Rehabilitated Cape parrot thriving

Edited 24 March 2015

Happy news for Cape parrot fans is that “Red”, a wild-born female Cape parrot rehabilitated from a deadly viral infection and released back into the wild in 2011 has been seen on several occasions visiting a suburban birdbath, apparently healthy and living the life.

The female Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus) was one of four handed over to me in May 2011. All four were severely malnourished and suffering from the deadly Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). My wife and I (plus a few willing helpers) nurtured the four parrots for six intense months before releasing them back into their native range in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.


Red visiting a suburban birdbath – June 2013. © Rodnick Biljon

The ailing parrots could barely walk out of their holding cages when they arrived, but a healthy diet of indigenous food (including their favourite yellowwood nuts) and a stress-free environment led to a steady recovery and eventual successful release for all four of the parrots.

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Red (flying, yellow leg band) mingles with wild birds shortly after her release – Oct 2011. © Rodnick Biljon

We nicknamed this female “Red” because of the large amount of red on her forehead. Usually young Cape parrots show various amounts of red in the forehead, which then almost totally disappears in males as they mature. Females, however, usually retain the red forehead – the amount of red varies from a few specks to a bright red band.

rehabilitated parrots

The rehabilitated parrots mingle with wild parrots shortly after their release – Oct 2011. © Rodnick Biljon

Red was the weakest of the four rehabilitated and released parrots, so we have great hope that the other three are also doing well, and have dispersed back to their preferred territories.

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The four Cape parrots arrive at East London airport the day before release. © Simon Espley

The Cape parrot is endemic to the high-altitude Afromontane mistbelt forests of South Africa where they nest and roost but they also forage in lower lying forests and farmlands. There are fewer than 1 000 individuals left in the wild, making this Africa’s rarest parrot. Major threats include PBFD, habitat loss and illegal capture for the caged bird industry.

cape parrots rehabilitation

Three of the parrots during rehabilitation. © Simon Espley

Thanks to Lizz Espley, Shelley Prince, Michelle Connolly and Philip Connolly for their help during those six crucial months in these parrots’ lives. Their invaluable help included a strict daily feeding and cleaning routine and harvesting of food from neighbourhood trees (yellowwood, wild plum, assegai, Cape ash etc).

Keep the passion.

release cape parrots

The release cage. Red can be seen on the front right. © Simon Espley


Simon Espley

I am a proud African, of the digital tribe, and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. I live in Cape Town with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells, and when not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered account, but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter.

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