Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus


Justification of Red List category
This species is classified as 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.

Population justification
Using density estimates for the now-split P. timneh (4.9-6.0 birds/km2; Fotso 1998a; McGowan 2001), the West African population of P. erithacus is estimated at 40,000-100,000 birds, although central African populations of this species are much larger. The population in Principe is now estimated to be 6,000-8,000 individuals, equivalent to population densities as high as 55-63 birds/km2. 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 P. erithacus 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 (43 years).

Distribution and population

Psittacus 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 Sao Tomé and Principe (Jones and Tye 2006) and Bioko (Equatorial Guinea). Preliminary calculations based on forest cover and country-level population estimates (Dändliker 1992a, b; 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, Uganda, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in the best documented instances such declines have been very severe (Martin et al. 2014; Tamungang 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 P. erithacus and P. timneh (the vast majority P. 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).


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). In Cameroon, traditional smallholder agroforestry plots may maintain important breeding and feeding opportunities for this species, thus playing a role in habitat conservation strategies (Dueker et al. 2019).


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, 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 c.90% 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 the species 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 (Dändliker 1992a; Juste 1996; Clemmons 2003), 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

Conservation Actions Underway
As a result of concerns about international trade, Psittacus erithacus 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; Dueker et al. 2019). Only Cameroon has a published export quota (currently 3000 per annum) (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Until January 2016, the Democratic Republic of the 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 the 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 (Collar and Butchart 2013) 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).


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.


Text account compilers
Everest, J., Clark, J., Symes, A., Westrip, J.R.S.

Bellamy, D., Boyes, S., Chng, S., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Gilardi, J., Hall, P., Hart, J., Hart, T., Lindsell, J., Maisels, F., Martin, R., Michels, A., Phalan, B., Pomeroy, D., Rainey, H. & de Lima, R.F.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Psittacus erithacus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/grey-parrot-psittacus-erithacus on 06/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 06/12/2023.