Psittacus erithacus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Psittaciformes Psittacidae

Scientific Name: Psittacus erithacus
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name(s):
English Grey Parrot
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
Identification information: 33 cm. A mottled grey, medium-sized parrot. It has a large black bill and white mask enclosing a yellow eye, and has a striking red vent and tail. Similar spp. Timneh Parrot P. timneh is smaller and is darker than P. erithacus, with a light horn-coloured area on the bill and a darker maroon tail, and its call is distinctive. The native ranges of the two species do not overlap, but escapes occur.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bcd+3bcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
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., Martin, R. & Chng, S.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Symes, A. & Westrip, J.
This species has been uplisted to Endangered 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).

Previously published Red List assessments:

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 UgandaKenya and Tanzania, 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 1998a), subtracting estimates for P. timneh, suggest a global population of between 560,000 and 12.7 million individuals (Pilgrim et al. in prep.).  Local population declines have been noted in Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Togo, Uganda, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in the best documented instances such declines have been very severe (Tamungang et al. 2014, Martin et al. 2014). In all of these declines, trapping for the wild bird trade has been implicated, with habitat loss also potentially having significant impacts throughout West and East Africa. From 1982 to 2014, over 1.3 million wild-caught individuals of erithacus and timneh (the vast majority erithacus) entered international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2016). Considering estimates of pre-export mortality, and illegal trade, the number of birds extracted from the wild during this period may have exceeded this. Cameroon accounted for 48% of exports from 1990-1996 (Waugh 2010), and estimates that c.90% 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).
Countries occurrence:
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
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:4490000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:11-100Continuing decline in number of locations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Upper elevation limit (metres):2200
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 (1998a), 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 species 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.

Trend Justification:  Population declines have been noted in Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, 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. Data suggested that c.21 % of the wild population is being harvested annually, and in addition forest loss during 1990-2000 was estimated to be particularly high in Côte d'Ivoire (31%) and Nigeria (26%). The total number birds extracted from the wild during the period 1982 to 2014 may have been c.1.3 million (UNEP-WCMC 2016), with perhaps some 100,000 birds per year being captured in Cameroon during the late 1990s and early 2000s (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2012). The rate of decline is hard to quantify, but given the massive level of capture for trade and the high levels of forest loss in parts of the range the decline is likely to be in the range of 50-79% in three generations (47 years).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:2-100Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation:1-89

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
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):15.5
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

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 1.3 million wild-caught individuals of both erithacus and timneh (the vast majority erithacus) entered international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2016), and considering the pre-trade mortality can be 30-66% (Fotso 1998a and b, McGowan 2001, Hart 2013), the number collected could far exceed this figure (Martin et al. 2014, R. Martin in litt. 2016). During 1984 – 1992, more than 50,000 individual wild birds were traded annually (UNEP-WCMC 2016). 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). There has been a reduction in the trade of this species, partly due to extra trade restrictions, but also due to population declines, which leads collectors to move onto populations previously not harvested (R. Martin in litt. 2016). The majority of legal exports are now from central Africa, and difficulties regulating trade mean that quotas have been regularly exceeded (CITES 2016). In addition illegal international trafficking occurs but levels are difficult to quantify (R. Martin in litt. 2016).
Because it concentrates in traditional nesting, 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 1998a, McGowan 2001, Clemmons 2003, A. Michels in litt. 2012).

Forest loss is also negatively impacting populations, and is considered to have contributed to declines in Ghana and may be a larger threat than the pet trade in Cameroon (Tamungang and Cheke 2012, Annorbah et al. 2016). The loss of large trees with nesting cavities may be particularly detrimental. Although some observers have noted populations are associated with primary forest (Dandliker 1992, Clemmons 2003, Juste 1996), permanent populations in semi-urban areas, and its frequent use of farm-bush, plantations and secondary forest suggest this species may be robust to some habitat change (Tamungang and Cheke 2012, R. Martin in litt. 2014).

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. There have been multiple CITES Reviews of Significant Trade of this species, and together with additional trade restrictions this has resulted in reductions in international trade of this species (R. Martin in litt. 2016) and the species has now been moved to CITES Appendix I (S. Chng in litt. 2016). Only Cameroon has a published export quota (currently 3000 per annum) (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Until January 2016 the Democratic Republic of Congo had a quota of 5,000 per annum, but this quota was not kept to and many people traded using false permits (CITES 2016). Monitoring of exploited areas and trapping sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in addition to outreach initiatives led by the Provincial government has resulted in the protection of some of this species's largest breeding areas (Hart et al. 2016, R. Martin, in litt. 2016). 
An EU-CITES Capacity Building Project ‘Strengthening Capacity for Monitoring and Regulation of International Trade of African Grey Parrots’ was undertaken in 2013 involving participants from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. This involved trials of monitoring parrot populations and trade, while it also developed a framework for the establishment of national management plans of this species (R. Martin in litt. 2016). The species occurs in a number of protected areas.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Establish institutional structures for regulation of trade and scientifically robust methods for establishing non-detrimental levels of exploitation (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Ensure that proposed trade restrictions are implemented. Monitor wild populations to determine ongoing trends. Extend captive breeding efforts to both meet avicultural demands and assist with reintroduction and supplementation efforts. Develop protocols for management of parrots confiscated from trade (R. Martin in litt. 2016).

Classifications [top]

14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.5. Artificial/Terrestrial - Urban Areas
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.4. Artificial/Terrestrial - Rural Gardens
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.3. Artificial/Terrestrial - Plantations
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
2. Savanna -> 2.1. Savanna - Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.9. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.8. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Swamp
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.7. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Mangrove Vegetation Above High Tide Level
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.5. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
3. Species management -> 3.4. Ex-situ conservation -> 3.4.1. Captive breeding/artificial propagation

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:No
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Invasive species control or prevention:No
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:No
  Included in international legislation:No
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.2. Small-holder farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 5 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 7 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 5 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Annorbah, N. N. D.; Collar, N. J.; Marsden, S. J. 2016. Trade and habitat change virtually eliminate the Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus from Ghana. Ibis 158: 82-91.

CITES. 2016. Interpretation and implementation of the Convention. Compliance and enforcement. application of article xiii. SC66 Doc. 28 .

Clemmons, J. R. 2003. Status survey of the African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh) and development of a management program in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Unpublished report to the CITES secretariat. Geneva.

Collar, N. J. 1997. Psittacidae (Parrots). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 280-477. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Collar, N.J. and Butchart, S.H.M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook 48(1): 7-28.

Dandliker, G. 1992. Le Perroquet Gris (Psittacus erithacus) en Guinée: evaluation des populations, contribution à la biologie, étude de l'exploitation commerciale et recommendations pour la gestion. Report sur le projet CITES S-30. CITES Secretariat, Geneva.

Dändliker, G. 1992. The Grey Parrot in Ghana: a population survey, a contribution to the biology of the species, a study of its commercial exploitation and management recommendations.

Fotso, R. 1998a. Survey status of the distribution and utilization of the Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) in Cameroon.

Fotso, R. 1998b. Etude sur l'état, la répartition géographique et l'utilisation du perroquet gris (Psittacus erithacus) dans la République démocratique du Congo.

Fry, C. H.; Keith, S.; Urban, E. K. 1988. The birds of Africa vol III. Academic Press, London.

Gatter, W. 1997. Birds of Liberia. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Hart, J. 2013. Congo's quintessential parrot. PsittaScene Winter: 16-19.

Hart, J.; Hart, T.; Salumu, L.; Bernard, A.; Abani, R.; Martin R. 2016. Increasing exploitation of grey parrots in eastern DRC drives population declines. Oryx 50: 16.

Inskipp, T.; Broad, S.; Luxmoore, R. 1988. Significant trade in wildlife: a review of selected species in CITES Appendix II, 3: Birds. IUCN & CITES Secretariat, Cambridge, U.K.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. Available at: (Accessed: 07 December 2016).

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. Available at:

Juniper, T.; Parr, M. 1998. Parrots: a guide to the parrots of the world. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Juste, J. B. 1996. Trade in the Gray Parrot Psittacus erithacus on the Island of Principe (Sao Tome and Principe, Central Africa): initial assessment of the activity and its impact. Biological Conservation 76: 101-104.

Martin, R. O.; Perrin, M. R.; Boyes, R. S.; Abebe, Y. D.; Annorbah, N. D.; Asamoah, A.; Bizimana, D.; Bobo, K. S.; Bunbury, N.; Brouwer, J.; Diop, M. S.; Ewnetu, M.; Fotso, R. C.; Garteh, J.; Hall, P.; Holbech, L. H.; Madindou, I. R.; Maisels, F.; Mokoko, J.; Mulwa, R.; Reuleaux, A.; Symes, C.; Tamungang, S.; Taylor, S.; Valle, S.; Waltert, M.; Wondafrash, M. 2014. Research and conservation of the larger parrots of Africa and Madagascar: a review of knowledge gaps and opportunities. Ostrich 85: 205-233.

McGowan, P. 2001. Status, management and conservation of the African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus in Nigeria. CITES Secretariat, Geneva.

Steve Boyes. 2013. Unsustainable Grey Parrot Trade in South Africa. National Geographic Explorer's Journal.

Tamungang, S. A.; Cheke, R. A. 2012. Population status and management plan of the African Grey Parrot in Cameroon. Review of Significant Trade. CITES.

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Citation: BirdLife International. 2017. Psittacus erithacus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22724813A111471911. . Downloaded on 26 May 2017.
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