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Rescuing South Africa’s Endangered Cape Parrot…

As with most wild parrots, the story of the Cape parrot of South Africa, is a tale of people and parrot over many generations… We have been fascinated by parrots, their colors, characters and voices. for thousands of years. A longtime ago in prehistory the ancestors of today’s Cape parrot Poicephalus robustus specialized their behavior...

As with most wild parrots, the story of the Cape parrot of South Africa, is a tale of people and parrot over many generations… We have been fascinated by parrots, their colors, characters and voices. for thousands of years. A longtime ago in prehistory the ancestors of today’s Cape parrot Poicephalus robustus specialized their behavior and physiology to depend almost entirely on Outeniqua yellowwood trees for sustenance and nest cavities. They did this because for millions of years there were vast yellowwood forests covering the southern and eastern coastlines of South Africa all the way into Mozambican and Malawian highlands. Back then the parrots thrived in a forest paradise free of undue threat. Their only long-term concern was the slow grind of climate change, which saw these mighty forests slowly retreat to form important forest refugia in the high mountains and sheltered escarpments of South Africa. Forest specialists like the Cape parrot and Samango monkey had done this many, many times before in their evolutionary passage to the present day. They had weathered ice ages and cataclysms in these refugia, but had never witnessed the destructive capabilities of the first European foresters and woodcutters. They had seen disasters like fires and tornados wipe out whole forests, but these events were not the norm and did not continue unabated for centuries. Starting about 350 years ago, our Cape parrot witnessed the complete devastation of South Africa’s indigenous forests to build the Cape Colony, the Union of South Africa, and finally the Republic.


Steve Boyes
Breath-taking cathedral built by Trappist monks out of yellowwood (Left). This thousand year old yellowwood tree called the “Big Tree” is one of only four remaining yellowwoods this size… (Steve Boyes)


Cape parrots would have had yellowwood fruits available to them all year round and these forests were once scattered with massive dead yellowwood snags that stood for centuries as Cape parrot nesting sites. The forests that these parrots flocked over are long gone and can now only be imagined from readings of old travel journals and research notes. Today the indigenous forest these parrots once relied on cannot support them and the parrots have learnt to feed on plums from Japan, cherries from Mexico, pecan nuts from the USA, acorns from England, Jacaranda pods from South America, and seringa fruits from India. None of these food items are good for parrots – too much fat and sugar… The “catch-22” is that without these food resources we would have no Cape parrots.
Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2) data for the endemic Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) in South Africa (
Rodnick Biljon
Cape parrot flying low over a wild plum tree. Africa’s most endangered parrot like never before… (Rodnick Biljon)


After the major population collapse in the 1970s and 80s due to removal of nesting sites and persecution by pecan farmers, the small founding population have reinvented themselves and behave more like a population of feral parrots released into unknown habitat. Parrots are clever and resourceful, and Cape parrots have collectively managed to find a way to exist in what remains of their indigenous habitat. They have food for up to 10 months of the year, falling short between January and March when Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) takes over strips many of the parrots of all their feathers just before winter. There is no doubt that the Cape parrot needs intervention and assistance. The Wild Bird Trust’s Cape Parrot Project works hard everyday to solve problems and mitigate threats to Cape parrots. We plant thousands of yellowwood trees, erect hundreds of nest boxes, help the parrots find suitable feeding sites, maintain safe drinking sites, lead the development of a vaccine for PBFD, and get local communities involved as the custodians of South Africa’s yellowwood forests. Please help us by donating via the World Parrot Trust. Go to:



Nic Armstrong
Local community member from Hala Village taking care of her iziKhwenene Project micro-nursery with 100 yellowwood seedlings… (Nic Armstrong)
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
Over 2,000 yellowwood saplings from our first partnered indigenous tree nursery, the Phampani Medicinal Plant Nursery in Izeleni Village near Stutterheim. (Steve Boyes)
Rodnick Clifton Biljon
Cape parrots number less than 1,000 in the willd and require urgent conservation actions. We need to restore degraded forest habitat and provide temporary solutions to existing problems like nest boxes to to supplement the availability of suitable nest cavities. (Rodnick Clifton Biljon)


Introduction to Cape Parrot Project:


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)


“Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot Revealed Like Never Before…”:


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)


National Geographic “On Assignment” news piece on Cape Parrot Project:


Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project
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 Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)


15-minute insert on the Cape Parrot Project for a popular nature show in South Africa:


Steve Boyes
An adult female Cape parrot that was rescued after being found unable to fly in a swimming pool. She spent 3 months in a warm box on anti-biotics and supplements, and another 3 months in rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. She was to become known as “Alice”. (Steve Boyes)


“We need to do everything we can to guarantee that these shining, amazing parrots are screeching loudly above the yellowwood forests of South Africa forever.” — Dr Steve Boyes


Steve Boyes
Cape parrot displaying advanced symptoms of Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) infection. The feathers have degraded, crumbled and fallen off and the only reason this parrot is still alive is that the beak has not yet broken. We could not catch this individual and it can be accepted that he/she died a few days later. (Steve Boyes)


Community-based conservation work being done:


Steve Boyes / Cape Parrot Project
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 / Cape Parrot Project)


Cape Parrot Project logoWe would like to take this opportunity to thank our funders, sponsors and partners in the Cape Parrot Project, including: Prins Bernhard Natuurfonds, Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, Mazda Wildlife Fund, Abax Foundation, Rance Timber, University of Fort Hare, Cape Parrot Working Group, BirdLife Border, Border Rural Committee, and many charitable donors from around the world… Please help us find new sources of funding to support sustained growth in the work of the Cape Parrot Project.


Please consider donating to the Cape Parrot Project via World Parrot Trust or Wild Bird Trust (Ref: CPP)… 100% of donations go to the Cape Parrot Project!!!

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Steve Boyes
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.