The Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) is the largest of the Poicephalus parrots.
The Cape Parrot is the largest parrot of the African genus Poicephalus. It is a short-tailed medium-sized bird with an oversized beak used to crack all sorts of hard nuts, especially those of yellow pine (Podocarpus sp.), and various palms. The species is sexually dimorphic, with females sporting the bright orange frontal patch on the forehead.
The range includes portions of West Africa, East Africa, and south from there to South Africa, including the eastern Cape region.
The accepted classification describes three subspecies of the Cape Parrot. Recent (unpublished) DNA findings might indicate that the nominate Poicephalus robustus robustus may be split as a different species from the other two subspecies, but this is not widely accepted. The West African Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis and East African Poicephalus robustus suahelicus have been proposed as a new species: P. fuscicollis, and its two subspecies would be P. f. fuscicollis (the Brown-necked Parrot) and P. f. suahelicus (the Grey-headed Parrot). The common name Un-cape Parrot has gained limited popularity for the proposed new species.
Their low numbers seem to make Cape Parrots fairly unavailable as pets. But those that are kept as pets have demonstrated wonderful personalities, and a talking ability that rivals their larger cousin the African Grey Parrot. It is hoped that responsible and legal breeding can help to increase their numbers. The ultimate goal would be to provide them needed protection in their native habitat.
The nominate Poicephalus robustus robustus is endangered, but the other two subspecies are found more widely in Africa. Hundreds of volunteers do an annual count in South Africa each May which they call the "Cape Parrot Big Birding Day". Although the population is difficult to count because the birds' habitats have become fragmented, and because they fly long distances for food, recent counts seems to indicate the population has increased from about 500 specimens in May 2000 to over 1000 in May 2006. Their habitat is being eroded mostly due to logging of African Yellowwood trees, and they have suffered from the fatal Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD), a viral infection. The Poicephalus robustus robustus is now World Conservation Union (IUCN) classified as an endangered species. Over one hundred P. robustus robustus parrots are found in aviculture and its survival may depend on captive breeding programs. It is uncommon as a pet parrot. Trade and export of wild-caught Cape Parrots from South Africa has been made illegal by the international CITES agreement (appendix list II) and by South African law. A small trade still persists in the East and West African subspecies.
- Taxonomy of Poicephalus parrots
- Cape Parrot on 50/50 website
- Cape Parrot Working Group website
- The Cape Parrot, University of Kwazulu-Natal
- Cape Parrot Big Birding Day
- Cape Parrot FAQ
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