Live From the Field: Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot Hanging On…

This photograph was taken by Rodnick Biljon (King William’s Town’s “Cape parrot whisperer”) under 24 hours ago… For the 11 weeks this young female Cape parrot has been stuck in this same tree, recovering from a debilitating beak and feather disease infection that destroyed her flight feathers and ripped out most of her down feathers. It is an absolute miracle that she has survived so long in the middle of King William’s Town (South Africa), having pushed through bitterly cold weather and the constant threat of predation. We called her “Lady Grey” after a nearby village that her flock from the Stutterheim area would have flown over in search of food in 2011 when drought hit the region. They were making 300 mile round trips from their mountain strongholds every day in search of food. Some parrots like “Lady Grey” just could not keep up! PLEASE SEND YOUR BEST WISHES TO THIS BRAVE CAPE PARROT THAT NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT IN REAL TIME!!!


Rodnick Biljon discovered her in late July when he saw her flying overhead in a flock he monitors for the Cape Parrot Project. A few days later he found her in the wild plum tree she is still in today. At some point towards the end of July she had glided down from the mountains and discovered that she could not possibly fly back, crippled by beak and feather disease and under attack due to her depleted immune system. Rodnick has been photographing the Cape parrots of King William’s Town for over 6 years, spending most of his time with the parrots. He has been with this brave hen for most of the 11 weeks and his special whistle visibly comforts her. As you can see on 18 August, she was very tired and needed a safe place to fight this debilitating disease. She has been silent and invisible green for almost three months and it seems to be working… She still needs to gain a lot of weight and flight will probably not be possible within the next month or two. Do we intervene now after so long or risk another month?


“Lady Grey” has now cleared most of the wild plums from half of the tree and is eating regularly. She has no access to water and has to rely on the fruits. We are contemplating the erection of a water trough in the tree… Every week we discuss the possibility of catching her and rehabilitating her for release back into the wild. We have done this successfully with Cape parrots that could not even support their own body weight. See this National Geographic video for that story: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/specials/in-the-field-specials/boyes-cape-parrot/ Every week we decide to prepare for a capture, but let her carry on doing it herself… If she pulls this off, she would have achieved something truly amazing that gives us hope for the future. These little parrots can hunker down and fight this disease! With less than 1,000 remaining in the wild and beak and feather disease outbreak ripping through all remaining populations, we could be held up to judgement if she dies before being able to fly free again. Something happening to our impressive “Lady Grey” is a constant threat looming over us…


Please post your comments of whether we should intervene and rehabilitate this endangered parrot or give her every chance to recover naturally in the wild? There is no doubt that Cape parrots are endangered because human beings destroyed their natural habitat by removing most of the large hardwoods for commercial timber. When do we take responsibility for our actions or is it most responsible to leave nature to its own devices? How do we best serve the Cape parrot, Africa’s most endangered parrot and ambassadors of the decimated Afromontane yellowwood forests they depend upon?


Rodnick Biljon
31 July: Rodnick had been watching her almost on a daily basis for a week and was getting increasingly worried. When is it time to intervene with a wild parrot that could be rehabilitated in captivity? (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
31 July: Low energy levels, degraded flight feathers, and no muscle have this poor female Cape Parrot grounded in this tree vulnerable to cold condiitions and nocturnal predators. She is alone and every one of her instincts are telling her to fly away to the mountains, but she cannot... (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
1 August: Almost asleep in the middle of the day. From the day she arrived in this tree she was just too warn out to fly or move. You coulkd see that she had surrendered to fate and knew that she could on fight on from this tree of life. (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
1 August: We recorded a 100% infection rate in 2011, but did not catch Cape parrots in 2012 to avoid any disturbance at this critical time. We know there is a problem and now simply need to solve it. (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
18 August: After two weeks in the same tree in nighttime temperatures that had people indoors was working, as she had, at least, still alive and eating between long sleeps. The nagging questions were "when do we help her?" and "how long does she need to suffer?". (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
31 August: After a month in this wild plum tree her conditions seems to be getting worse, as the down feathers continue to fall out. We are currently testing these feathers for Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) virus. (Rodnick Biljon)
Steve Boyes
4 September: The yellow feathers are thought to be the product of an immune reaction that consumes the color pigments. See how the coverage of yellow feathers has increased. Rodnick spends lots of time with her to ensure that she does not fall out of the tree and be attacked or captured. By this time she had formed a strong attachment to Rodnick, which was clear when he approached and made his whistle. Rodnick is our "Cape parrot whisperer" in King William's Town! (Steve Boyes)
Rodnick Biljon
10 September: She exposes her degraded down feathers and poor condition when she jumps to another branch to hide from accumulated onlookers. (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
10 September: Sick Cape parrot perched under the cool, soothing green of the canopy... (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
17 September: Still hanging on after 6 weeks eating wild plums and weathering the brutal cold snaps in the same tree. Her flight feathers are too degraded for sustained flight and her down feathers are too degraded to keep her warm, so infection is taking over. When do we intervene? (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
28 September: After two month in the same tree, the supply of wild plums is about 50% full and her condition has not improved significantly. She seems, at last, to be gaining weight and growing feathers! Every night, however, we risk her being taken by a domestic cat, but this tree is proving to be safe for now. She is eating well, but does not seem to gain weight or improve?! (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
12 October: Young female Cape parrot that has been stuck in the same tree for over two and half months due to advanced symptoms of beak and feather disease. This photograph was taken less than 24 hours ago on the 12th October 2012. She has been there since early August... (Rodnick Biljon)


Please also join the Cape Parrot Project group on Facebook:


This is the largest parrot conservation group on Facebook and will keep you up-to-date on developments with “Lady Grey”… Some beautiful photographs by Rodnick Biljon from earlier in the year…


Rodnick Biljon
5 April: Stunning vision of a healthy male Cape parrot in the canopy of a wild plum tree in King William's Town (South Africa). (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
15 May: Female Cape parrot feeding on the nutritious, oily kernel of the yellowwood fruit. This consumption has been linked to breeding successes in the 2009/2010 breeding season. This fruit also has strong anti-microbial action that could help stave off beak and feather disease infection... (Rodnick Biljon)
Rodnick Biljon
28 June: The future of the species in a stunning pair of Cape parrots. In 2012, we recorded a high proportion of juvenile parrots in feeding flocks, but did not se these parrots in 2011. We hope that the yellowwood fruits in King William's Town have stimulated breeding attempts in the Amathole mountains... (Rodnick Biljon)


We urgently require further funding for the testing of Cape parrot for Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) and the development of mechanisms to fight outbreaks in the wild population. The Wild Bird Trust, Conservation International, Percy FitzPatrick Institute, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Abax Investments, and Mazda Wildlife Fund are planting thousands upon thousands of indigenous trees and erecting hundreds of nest boxes for Cape parrots in the Amathole mountains. Please help us continue this important research and community-based conservation work by donating to the Cape Parrot Project via the World Parrot Trust: http://www.parrots.org/capes/


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.




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.
  • Yvonne Pietersen

    I think Lady Grey needs to be left where she is happy, but please introduce water that contains the much needed antibiotics to help her fight and heal quicker.

  • Lisa Newlin, PDHom

    Help her by using homeopathic remedies! You can put the prescribed remedy in water and let her drink. (Perhaps Sulphur 6c?) It will strengthen her overall constitution.

  • Marlene Hofmeyr

    I am sending all my love and warmest wishes to Lady Grey. We hope that she will recover completely as it seems she is a real fighter. Support and admiration to those who are watching over her. xxx

  • Donna Shore

    Please rescue Lady Grey, I have been following her progress through Rodnick Bijon’s compassionate photo journalistic skills and my heart is breaking for this sweet long-suffering creature. I’d love to see her to be able to fly off and follow the rest of the flock and if she recovers, won’t she have an immunity built up having already experienced the disease?

  • Elli Yeadon

    I’m leaning toward securing her and taking her in! Then she can be better protected from the cold snaps and offered effective nutritional and supplemental support.
    (As has been done with other compromised Cape Parrots who’ve recovered and been released .)

    The cold and narrow nutrition profile do threaten her compromised immune system. She needs to be warm to avoid wasting prescious resources as her body fights to throw the virus.

    It sounds hopeful but it could take some time before she’s able to fly. A miracle she made it this far!
    With so few Cape Parrots left, humane intervention could be paramount.

    I used to think we should allow ‘nature’ to do its thing, but so many species are in peril because of huge neg impact by man. Our world is no longer ‘natural’ or pristine. We can’t expect them to do well after global disruption.

    Time to preserve.

  • D.

    I believe that if you can help her to recover using natural remedies, that would be the best course for her. If she recovers from this disease WITHOUT antibiotics, she will have developed a high level of antibodies to this disease (her natural immunity), and her offspring may have a higher degree of resistance to this disease (i’m not talking about a kind of miracle, this is a common natural process). This could be important for the species. I wouldn’t hesitate to install the water provider in the tree, as this is only assisting her to recover in a natural way. Best wishes to Lady Grey, and thank you for all you are doing for this species!

  • Nancy

    I think we should intervene and help finish her rehabilitation! It is clear she has a fighting spirit and will to live; this is a trait she will pass on to future generations if she makes it; I think now is when help should be given to ensure a complete recovery!

  • Philippa Castle

    Lady Grey is NOT happy and needs your help – do whatever you can, she has come into your life for a reason…
    I have been a Bach Flower Therapist since 2007 and can highly recommend this form of Energy Medicine. Add 4 drops of Rescue Remedy and 2 drops of Star of Bethlehem to Lady Grey’s water feeder. This can be replenished each time the water is changed, but will last as long as the water does. Bach Flower Remedies can be ordered directly from http://www.vital.co.za
    p.s. I left this comment overnight and woke up thinking about Lady Grey… She is in no way responsible for the ills now ravaging her body and intervention to help heal her is surely a must…

  • parrotrescueuk

    Many wild animal rescues take the sick or injured animals to a specialist care and rehabilitation center so why should you treat this parrot different from a fox that has been hit by traffic or a deer caught in wire …. and once 100% healthy return to the wild.

    kind regards dawn

  • James Holmes

    Hi Steve, I understand your ethical dilemma, but the situation with the Cape Parrots is an emergency. Whatever action is taken must be for the best of species and with the low numbers, it means each individual is precious. I don’t believe that letting nature take its course is a viable strategy at this time if intervention means a better chance for survival. Once the population is stable you can reassess.

  • Elsa

    Every single bird is important and given the threat to them, I think every effort should be made to save her immediately. It is a miracle that she survived until now

  • kplrm

    If human begins caused her problems, why feel bad if you do decide on a positive action to balance it out? After all, there’s no way to avoid the effects of 7 billion people. She’s probably breathing some of the car exhaust from my drive to work earlier this year (in my circumstances, bicycles and public transportation are not an option). Unless I missed something, you’re a private individual, so there’s no government policy at issue, nor any laws that would be broken. That being the case, it seems to me the question is What’s best for her?

    In any decision, there’s a calculated risk either way. All any of us can do is get the best advice we can, try to find out what’s best, ask for support when it’s available, and move ahead. Be prepared for joy or grief, because even a good decision can end in sadness.

    Regardless of your decision, any decent person will only respect you for trying to do what’s right and good.

    Best wishes to you, sir.

  • Wendy Thorpe

    A very tough decision! But if you can rehabilitate her and return her to the wild safely, then I believe that you should do it, as there are too few left to take a chance. Thank you Rodnick for your caring …. you must wake anxious every morning. Thinking very good thoughts for her total recovery.

  • Margaret

    Think of how much you can learn by saving this bird…..please save her, she came into your life for a reason……..

  • Suneya

    Mankind has caused such terrible damage to the Cape parrots natural antibiotic food source and habitat that these poor birds are on the danger list and even their health is suffering. I feel to intevene positively and help any of these strong willed little fighters to have a better chance of survival cannot be seen either as a crime or to be against anyones ethics.
    If one bird can be saved by man, when mankind has knowingly destroyed the parrots homes and food sources, it is only a very small token of repayment to these birds and will be keeping alive another valuable gene base.
    I saw a documentary where the members of a film crew were not able to rescue a baby turtle who had fallen into one of their own deep footprints and was unable to get out to make its journey to the sea. How very sad is that? Please do not have the possible death of this bird on your conscience.

  • Mary Ann

    Please intervene. With so few parrots left, Lady Grey has shown she is a survivor, but now needs help. Can’t you try to rehab her and then let her go back where her flock is? Please help her.

  • Jill Mortimer

    I am shocked that Lady Grey has not been helped and that she has been allowed to suffer like this. WE have taken away all their natural food and it is OUR fault that she has had to eat food which have allowed this terrible disease to take over. Every single Parrot is important. That she has survived this far is amazing – but why let her suffer further – take her in and help her rehabilitate fully.

  • Etta

    When such little intervention could make so much difference. She has hung on because she is tough but even the tough need help at times. Get her someplace where she does not have to deal with the added burden the weather is placing on her system right now and give her the meds she needs. Had this been done in the first few weeks after she had been found she would probably be well enough to go on with her life right now.

  • Toinette Royston

    I am SHOCKED to see that a person, with common sense, has NOT helped her! How can you not even offer her some water? I am truly hurt by your ignorance to help her! Are the photographs for fame????
    If 1 of your children get a disease would you leave the child in a room with just enough food to sustain him/herself and take photos and wait for death???? You should know how birds hide their illness, so I am sure that poor Lady Grey’s illness are far worse than you can imagine! Help her!!!!!!!

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