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June 2020’s Animal Of The Month – Cape Parrots

By June 29, 2020 No Comments

June is just about over and it is time for our Animal of the Month – the Cape parrot – to fly out of our Twitter spotlight. We hope you found our tweets @ExoticPetVets informative and fascinating about this critically endangered bird. In case you missed any, here is a summary that you can reference anytime. Did you know?:

  • Cape parrots (Poicephalus robustus) are endemic to only one country in the world – South Africa. The cape parrot is also the only parrot species that is uniquely endemic to South Africa.
  • Even with being endemic just to South Africa, Cape parrots are only found in three out of South Africa’s nine provinces – KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, along with a small population in Limpopo.
  • Within this small range in South Africa, wild Cape parrots are mostly found in the country’s Afromontane Southern Mistbelt forests which cover less than 1% of South Africa’s land mass.
  • Wild Cape parrots are very dependent on the yellowwood tree, which can grow to between 20 and 30 metres in height. The yellowwood also happens to be South Africa’s national tree.
  • The main staple of the wild Cape parrot diet is the kernel of the yellowwood tree fruit, which is only available from June through to November.
  • Another complicating factor in the Cape parrot’s diet is that the yellowwood tree is what is called a “mast seeding” or “mast fruiting” tree, meaning they don’t produce fruit annually. Sometimes six or seven years can pass between fruiting.
  • When the kernels of yellowwood tree fruit are scarce during South Africa’s summer, the Cape parrot will look for food elsewhere in places like coastal forests, gardens and commercial orchards.
  • In addition to being an important food source, Cape parrots are also dependent on the yellowwood tree for their nesting sites. They prefer to nest in dead yellowwoods.
  • Cape parrots are considered to be secondary cavity nesters; meaning, they use natural or abandoned cavities in yellowwood trees as opposed to carving out their own cavities (primary cavity nesters).
  • Cape Parrots can start breeding when they are about four or five years of age. While breeding rates are highest between August and February, Cape parrots can breed year-round. But they only breed every other year.
  • Female Cape parrots lay an average of four eggs, which incubate for about a month. While the female Cape parrot appears to spend more time in the nest, the male is also an active parent and will also tend to the nest and help feed the chicks.
  • Cape parrot chicks will continue to stay with their parents when they’re juveniles. Cape parrot flocks are usually family groups. It is unusual for a Cape parrot flock to exceed 10 individuals.
  • Cape parrots are medium-sized parrots with adults measuring approximately 12 inches long, tip to tail.
  • The feathers on the heads and necks of Cape parrots are a deep beige to olive-yellow. Some female Cape parrots have an extra splash of colour with foreheads that are orange or red. This is something their male counterparts lack.
  • Cape parrots have dark green bodies and wings. The outer edges of their wings are a reddish-orange colour as are their thighs. Their flight and tail feathers are black.
  • Cape parrots have large ivory-coloured beaks, which are powerful enough to eat the yellowwood fruit kernels when they are hard and unripe.
  • Cape parrots evolved to have relatively short wings. That gives them an agility that helps them successfully navigate through the tree tops to flee from predators and to find food.
  • But the short wings that Cape parrots possess are not appropriate for flying long distances. While they are known to fly over 100 kms to find food, Cape parrots are not migratory birds.
  • Over the past 150 years or so the wild Cape parrot population has cratered and they are critically endangered. It was estimated that before 2002, the wild population of Cape parrots dropped to fewer than 500 individuals.
  • Wild Cape parrot numbers have rebounded, but are still very low. In 2009, there was an estimated 1,786 individuals. Since then, the population has dropped again and more recent numbers suggest there could be fewer than 1,500 adults.
  • There are numerous threats to the wild Cape parrot population; including habitat loss, poaching and psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD), which is a virus that causes beak and feather abnormalities.
  • Another threat to Cape parrots are wild bees, who are taking over the tree cavities where Cape parrots build their nests.
  • There has been exciting news recently about the Cape parrot. In 2015, the Cape parrot was recognized as a separate species. Until that year, the Cape parrot was regarded as a sub-species of the Brown-necked parrot.
  • Researchers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa found that the genes of the Cape parrot and the Grey-headed parrot (a sub-species of the Brown-necked parrot) were distinctly different from each other.
  • The researchers also found that the ancestors of the Cape parrot and the Brown-necked parrot diverged genetically more than two million years ago.
  • The Cape parrot being recognized as a separate species is significant for conservation status because subspecies are often not given the same protection as distinct species.
  • In order to keep tabs on the Cape parrot’s numbers in the wild, the Cape Parrot Working Group from the University of Kwazulu-Natal started the Cape Parrot Big Birding Day in 1998.
  • Cape Parrot Big Birding Day is held every year and involves University of Kwazulu-Natal students and volunteer citizen scientists to help count Cape parrots to monitor their population.
  • This year Cape Parrot Big Birding Day was held in May, but participation was restricted because of South Africa’s COVID-19 pandemic regulations. As such, population numbers for 2020 will not be total.
  • Cape parrots are very vocal birds and have been observed as having five distinct calls. They will often vocalize loudly before taking flight and will screech while flying. While resting they will chatter more quietly.
  • Captive Cape parrots are proficient at imitating human speech and other sounds. Some suggest the Cape parrot talking ability is even comparable with African grey parrots, who are renowned for their speaking ability.
  • Cape parrots are long-lived and have an average lifespan of between 30 and 40 years.
Lifelearn Admin

Lifelearn Admin

S. Fontana is a LifeLearn author.

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