Psittacus erithacus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Psittacus erithacus
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name(s):
English Grey Parrot
Taxonomic Notes: The West African form timneh of Grey Parrot P. erithacus shows substantial morphological differences from erithacus, and the two forms have an allopatric distribution: the treatment of the two as separate species has been accepted by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2abcd+3bcd+4abcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2013-11-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Bellamy, D., Boyes, S., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Gilardi, J., Hall, P., Hart, J., Hart, T., Lindsell, J., Michels, A., Phalan, B., Pomeroy, D. & Rainey, H.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Symes, A.
This species has been uplisted to Vulnerable because the extent of the annual harvest for international trade, in combination with the rate of ongoing habitat loss, means it is now suspected to be undergoing rapid declines over three generations (47 years).

2012 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Psittacus erithacus has been split into P. timneh and P. erithacus. P. erithacus has a distribution extending from southeastern Côte d'Ivoire east through the moist lowland forests of West Africa to Cameroon, and thence in the Congo forests to just east of the Albertine Rift (up to the shores of Lake Victoria) in Uganda and Kenya and south to northern Angola (Juniper and Parr 1998), as well as on the islands of Principe (Sao Tomé and Principe) and Bioko (Equatorial Guinea). Preliminary calculations based on forest cover and country-level population estimates (Dändliker 1992a, 1992b, Collar 1997, Fotso 1998b, JRC 2000), subtracting estimates for P. timneh, suggest a global population of between 560,000 and 12.7 million individuals (Pilgrim et al. in prep.). Population declines have been noted in Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Togo, Uganda and parts of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In all of these declines, trapping for the wild bird trade has been implicated, with habitat loss also having significant impacts throughout West and East Africa. From 1982 to 2001, over 657,000 wild-caught individuals of erithacus and timneh (the vast majority erithacus) entered international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2003). Considering estimates for pre-export mortality, the number of birds extracted from the wild during this period may well have numbered over 1 million (A. Michels in litt. 2012). Cameroon accounted for 48% of exports from 1990-1996 (Waugh 2010), and estimates that c90% of trapped birds died before reaching Douala airport suggest, although quotas remained at 12,000, over 100,000 birds were being captured in Cameroon annually during this period (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2012).
Angola (Angola); Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Ghana; Kenya; Nigeria; Rwanda; Sao Tomé and Principe; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda
Benin; Togo
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Gatter (1997) estimated two breeding pairs/ km2 of P. timneh in logged forest north of Zwedru, Liberia. McGowan (2001) provided similar estimates of nest densities in Nigeria of 0.5-2.1/km2, believing the higher end to be more accurate. This would indicate 4.2 breeding birds/km2 plus non-breeding birds (the remaining 70-85% of the population, as estimated by Fotso (1998b), giving estimates of 4.9-6.0 birds/km2. These estimates are substantially higher than those of 0.3-0.5 birds/km2 in good habitat in Guinea (timneh) and 0.9-2.2 birds/km2 (in evergreen forests) or 0.15-0.45 birds/km2 (in semi-deciduous forests) in Ghana. Using these density estimates, the overall P. timneh population was estimated at 120,100-259,000 birds, and the West African population of P. erithacus at 40,000-100,000 birds, although central African populations of this subspecies are much larger. Using a global land cover classification, a digitised map of the species's range from Benson et al. (1988), and estimates of density 0.15-0.45 birds/km2 in semi-deciduous forest (including deciduous forest) and 0.3-6.0 birds/km2 in evergreen forest (including swamp forest and mangrove), supplemented by post-1995 published national estimates where available, an initial coarse assessment of the global population of this species (subtracting estimates for the now-split P. timneh) is 0.56-12.7 million individuals.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Although typically inhabiting dense forest, they are commonly observed at forest edges, clearings, gallery forest, mangroves, wooded savannah, cultivated areas, and even gardens (Juniper and Parr 1998), but it is not clear whether these are self-sustaining populations. At least in West Africa, the species makes seasonal movements out of the driest parts of the range in the dry season. It is highly gregarious, forming large roosts at least historically containing up to 10,000 individuals (Juniper and Parr 1998). Feeding takes place in smaller groups of up to 30 birds and the diet consists of a variety of fruits and seeds, while the nest is in a tree cavity 10-30 m above ground (Juniper and Parr 1998). Nesting is usually solitary, but can take place in loose colonies, for example in Principe, while the breeding season varies across the range (Juniper and Parr 1998).

Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): It is one of the most popular avian pets in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East due to its longevity and unparalleled ability to mimic human speech and other sounds. Demand for wild birds is also increasing in China, and increased presence of Chinese businesses in central Africa (particularly for mining, oil and logging) may increase illegal exports of this species (F. Maisels in litt. 2006, H. Rainey in litt. 2006). From 1982 to 2001, over 657,000 wild-caught individuals of both erithacus and timneh (the vast majority erithacus) entered international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2005). Considering estimates for pre-export mortality, the number of birds extracted from the wild during this period may well have numbered over 1 million (A. Michels in litt. 2012). In the late 1990s and early 2000s Cameroon exported an annual quota of 10,000 birds; estimates that c90% of trapped birds died before reaching Douala airport suggest that some 100,000 birds per year were being captured in Cameroon during that period (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2012). Official statistics give exports of 367,166 individuals from Cameroon in the period 1981-2005, and the country accounted for 48% of exports between 1990-1996 (Waugh 2010). Up to 10,000 wild-caught birds from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are apparently imported into South Africa each year (S. Boyes in litt. 2011). Because it concentrates in traditional roosting, drinking and mineral lick sites, it is especially vulnerable to trapping pressure. Habitat loss is undoubtedly having significant impacts, particularly throughout West and East Africa. In addition to capture for international trade, there is an active internal trade in live birds for pets and exhibition (McGowan 2001, Clemmons 2003, A. Michels in litt. 2012). The species is also hunted in parts of the range as bushmeat and to supply heads, legs and tail feathers for use as medicine or in black magic (Fotso 1998, McGowan 2001, Clemmons 2003, A. Michels in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
As a result of concerns about international trade, P. e. princeps was put on CITES Appendix I in 1975, and the remainder of the species was put on CITES Appendix II with all Psittaciformes in 1981 at the request of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In 1994, the P. e. princeps CITES listing was removed due to lack of evidence that it is a valid subspecies. Due to concern about the effects of the large numbers of this species traded, it was the subject of a CITES significant trade review, in which it was listed as of "possible concern" (Inskipp et al. 1988). The Animals Committee of CITES recommended a two-year ban from January 2007 in Cameroon. For a further two countries - Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo - the Committee has recommended that quotas should be halved to 4,000 and 5,000 birds respectively. The species occurs in a number of protected areas.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Ensure that proposed trade restrictions are implemented. Monitor wild populations to determine ongoing trends. Consider banning trade in Congo and DRC, as both countries are lacking the necessary capacity to manage it (H. Rainey in litt. 2007).  Extend captive breeding efforts to both meet avicultural demands and assist with reintroduction and supplementation efforts.

Citation: BirdLife International 2013. Psittacus erithacus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 20 December 2014.
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