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Current Research Programmes

Saving Cape Parrots and their forests

The Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus has been confirmed to be a separate species, and as such is endangered and endemic to a few Afromontane forest patches in South Africa. With less than 1 500 individuals remaining in the wild, it is threatened by a diversity of impacts ranging from habitat loss to illegal trade and disease. Tackling this array of threats makes it a useful model for developing and testing different conservation strategies, and it is a valuable flagship species for conserving its habitat.

The Cape Parrot Project, initiated in 2009, is a long-term project which aims to conserve the Cape Parrot through research, education, and reforestation efforts in partnership with government, local communities, conservation partners, and research collaborators.

Activities in 2016:

  • Appointed Cassie Carstens as a research manager to focus on reforestation and community partnerships. Employed six people from the local community to work in the reforestation programme.
  • The project base has moved to a large property in Hogsback (Boscobel), where the nursery, germination rooms, storage facilities, and accommodation for two managers is available.
  • Artificial nest boxes erected in 2010/2011 were repaired and were inspected for use by parrots or other cavity-nesting species.
  • Recorded large amounts of sightings data to start understanding their use of the landscape at different times of the day and in different seasons, where they forage and breed in indigenous forest patches.
  • Successfully developed a technique of attaching a tracking transmitter onto a parrot, using a captive Grey-headed Parrot P. fuscicollis, enabling us to apply for ethics clearance to track wild parrot movements.
  • Hosted three students from UCT, who helped with the capture and sampling of Cape Parrots, and two international students from Otterbein University, who helped with collecting data on parrot vocalizations for a collaborative project with their supervisor, Prof Anna Young.
  • BSc Hons student Sanjo Rose worked as a research assistant for three months helping to collect data on parrots.
  • Promoted Cape Parrots with educational posters, marketing material (logos on pencils, banners, etc.), attending festivals (BirdLife Bird Fair), and visiting schools.
  • Continued working with the Department of Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Eastern Cape Tourism and Parks to demarcate and proclaim new protected areas.
  • Built a large nursery in Hogsback and a germination room to grow tree seedlings.
  • Seed collection teams gathered ~ 230,000 seeds from Afrocarpus falcatus, Harpephylium caffrum, Podocarpus latifolius, Olea africana africana, and Vepris sp. for germination.
  • Continued working with 20 micro-nurseries in Sompondo village to grow seedlings. Busy building them a large communal nursery to help with water supply.
  • Continued preparation of planting sites, tree-planting, and alien invasive removal.


  • Published a short note describing the rarely witnessed mating behaviour of Cape Parrots.
  • Located and monitored several new natural nests being used by Cape Parrots, including one with chicks.
  • Uncovered a possible Cape Parrot capture and trafficking hub in Alice. Information from investigation given to the provincial Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs (DEDEA) legal compliance division, who are investigating.

Looking forward: Research plan for 2017 and long-term goals

  • Have hired new staff, including a project manager, and project assistant. Will be hiring a research assistant.
  • Will employ community members to run the communal nursery and help the micro-nursery owners to grow stock for re-sale; look at establishing in other villages.
  • Will be investigating the seasonal movement of parrots in the Amathole mountain range through radio-telemetry, while continuing behavioural ecological observations of parrots in and around Hogsback.
  • Will continue to increase the capacity of nurseries to produce indigenous trees that can be planted in reforestation and feed lot sites, and sold to other organisations for their reforestation efforts.
  • Will secure several reforestation and rehabilitation sites for planting of indigenous trees and clearing of alien invasive plants, such as working on riparian zones on pine plantation land.
  • Will work with local pecan orchard farmers to develop a “parrot friendly pecan nut” initiative.
  • Will fund a Skills Development Course for teachers in the Amathole Region, where they will incorporate information on Cape Parrots and forest conservation into the curriculum to teach Grade 10, 11 and 12 learners.

Impact of the project

By learning more about Cape Parrots, we are able to better conserve the species. For instance, by understanding the characteristics of natural nest cavities (e.g. position, type of tree) we can improve the use of artificial nest boxes. Finding where they travel in different seasons and the indigenous tree species they rely on for fruit gives us a better idea of areas that need to be protected and incorporated into reserves. Increased capacity to grow trees allows us to populate degraded habitat with indigenous trees for use by forest species, particularly Cape Parrots.

Key co-sponsors

Abax Foundation; Ford Wildlife Foundation; Roland and Dawn Amall Foundation.

Research team

Dr Steve Boyes (FIAO, UCT)
Dr Kirsten Wimberger (Wild Bird Trust, Cape Parrot project director)
Dr Helen Fox (Wild Bird Trust)
Cassie Carstens (Wild Bird Trust)
Nikki Steyn (Wild Bird Trust)