With fewer than 1800 individuals in the wild, and as South Africa’s only endemic parrot, the Cape parrot is under threat of extinction.
The Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus) is threatened, with fewer than 2000 individuals in the wild, and is listed nationally as endangered. It is endemic to South Africa, with the largest proportion of the population found in the Eastern Cape province.
This is where Dr Steve Boyes formed the Cape Parrot Project and Wild Bird Trust in 2009, out of a small village called Hogsback. The aim of the project is to conserve the Cape Parrot by using research to fill key knowledge gaps, as well as by partnering with local communities for habitat restoration.
We are a BirdLife Species Guardian and as instrumental stakeholders, our work is closely aligned with the Cape Parrot and Mistbelt Habitat Conservation Action Plan that we helped produce in 2019.
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To better conserve this species, we need sound knowledge of the nesting and feeding requirements of this parrot, as well as the various threats facing it.
The Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) is a medium- sized robust parrot with a green body and a golden head and neck. Adults have small orange patches on the shoulders and leg feathers. Only adult females and not males have an orange-red blaze across the crown. Juveniles have a red-orange band across the crown in their first plumage,which is lost in the male around 10 months old.
Cape Parrots are typically found in high-altitude Afromontane forests. However,these forests were heavily affected by historical logging of large hardwood trees (like Yellowwoods). This has caused a shortage of natural nesting sites (in natural tree hollows) which in turn has resulted in low reproductive output. In addition, historical logging reduced food availability, forcing them to seek food away from their natural forest habitat, making them more vulnerable to the illegal wild bird trade. Cape Parrots are also susceptible to the highly contagious and often fatal Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease.
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease is a real threat to these birds. This disease is often fatal, highly contagious and has rapidly spread throughout the population.
Their diet is varied, comprising a variety of fruits and seeds, and occasionally flowers from indigenous and exotic trees. When eating seeds, they specialise in extracting the nutrient rich kernel using their robust, and sharply hooked bill.
They usually occur in small groups, flying above the canopy of the forest in search of food. Large flocks can be found at some roosting and feeding sites. They become active just before sunrise, flying to a gathering spot before flying off in search of food, and later return to roost at dusk. Cape Parrots usually begin nesting in the late winter and fledge chicks in mid-summer. They can raise up to five chicks, with nests occuring in deep, natural tree hollows situated very high off the ground in large, mature forest hardwood trees.
Restoration of forest habitat aims to promote natural seedling regeneration and to prevent the spread of invasive exotic vegetation.
Given the importance of the indigenous forest for these birds and other forest-dependent species, the project has focused on restoring and protecting local afro-montane indigenous forests. We do this through managing alien vegetation to assist natural forest regeneration, and supplement planting with indigenous species where appropriate. The seeds are collected from a variety of local indigenous trees in the nearby forest and germinated in our handmade compost. We produce thousands of indigenous tree saplings through the community-run nurseries we have built in communities adjacent to forest habitat, and the nursery at our base in Hogsback.
We encourage local communities in South African to embrace the Cape Parrot as a national mascot for the umbrella protection of our forest catchments.
The Cape Parrot Project partners with communities to restore forest habitat. We do this by supporting community members to grow seedlings which we at the Project then buys back. Together with members of these local communities, we plant these seedlings back into appropriate degraded forest habitat. Through this, we strengthen local social-ecological resilience through creating livelihood opportunities in local communities that are dependent on a healthy ecosystem and their surrounding indigenous forest. The project also engages with schools in the nearby local communities for education drives for children to be agents of positive environmental change and increase appreciation for the indigenous forests and all the species that call these forests home.
There is little known about this parrot, with most of the work done by researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the 1990s on northern populations in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa.
To better conserve this species, we need sound knowledge of various aspects of the species biology, and its habitat. Some of the areas we conduct research on include breeding biology, diet and movement, as well as population counts and the prevalence of Beak and Feather Disease. We also conduct research on the forest habitat to understand the impact of contemporary logging on nest-site availability.
Read about all the latest news, research and inspiring stories on The Cape Parrot Project
Dr Steve Boyes lives the ultimate boy’s adventure, When he’s not raising awareness about (and poling through) Botswana’s Okavango Delta, he’s working hands-on to save the seriously threatened Cape Parrot.
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