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Bringing Back the Magic: A Transformational Memior
Clumsiness, A Fact of Life With Some Young Greys
By Margaret T. Wright
Sunny from Florida wrote: I’d like to tell you about my 12 month-old African Grey, Homer. He’s a good talker and is quite cuddly and loving. I’d do anything to keep him safe and happy.

The one problem is his falling. Homer falls frequently, sometimes 3 or more times in one day. Sometimes he is clumsy as he plays and misses a step and falls. Sometimes he flings himself to the ground–hitting the window, the wall, or something on the floor. Other times I see no reason at all for him to fall. I just hear a thud and there he is on the ground. Of course the tile is heavily padded with two layers of carpet padding, plastic sheeting and newspapers but he frequently hurts himself anyway. He even falls in his cage so that is padded with heavy foam rubber, plastic and newspapers too. Just yesterday he got a small cut above his beak while I was out. I have no idea what happened to him and it worries me. I am at my wits end.

When we think of parrots, probably the image of the playful and athletic Amazon or the intellectual prowess of the African Grey comes to mind. But I’m sure few people realize, until they have one, how incredibly clumsy many young African Greys can be. I remember when Merlin Tewillager was a baby she would fall so much that I was nervous about leaving home, even for short periods. When she was six months old she fell off the shower curtain rod, and as I caught her, she said "thank you." This was a double shock because, at that point, she had not yet learned to talk. 

Another example, when Sweet Pea first came to live with me at 10 months old, I remember my heart stopping every time she fell. One night after she was covered up I heard this frantic flapping. I rushed over to the cage to find her right wing caught in the food bowl holder. She had obviously lost her balance in her sleep and fallen backwards onto the holder rim. After thanking my lucky stars that I was there, I took all miscellaneous perches out of the cage and repositioned her sleeping perch so that she would fall only on the padded cage bottom.

Many young Greys are not so lucky. They can suffer very serious injuries, like broken bones and split keels—the skin over the breast bone tears open. For example, Palomo P. Parrot fell in the bird store at five months old. He had a two inch hole in his chest which re-opened when he fell again the day after his owners, Mary and Marty, took him home. They had to give him antibiotics and wash the area twice a day. By the end of that week Palomo was terrified to be touched; and Mary and Marty were nervous about leaving him alone, even for minutes.

The fact is that African Greys are not clumsy in the wild; but in captivity, they can become quite clumsy when their wing clippings are too short. It is also believed that much of the clumsiness stems from the fact that many Grey chicks are clipped too early in their development, resulting in coordination and other problems; therefore, many breeders now allow the baby chicks to fledge and fly for a certain period in order to develop their coordination, before being clipped to go home with their new owners.

If your special Grey companion is a little clumsy, please take extra precautions to keep it safe. The following are a few ideas to consider to minimize falling accidents:

  • First, always check with your veterinarian to make sure there are no physical problems causing your Grey’s clumsiness....and make sure it is checked out thoroughly. For example, Congo Twia Kasuku fell so often that his first owners left him in the cage often, for fear that he would keep hurting himself. Apparently, his wing had been broken as a baby chick when he was shipped from the breeder to his first owners, which healed out of joint and no one ever discovered, until his second owners had a thorough physical exam done on him, a few years later.
  • Take the bottom grate out of the cage, and pad the bottom with towels to ensure the softest surface possible. If the bottom grate doesn’t come out, place the soft materials on top of it. Be sure the materials are not toxic to your Grey; and be sure to change the paper often to keep the bottom clean.
  • Make sure the perches are close to the cage floor so that your Grey doesn’t have too far too fall. Also, place the food bowls close to the floor. Overtime, as it becomes more coordinated, start moving the perches up.
  • Carefully position the cage perches so that they are not on top of each other, and do not overload the cage with excess toys. If your Grey is suddenly frightened or just flutters to get its balance, he or she may be injured either by falling on other perches or by getting tangled up in the toys. Rotating two to three toys at a time in the cage should keep your Grey sufficiently occupied.
  • Make sure your Grey’s wings are not clipped too short because fuller wings can help break the impact of the fall. This also applies to claws.
  • Some young Greys don’t always grasp very tightly when they’re perching. To improve their agility and clinging strength you may consider doing foot exercises. Your veterinarian can help you develop appropriate exercises. You may want to also encourage safe play that can build up body strength. For example, Twia was encouraged by his new owner Nancy to play on a rope boing hanging from the ceiling which built up his body and wing strength and he is now very coordinated and agile. Please note that the boing was placed in a safe area over soft carpet flooring so that when he fell, it didn’t hurt, and he became more confident in himself.
  • If the clumsiness is extreme, there are companies which will custom build short cages for your Grey. Also, there are other forms of cages, such as the rabbit cage. Further, the best types of cages for African Greys are at least 24" depth by 24" width or wider, as wide as 32" or 36 inches; but they do not need to have tall cages. Contact your local bird store for names of manufacturers.
  • Make sure your Grey is supervised when playing away from the cage, and supply padding in areas where your Grey appears to fall. Further, if you have a metal "apron" around the cage, take it off because many young Greys have had serious injuries, such as split keels, from falling off the cages onto the aprons. If you’re concerned about a food mess, put a plastic office mat under the cage, so you can wipe up the food and poop later. You can get office mats from most office business stores.

Not all young Greys are clumsy; however, it is better to be prepared. But if there are some baby falls, remember that this too shall pass. They do grow out of it.

All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without permission of the author.

This article was published in the Summer 1994 issue of The Grey Play Round Table Magazine.

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