Changing Planet

Dead Birds Flying: Rescuing the Endangered Cape Parrot…

The National Geographic-funded Cape Parrot Project was launched in 2009 to support CONSERVATION ACTION for Africa’s most endangered parrot and one of South Africa’s most endangered birds. Ongoing research over the last 15-20 years has established that Cape parrots were previously dependent on yellowwood trees for nesting and roosting sites, as well as 99% of their food requirements. The parrots even used to drink water from the “Old Man’s Beard” or treemoss that hung from the giant branches and aerial gardens of the ancient, emergent yellowwood trees that used to dominate the Afromontane forests of South Africa. Today, after 350 years of logging, there are few large hardwood trees remaining, and at some point after 1945 there were suddenly too few yellowwoods left for the parrots and they had to give up even looking for their favorite tree, switching their diet to the new, exotic fruit and nut trees that the people who chopped the yellowwoods down brought along with them. The parrots now feed on pecan nuts from the USA, plums from Japan, Jacaranda pods from South America, Syringa fruits from India, Eucalyptus flowers and Acacia seeds from Australia, and acorns from English oak trees. With this new age, global diet has come excess sugar and fat, as well as a variety of toxins that their bodies are not used to (e.g. cyanide derivatives, arsenic, tannins, myotoxins, aflotoxins and much else). All the remaining Cape parrots are in trouble with remnant, isolated populations riddled with disease, trying their hardest everyday to adapt to life outside of the natural habitat they had depended upon for thousands of years. We work full-time to help them find their feet again…


In November 2008, we established a Cape Parrot Forum to get people talking about Cape Parrots and instantly received over 30 emails with photographs of dead and dying Cape parrots with advanced symptoms of Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) infection. Panicked birders who had photographed these parrots feeding in a tree in their garden each year for as long as a decade and had never seen anything like this before were getting hold of us. There were carcasses in freezers, sad letters, and parrots drowned in pools. Something was deeply wrong… We then established the Cape Parrot Project group on Facebook and started fundraising and networking around mobilizing a reaction to this threat. The photographs were absolutely shocking (see below) and resulted in many people, who did not previously know about the Cape parrot, jumping onboard to help. From NGOs, to government officials, academics, private citizens, business people, and charities, everyone was amazed to find out we have such a beautiful, endemic parrot in South Africa and that there are less than 1,000 adults remaining in the wild. The National Geographic Conservation Trust was the first to fund our efforts in the Cape Parrot Project, thus allowing us to jump right into finding the necessary solutions. Very quickly we discovered a PBFD epidemic with infection rates of 50% in 2010 and 100% in 2011. The drought had been severe during the 2010/2011 Cape parrot breeding season and the result was a food resource bottleneck (i.e. very limited food supply) between January and March that precipitated an outbreak like we had never seen before. Malnutrition and starvation caused the 100% infection rate in 2011 that saw Cape parrots literally fall out of the sky. Between March and June 2011 twelve dying Cape parrots were brought to us by the public. Unable to fly, eight of them died overnight in the clinic, while four brave parrots survived to be rehabilitated for release 6 months later in King William’s Town (South Africa). It was an extremely emotional time for all of us, as we saw these four “dead birds flying” away to join the welcoming flock they had left 6 months before due to illness. We have subsequently re-sighted 3 of the 4 parrots, and have to assume that the missing individual is died, as he was the youngest and weakest upon release. We will continue our work rehabilitating dying Cape parrots in an effort to assist these individuals develop a natural immunity for PBFD. We have seen several sick Cape Parrots this year, but have found none that were unable to fly… Stay informed by joining the Cape Parrot Project group on Facebook.


We would like to thank our funders the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Abax Investments, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership (Conservation International), the Prins Bernhard Natuurfonds (Netherlands), National Research Foundation, and the National Geographic Society Conservation Trust. Many thanks to the many charitable donors that have supported the project. Please support Cape parrot conservation by donating to the Cape Parrot Project via the World Parrot Trust, our longest-standing project partner and fundraiser for the Endangered Cape parrot.
The Cape Parrot is threatened in the wild by habitat loss, illegal trade and disease. Your donation will help us to conduct research vital to the species survival and enforce laws to stop the wild bird trade. (Go to:


Rodnick Biljon
Absolutely stunning portrait of a proud, wild Cape parrot sitting in a Cape lilac tree (often erroneous called a syringa tree). These yellow fruits are thought to be poison, but the parrots have been recorded eating them for over 50 years. (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
A tender moment between a young Cape parrot and the "Cape parrot whisperer", Rodnick Biljon, who has a relationship with these birds like none other I have ever seen. Touching to witness and stunning reality in his photographs. (Rodnick Biljon)
Steve Boyes
Aerial photograph taken during the 2010 aerial survey with the Bateleurs ( over Hogsback Village. On the right is the Aukland Forest reserve with some large yellowwoods remaining and the new smallholdings on the left with domesticated fruit and nut trees. Cape Parrots are having to rely on the smallholdings, as the forest fruits are too few and are hard to find. (Steve Boyes)
Steve Boyes
Cape parrot with advanced symptoms of Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) infection. We tried to catch this poor guy, but failed. Nighttime temperatures went below freezing a few nights after this photograph was taken. There was not much chance of survival. We never found a carcass and never saw this youngster again... (Steve Boyes)
Steve Boyes
"Alice" (Named for the town she was found in) in a "warm box" during her recuperation. For over a month she was crop fed and simply lay in the corner as if dead. She made a remarkable recovery and maintained her hissing wildness (pictured here) throughout her rehabilitation. (Steve Boyes)
Steve Boyes
The "Three Amigos and Red" went from strength to strength during their months in rehabilitation with accelerated recovery happening after they started feeding on yellowwood fruits we harvested. All four parrots regained the weight they lost during the illness, but none of them managed to completely shake the virus. All except "Red" (on right) had no apparent symptoms of PBFD infection. (Steve Boyes)
Steve Boyes
Rehabilitated Cape parrots rejoin the local flock in King William's Town on the morning of the release. I have never heard parrots so excited and amazed. The screeching and growling went on for about an hour as they flew above and around us. (Steve Boyes)


By the end of 2012, we would have planted over 12,000 indigenous in degraded Afromontane forest patches, on communal land, in villages, and areas that were previously indigenous forest. We audit all the trees we plant to determine planting success in order to learn from our mistakes, knowing that we need to plant in the region of 1 million indigenous trees to begin replacing what we removed from these once amazing forests. My March next year, we would erected our first 300 artificial nest boxes for Cape parrots. We have already erected over 200 in time for the upcoming breeding season – all nest box occupations by breeding pairs will be made public in the Cape Parrot Project group. In addition to partnering with local villages to plant thousands of trees and erect nest boxes, we have also launched a micro-nursery program that sees local community members growing all the indigenous seedlings for planting, establishing certain growers as potential small businesses after a year or two. We are constantly working with local communities and provincial government to effect positive change for the Afromontane forests of the Amathole Mountains. Now it is important to note that this is an inter-generational effort that will take us 100 years to establish large yellowwood trees again and another 250 years before these forests are restored to their former glory. How diod we think we were going to replace the 400-1,000 year old trees we were clear-felling in the 1800s? Just because we could do it, didn’t mean we had to do it…


Steve Boyes
The first 2,000 yellowwood saplings ready for planting in the indigenous forests surrounding Hogsback Village. The logistics involved in moving these saplings, storing them, and then getting them into the ground are difficult with rough terrain, wet weather in the mistbelt, and remote planting sites. (Steve Boyes)
Steve Boyes
The second batch of 100 Cape Parrot nest boxes waiting to be erected in the forest in the background, around Hogsback Village, and down into Aukland Forest. We are expecting our first nest box occupations by Cape parrot breeding pairs in the next few months as the breeding season commences. Please join the Cape Parrot Project group to stay up-to-date on developments: (Steve Boyes)
Nic Armstrong
The Sompondo Village growers for the iziKhwenene Project. Each of these community members represents a household with a micro-nursery with 100 yellowwood saplings. As you can see they are excited to be forest custodians. (Nic Armstrong)
Steve Boyes
Hala Village in the valleys below Hogsback Mountain where Cape parrots used to feed on yellowwood fruits, Celtis fruits, wild olives, and wild plums before they were chopped out by greedy colonists or burnt under communal land ownership. We have now planted thousands of indigenous fruit trees in "Cape Parrot Community Orchards" in several villages, fencing them off to protect them from livestock and paying local communities to care for them as the custodians of these forest plots. We have also launched a micro-nursery program that builds small tree nurseries for ten households in the village, which are stocked with yellowwood seedlings that must be grown up to planting size. These partnerships are all going from strength to strength. (Steve Boyes)
Steve Boyes
Nic Armstrong (front in red) and the Hala/Gilton planting team back in 2011, while planting the fenced off indigenous tree orchard near Hala Village. (Steve Boyes)


“uPholi” Want a Forest? Rescuing Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot from Extinction:

The iziKhwenene Project: Establishing Local Communities as Forest Custodians to Save the Cape Parrot –

Some awesome YouTube videos, interviews and articles on the Cape parrot…
The Cape Parrot is threatened in the wild by habitat loss, illegal trade and disease. Your donation will help us to conduct research vital to the species survival and enforce laws to stop the wild bird trade. (Go to:
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.
  • yasmeen

    nice photos 🙂

  • Bas Hissel

    Where can I sign up?

  • G lambert

    Fantastic to see people taking positive action like this.

  • phyllis bala


    THANK YOU to all beings of humanness for your compassionate & responsible stewardship of the birds and their environment. I appreciate immensely your hard work, team efforts and the love that you are.

    My dream and prayers for your work includes acquiring a set of 3 biogeometry cubes from Dr. Ibrahim Karim of Cairo, Egypt that he has scientifically developed to create a harmonizing quality of energy inside buildings, that can assist living beings (human or otherwise) to return to their natural state of health.
    I get no kickbacks (money) from giving you this information; I am wishing that I had the $300 plus US dollars to purchase this set for your organization. If you would like to read more, please google Dr. Ibrahim Karim, biogeometry or Vesica Institute. These harmonizing energies would help the birds grow stronger probably much more quickly, and it looks like time is of the essence.

    Thank you for bringing this information to the world.
    Phyllis Bala

  • Lisa

    Thank the lord for people like you Steve Boyes!! You are doing amazing work!!

  • Corinne Winson

    Awesome to see what a small group with dedication can achieve, especially involving local communities & giving them a sense of ownership. I’ve collected Podacarpus seedlings & seeds with Natalie Rowles of Pinetown KZN for her part in providing trees to Hogsback and her Free Trees for Schools project.

  • James Benet

    Excellent work, Its an inspiring article and video. Hope we create more conscience about saving wild life which can disappear at any moment.

  • Pablo

    Hi again Don, actually I need to get the web corcemme aspect up. There are some of my painting that are on sale; you will have to check the Inner Gallery web link. At some point I expect to sell via my home gallery. A joint exhibition sounds like a great idea. Have you been doing nature stuff (assume it is your photogaraphy?)

  • Saiful

    Squidoo is my FAVORITE online wrtinig platform to make money from home. I’m starting to get addicted to it because I see the huge long term potential. The more Squidoo lenses I make, the more ongoing monthly income I have. And the ad revenue pool goes up a little every month, so it’s like getting an automatic pay raise!

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