Cape Parrot Project

Saving the Cape parrot and the forests they depend upon is going to be a multi-generational effort over the next 100 years that will need true “forest custodians”.


Cape Parrot Project (CPP) is based out of Hogsback, in the Eastern Cape, which falls within the most southerly distribution of the Cape parrot. The aim of CPP is to help conserve the endangered Cape parrot through research on the species, community engagement and “reforestation”.

Species Information

Name: Cape Parrot
Alternate Names: Knysna Papagaai, Woudpapagaai,

Genus: Poicephalus   Species: robustus


Research includes the daily monitoring of Cape parrots to determine seasonal movements and dependence on forest patches; recording and analyzing Cape parrot calls to learn more about their behavior (with Prof Anna Young at Otterbein University); monitoring of artificial nest boxes and natural cavities and collecting blood and feather samples to conduct monitor the prevalence of disease (with Prof Ed Rybicki’s lab at UCT). Community engagement is broad spectrum ranging from interacting with local residents, schools and farmers about the vulnerability and importance of the Cape parrot to collaborating with local and national government to see the formal protection of the Amathole forests become reality. The focus of community engagement is to encourage South Africans to embrace the Cape parrot as a national mascot for the umbrella protection of our forest catchments. Reforestation focuses on eradicating areas of alien invasive plants adjacent to indigenous forest and re-planting these areas with indigenous forest trees which reproduce using fleshy fruit. These fruit will then be targeted by frugivorous animals, which then spread the seed via their faecal deposits or dropping the seed when eating the fruit, helping with the reforestation of an area as well as directly increasing the supply of food for the parrot. Support for this portfolio includes the management of an indigenous tree nursery and multiple community and micro-nurseries.

Threat Status

Over the last 150 years, a combination of the degradation of our remaining Afromontane forest patches (limiting food and nesting sites), disease outbreaks most especially Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), direct persecution (e.g. shooting by farmers) and illegal capture for the wild-caught bird trade has decimated the global wild population. There is an estimated 1600 individuals left (Downs et al 2015). No single, isolated population is larger than 400 individuals and all have low breeding success. Currently rated as “Least Concern” by IUCN Red list, but with recent genetic research (Coetzer et al 2015) confirming that the Cape parrot is separate from the Grey-headed parrot (P. fuscicollis), and Brown-necked parrot (P. cryptoxanthus), this listing is in need of urgent updating. Similarly, the Cape parrot is currently on CITES Appendix II, resulting in hundreds of Cape parrots (Poicephalus robustus) being exported and traded as P. fuscicollis to avoid tax and export restrictions.

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Identification of a Cape Parrot versus related Grey-headed Parrot. Photo by JC Carstens

It is a small (300 mm, 300 g) robust green-coloured parrot with a golden head and neck, and some small orange-red patches on legs and wings. Only adult females and not males have an orange-red blaze across the crown. Juveniles have a pink band across the crown in their first plumage (which is lost in the male around 10 months old), but lacks red on legs and wing. They start to breed around 4 years old, and have been recorded to breed all year round, but with a peak between August to February. They are secondary cavity nesters, using holes 6 – 12 m above ground, usually in yellowwood trees. They lay between 2 to 4 eggs and incubate the eggs for around 30 days, when usually only one egg is viable. Nestlings fledge at around 60 days and remain with the parents for about 1 year. They can live up to 35 years in captivity. They are very loud and vocal, especially in flight, with five distinct calls being described as tzu-weee, zu-wee, zz-keek and a nasal zeek. Softer sounds of contentment are made while at rest and when allo-preening. Most of the socializing is done on the wing during lengthy feeding forays from mountain roost sites.

Grey-headed Parrot. Photo by JC Carstens

Watch the video below on how to identify Cape Parrots.


Endemic to the Republic of South Africa. Cape parrots are found along a degraded archipelago of Afromontane forest patches that extend from the Amathole and Transkei regions, to southern KwaZulu-Natal, and an isolated forest in the Limpopo Province. According to some sources, they were once distributed all the way down to George in the Western Cape as recently as the 1860s, and were last seen near Cape Town in 1726.

Distribution of the South African endemic cape parrot, compiled by J.C. Carstens. Based on the map designed by F. Peacock in Downs 2015

Habitat and habits

Cape parrots are forest specialists that rarely feed on the ground, preferring fruits high in the canopy. Cape parrots are dependent on high-altitude Afromontane mistbelt mixed Afrocarpus/Podocarpus forest patches between 1,000 and 1,400m (4,200ft) above sea level. They also need lowland/coastal forests as seasonal feeding sites, but apparently always return to the mountains to roost and socialize. Their diet largely consists of the seeds of yellowwood trees, but they do forage on other tree species, such as stinkwood, when they become available.  Furthermore, due to low availability of preferred yellowwood trees, due to historical and current felling, they have also been recorded feeding on exotic food resources such as apples from England, plums from Japan, cherries from Mexico, acorns from France, pine seeds from Europe, pecan nuts from the USA, and Eucalyptus flowers and black wattle seeds from Australia. They are food nomads inspecting potential feeding sites over a vast area, using acquired knowledge about the location of these sites. They usually occur in small groups (<10) or in family groups (pair with juveniles/non-breeding individuals), but several groups usually congregate at roost sites, at the top of large trees (e.g. Eucalyptus or Podocarpus). They typically become active just after sunrise and aggregate into large flocks that fly to feeding sites in the valleys and on the coast, flying up to 100 km per day to and from these feeding sites. At prime feeding sites that have super-abundant seasonal food resources like pecan orchards the parrots form massive feeding flocks of over 200 to share vigilance and information on other potential feeding sites. They fly back to roost around sun-set.

Ideal afromontane habitat of cape parrot, with ;large yellowwood trees

Ideal afromontane habitat of Cape Parrot, with large yellowwood trees

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Sponsorship Opportunities

Get Involved – Help us grow the Project!

There are several options for your business, corporation, organisation or club to get involved. We rely on donations: large or small to do the work we do. Our accounts are audited. Donations can be sent to our South African bank account or via Paypal where your donations would go towards any number of aspects of the cape parrot project detailed below. For corporate sponsorship  we can send you a proposed budget with set deliverables and then regular reports on how this money has been spent. If you would like some more details, please get in touch with us via the Contacts page.

Community micro-nurseries. Support a local village as part of our community reforestation efforts. Funds will go towards paying micro-nursery owners for indigenous seedlings grown for CPP to use in reforestation programmes; Employment of community members to collect indigenous seeds from forest for micro-nursery owners to germinate seedlings, Employment of community members to run communal nursery

Planting indigenous trees. Sponsor the planting of an indigenous tree. Indigenous trees, particularly the yellowwood, have been historically and even currently targeted for timber. Cape Parrots are extremely dependent on these large indigenous trees for nest sites and food. Although a long-term solution, as these trees take years to produce fruit, we are planting indigenous forest species back into the forest (“rehabilitation”, using a variety of species) and onto private land in the form of “feedlots” (mostly using cape parrot’s preferred species). In addition to providing habitat and food for Cape Parrots, you will be leaving a legacy by perpetuating the existence of our national tree.

Artificial nest boxes. Cape Parrots are secondary cavity nesters and so rely on holes made by other cavity-nesting birds to nest in. They have strict requirements, such as being at the top of a snag (dead tree), as they are long-lived birds and so need to insure their investment in offspring are secure. With historical and current felling of indigenous trees which provided their nest sites, we are building and erecting several hundred artificial nest boxes for them to use.  Sponsor a Cape Parrot nest box and provide a safe home for Cape Parrots!

Environmental Education. We want to invest in the teachers in the Amathole Region who can subsequently invest in students for many years to come by outsourcing for a skills development course. The course would target teachers who teach Life Sciences to Grades 10, 11 and 12 and focus on the Biodiversity aspect of the Life Sciences subject, incorporating information on Cape Parrots.

Support Forest Rangers. Recent meetings with national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) have confirmed an increase in poaching in the indigenous forests. DAFF currently employs a few rangers however they are routinely absent from the area, as the area to be covered is extensive, and they do not work weekends. Thus, a request has been made to augment ranger numbers and training through collaboration with the CPP. These rangers will also be trained to collect environmental data pertaining to sensitive fauna and flora.

Cape Parrot Project education centre. We want Boscobel to be a site for “inspiration, aspiration and learning” by having an area to give presentations to school groups, tourists and locals to learn about the cape parrot and the work we are doing; as well as having a place to hold meetings with government officials and other stakeholders.

Cape Parrot Project conservation huts on Boscobel. Tourism numbers in Hogsback have been on the increase in recent years. Some tourism operators have reported a 20% increase in numbers since 2015. On average, tourist turnover in Hogsback is believed to be around 20-30 people per day. The Boscobel property undoubtedly provides the best views of the hogsback mountains and in combination with the existing conservation activities and the proposed canopy tour (see below), construction of four ‘conservation cottages’ will provide a viable source of revenue as well as increase awareness for the Cape Parrot Project.

Tree canopy tour. Guided tree canopy tours by means of ‘ziplining’ (sliding safely along a cable in a harness) has become a popular ecotourism activity worldwide. The indigenous forest of Hogsback with its giant age-old trees, high endemism and breath-taking views lends itself well to such a venture. This idea has been discussed with key stakeholders in Hogsback and there is consensus that it will improve much needed tourist visitation considerably. Hogsback already has some great attractions (forests, wildlife, relaxed atmosphere, etc) but because the town is remote and not on a major route, tourism numbers remain comparatively low. However, the addition of this venture to the Hogsback activity portfolio might well convince many tourists to visit the area. Once in Hogsback, it is feasible to assume that at least 80% of visitors will embark on the canopy tour where they will be exposed to the Cape Parrot Project and its conservation activities. The zipline will consist of a several hundred meter long cable spanned between the canopies of indigenous trees. There will be no steep fast-sliding sections and the emphasis will be on education, birding and appreciation of nature.

Research on Cape Parrot: student bursaries. We need to know the parrot in order to conserve it properly. We have a full-time research manager who lives and breathes cape parrots by monitoring their population daily. However, we need students to follow up various aspects of the parrots behavioural ecology that the manager has seen by doing the background literature research, field research and write up on this little known bird.

Running costs. We employ 10 permanent staff who work off a renewable yearly contract. Salaries, fuel, maintenance costs of vehicles and equipment, tools and consumables to run the nursery are all needed.

Please get hold of us for more information on how you as an individual or your business or corporation can get involved in our efforts to save Africa’s most endangered parrot!



Read more about our projects

Forests of the Future!
Over 2000 trees planted, and the year has only just begun!


Dr. Kirsten Wimberger

The Cape Parrot Project Director


Dr. Steve Boyes

Founder of the Cape Parrot Project



The Cape Parrot Project
20 Loch Avenue
South Africa

Kate Carstens

The Cape Parrot Project manager


Phone: +27 79 621 8677

Cassie Carstens

The Cape Parrot Research manager


Phone: +27 82 321 3302

Nikki Steyn

Nursery and Boscobel


Nombuyiselo Duma

Reforestation Manager

Thanks to Rodnick Clifton Biljon for access and use of his cape parrot photos.