Deafness and Blindness in African Greys

Jean Pattison, The African Queen

The Deaf Grey

Breeding season was in full swing and my nursery was loaded with baby greys. During the morning feeding I peeked into two nest boxes and both had three chicks. Since the parents were at the back of the box and the chicks were all huddled together, I decided to pull the chicks. One clutch was surprisingly calm during the walk back to the house. Once I had them all tucked into the nursery I finished the daily feeding.

I returned to the nursery and checked on the new additions. The one clutch had a distinct calmness about them. I tidied up a bit and glanced at the chicks throughout the nursery while I worked.

My eyes fell upon the calm clutch of chicks and I happened to notice two of them scooting about and settling themselves in, while the third chick slept oblivious to the stirrings in the nursery. I saw one of the chicks move into the sleeping baby and the sleeper jumped with such a start it almost scared me. Something seemed strange. I watched on and off as I worked and noticed the sleeper being startled every time one of the siblings touched her. I picked her up and examined her, but didn't find anything unusual. My mind raced as I tried to put pieces together. I began to feel perhaps something neurological was going on. If that were the case, perhaps this chick had been injured or subjected to something viral, and I became really concerned.

Since they were already in the nursery, the damage had already been done. I removed this clutch to my husband's office and the one sleeper I placed in my bedroom near my computer. I have often placed a chick in my lap while working on the computer and they seem to respond to the sounds the computer makes.

After a few days of feeding the chicks all seemed normal with the siblings, but the "sleeper" wasn't quite right. The "sleeper" would jump at the oddest times, and seem to just pop up all of a sudden. My husband even started calling her Popcorn. Her feeding response was good, and her begging noises were pretty normal.

I had made an appointment with my veterinarian, but since she is mobile it was going to be a few days. Popcorn was a pleasure and it was very convenient to have her in my lap while working on the computer and spending time with her. One evening while working she was asleep, which she did more than any other chick I ever had, the volume on the computer had been turned up and made a horrible noise. Popcorn slept right through it. I sat back and watched her as I clapped my hands repeatedly, as loud as I could. She never flinched ... so, my little girl was deaf? That would explain a lot about how she acted and reacted to a lot of situations.

When my vet did see her she verified the deafness, and we have concluded it was probably due to the very high temperatures in Florida during that developmental time in incubation. Everything else about her seems to be normal.

I learned early on to walk heavy, or cause vibrations before touching her so she would not be startled. She vocalizes just as a normal grey, but off-key. She sounds like most other African greys, but she has her own distinct sound. She also vocalizes at the right times of day. Often she will start vocalizing just minutes before all the other outside greys. Sometimes she starts a few minutes after they do. When she was a house bird, she would react and sing when it rained outside just like all the others. Although African greys commonly hang upside down from the tops of their cages, Popcorn will hang upside down from her perch for hours on end as well as the top of the cage. She also lays on her back on the floor of the cage for long periods of time. One other oddity is, she will lean her head so far back it lays on her back, as if "star gazing," but this is just what she does. Popcorn is a pretty normal grey otherwise and a joy to have around. Of course she can't talk or mimic, but she has "special songs" she sings.

Blind as a Bat, Bud

A single man had gotten married and Bud, his African grey, had to go. Bud ended up at my house. He was a great pet and loved his owner very much, but he acclimated well and even took a mate. Bud did have one horrible habit though ... he could imitate the passing of gas in every imaginable way. Of course he always did this when you were standing next to his cage talking to a NON-bird person.

After about two years of living here, Bud was placed with a mate and they made their home in a five-foot flight cage. After about a year, with the two being together, I began to notice Bud would sit on the perch at a bit of a slant, or angle. At first I just threw it off as his new way of sitting, since I saw no injuries or other obvious cause. I became a bit concerned when he would lunge at his mate at weird times, and apparently for no reason. He never hurt her, but it was an odd behavior, and I could not figure out why. (The lunging quit after a period of adjustment.)

My flights have a wire shelf just at perch level where the food crocks are placed. Bud always stood on the edge of the shelf and would place a foot on the dish and step up not removing the other foot on the perch. He would then put the one foot back on the perch and wait until I took the food bowl out and then replace it. He then would put his one foot on the bowl and begin to sort through the food looking for his peanut. He always ate with one foot on the perch and one foot on the bowl. His first food out of the bowl is a peanut. He is one of the few that gets a peanut every day. His owner made me promise to always give him his peanut, so I do. One day I was replacing the bowl and realized I forgot his peanut. As I pulled the bowl back out Bud's uplifted foot missed the edge of the food dish, and he stumbled. Instantly things fell into place, Bud was blind.

Now I know why Bud does weird things. He leads with his head, as he walks across the perch, which causes his beak to touch the wire first. He always climbs on the wire when visiting me, but way higher than my head. He is never at eye level with me, and he looks crooked at me when I talk to him. Bud doesn't seem to care to fly at all any more, but he does climb all over his cage, and will come over to talk and visit with you at the drop of a hat. He sits like a sentinel at the nest box entrance when his mate is on eggs. The eggs are never fertile, and I don't know if they will ever be, but that's not too important. Bud knows where he is, and everything is familiar to him, so for now, we will just leave it that way. By the way, he still gets the peanut first out of the food dish.