as one would suspect, grey feathers of varying shades covering its head; over its body, the grey color darkens on its wings. Its tail, however, is a distinctive bright red, making it instantly recognizable. It has a black beak and feet with bare white skin on the face around a yellow eye with a black pupil. More specific information about the cranial anatomy of this marvelous creature can be found in this dissection video from the WitmerLab at Ohio University.

Originally from the lowland forests of West Africa, throughout the dense forests of the Congo in Central Africa, and into the wooded savannah of East Africa, this species is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN due to trapping hundreds of thousands of wild birds for export for the pet trade. Sadly, up to 90% of these birds die before reaching their destination. Even with trade limits and quotas placed by international agencies, many African nations lack the capacity to manage these limitations and illegal trade persists. Before purchasing a parrot as a pet, find out its origin and determine if you have the ability to care for the animal for the next 60 years. To protect wild populations, only consider those that were bred in captivity.

Contributed by: Joel Vanderbush and Jason Organ, PhD.
Pepperberg IM (2006). Grey parrot numerical competence: a review. Animal cognition, 9 (4), 377-91 PMID: 16909236

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