Adoption Success Story: Gigi the African Grey

Article from “The Mickaboo Bird Rescue Companion”
Published April, 2023

By Jeff Hammel, Adopter

african grey with ownerIt was still the height of COVID shelter in place when I decided to get a parrot. The one pet I had had as an adult, an adorable cat named Lilly, had died several years ago, and while I was happy to share my wife's Corgi, Charlie, I wanted a pet of my own. We adore crows, and this love of crows grew to a love of birds (having cute backyard birds like the mockingbird helped, as well as the high drama of hummingbirds). It is not legal nor generally a good idea to have a captive crow, and it took a long time to let go of the idea of a pet crow. The pandemic left plenty of time to watch critter videos online, giving rise to a love of parrots. I am the sort of person that likes to research something exhaustively before commiting to a decision, particularly one that is a lifetime commitment. I was originally going to buy a lovebird as I had no idea that parrot rescues like Mickaboo even existed and they're adorable and I thought at the time they might be easier than a larger parrot. Thankfully, before I found a lovebird for sale, my wife's friend pointed us towards Mickaboo and other rescues.

I had no idea that so many parrots needed rescuing. It makes sense: parrots live a long time and they are intelligent, loud, and uppity. I like intelligent, loud, and uppity creatures, but for those who want a cuddly pet that is not going to challenge them, a parrot probably isn't the best fit. I understand how "that cute parrot in the youtube video" and "that crazy bird that screams when I leave the room" may seem the difference between night and day. Once we were registered with Mickaboo and had taken the class and initial screenings, it was on to choose a species. I put down African Grey, Amazon, and Lovebird, which is still probably the order I'd go with (my love for the more uppity cockatoos came too late in the process and while I might enjoy a cockatoo "screaming in my ear", as my phone screener put it, my wife may very well not). I wanted a bird with a lot of personality; I was not to be disappointed. At the time, there were few African Greys with Mickaboo; many of them had issues that were too daunting for me as a first-time bird owner. I figured as long as the process had taken to that point, there would be several months in negotiation with the African Grey coordinator before moving on to Amazons (which Mickaboo had many of at the time). Imagine my surprise when I was told there was a healthy African Grey parrot named GiGi waiting to be surrendered and picked up that weekend.African Grey hanging upside down in cage

Going with African Grey species coordinator Valerie Thomas to pick up GiGi, my wife and I had no idea what to expect. When we picked up GiGi she was in a tiny cockatiel cage where she had spent the entire ten years of her life in. She was hanging upside down from the top of her cage looking very fierce and dragon-like, which helped give rise to calling her Dragon as one of her many nicknamess. We were told she didn't like to be out of her cage ... she does, she is just phobic per her species' reputation. We were told she couldn't fly...she absolutely can, but mostly only does this when she panics. Valerie said that she was the tiniest Congo African Grey she had seen: "the size of a Timneh", which is a phrase that's stuck with my heart. GiGi was weighed at 337g by the vet: the size of a Timmneh indeed! It is less cute when one realizes it was probably from a life of malnutrition and lack of exercise. My wife and I got GiGi home, got her settled, and then faced the reality that we were living on book knowledge alone. Valerie later brought a cage much more appropriate to an African Grey.

The expectations and concerns before getting a parrot were so different after the fact than prior to. Before getting GiGi, I was hoping I would have a bird that liked climbing (she does! Do any parrots not?). I was worried I would have to get her off a diet of seeds and nuts. I was worried an African Grey would pluck. I was worried a parrot would knock over all of our tchotchkes. The reality is, GiGi loves her pellets and her fruit and other than cracking open nuts hasn't found much use for them yet. She is picture perfect and does not pluck. One thing I was not prepared for was a cage-bound bird. When we got GiGi she rarely left her cage. She still doesn't step up. While I extensively researched "how to own a parrot" before and after getting GiGi, there really isn't much on dealing with a cage-bound bird. Even the materials I have found on cage-bound birds mostly assume some level of stepping up. GiGi is fiercely independent; while this probably helped her cope with ten years in a tiny cage, it does make it harder to build that trust bridge.

African Grey playing with toyIt is a slow journey but a rewarding one. Nearly a year later and I still don't feel I know much about bird ownership, at least in the same way that growing up with dogs and cats makes me feel I know them. It is not a natural process, but what can one expect from an animal locked in a cage away from a large flock? While she ventures out a bit, GiGi still spends most of her time in her cage. She accepts scritches from my wife but only a few from me. She still doesn't step up. I am probably making so many mistakes as a first-time bird owner, and it is sad that GiGi has to bear the brunt of them. But she seems happy, and I love her. I am still learning parrot body language, and she seems so much happier than when we got her. GiGi very quickly became part of our family. When we are sad, she is sweet and empathetic. When we laugh, she laughs (she is a very laughy bird!). It is so joyful to see the childlike wonder when GiGi is playing or just talking with us or trying out new sounds. Whether African Greys have the IQ and EQ of a 5-7 year old human I can't assess, but I can certainly say that she is super-smart and feels very deeply. She really just wants to be part of the family and have us -- her friends -- around her. I am honored to build a trust bridge with GiGi that will meet in the middle.

Why get a parrot? I wouldn't recommend adopting a parrot to anyone who is less than 100% committed if they hadn't owned birds before. GiGi talks a lot. She will scream if we leave the room and she wants us around (I think it is adorable; it is a bit much for my wife sometimes). She is independent to the point of being stubborn; I thought I could outstubborn most any creature, but GiGi is about my match. More than anything owning a parrot is a huge commitment time-wise as well as dealing with a creature closer to crocodiles on the evolutionary ladder than cats and dogs. But in the end, I have a tiny little fierce friend whose friendship will only grow over the years. While GiGi is fierce, more than anything she is kind, sweet, and -- like myself -- just trying to make the best of the world. Mickaboo has been very helpful in both advice and assistance in taking me from someone that never cared for a bird to someone that, most days, kinda thinks that he knows what he's doing a bit (most days, mind you!). It is a continuing journey to learn how to care for parrots; it is an even more rewarding journey to share a life with this unique and beautiful creature: GiGi. Thank you, everyone at Mickaboo, for making journeys like mine and GiGi's possible.

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