Old World Aviaries

Cape Parrots

by Scott Lewis
Last updated: November, 2003.

Young male Cape Parrot
Young male Brown-necked Cape Parrot (P.f. fuscicollis)

Cape Parrots are the largest members of the African genus Poicephalus, which also includes Senegal, Meyer's, Jardine's, Rueppell's, Red-bellied, Yellow-faced, Brown-headed, and Niam Niam Parrots. Recently, the species has been reclassified. In the past Cape Parrots consisted of one species, Poicephalus robustus, with three subspecies, P.r. robustus, P.r. suahelicus, and P.r. fuscicollis. Now, officially, P.r. robustus is a separate species, P. robustus, the South African Cape Parrot. The two subspecies of Capes that are present in U.S. aviculture are P. fuscicollis fuscicollis, the Brown-necked Parrot, and P.f. suahelicus, the Grey-headed Parrot. P. robustus is not present in the U.S.

The image at right is of a juvenile male Brown-necked Parrot looking especially coy. Males lose their orange crowns as they mature; females do not. Both sexes molt in more orange on the shoulders and upper wings as they mature.

If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to identify my favorite babies of all the birds we breed, I would have to say Capes. A Cape baby is truly a joy to care for. From day one, the shape of the beak makes the baby look like it is always smiling. And as the baby develops, you realize that the smile is genuine. Capes love people. Even as youngsters, they crave attention and seek out their human flock members.

Currently, I am feeding four babies, all of whom are on one or two handfeedings and are flighted. When I feed, I open the doors to the weaning cages. There is a general rush to the doors. As soon as the babies climb on top of the cages, they start flying to me. I typically feed with one baby on each shoulder and one on my head while the fourth baby is actually being fed. All of them are making little Cape baby noises. It is times like these that make breeding birds worth the effort.

Month-old babies
Baby Capes

I am often asked about the talking ability of Capes. Our experience with our babies indicates that they have excellent talking potential. Our babies pick up words and phrases readily with no coaching. When a young male was in our bird room with an Umbrella Cockatoo named Two-ee, he picked up "C'mere Two-ee, C'mere Two-ee, Shut up Two-ee" in a couple of days. Others who have pet Capes have reported good talking ability.

Although Capes have large and strong beaks, our experience is that they are not serious chewers. With the pairs we have, we have had to replace only one perch in 5 years. However, Cape babies must be banded with stainless steel bands. They crush or shear standard aluminum bands. In addition, Capes have a tendency to start picking at the banded leg. If this happens, and the band is not removed promptly, a general plucking problem can develop. Therefore, we do not band our Cape babies.

Cape Parrots appear to get along well with other birds if properly socialized. The photo at right shows one of our babies, Vacheron, a juvenile P.f. fuscicollis female, with a couple of friends.
Vacheron (Squealy) and friends
Vacheron and friends

Capes are relatively rare in U.S. aviculture. Although I don't know for sure, I would guess that there are no more than 50 producing pairs in the U.S. And, these are from two separate subspecies. A few years ago, we all thought that the Capes in the U.S. were all P.f. suahelicus. Now, we know that they are fairly evenly divided between P.f. suahelicus and P.f. fuscicollis.

Unfortunately, trying to keep the subspecies straight may, to a lesser degree, present the same sorts of problems that aviculturists have had with Eclectus Parrots. A few years ago, all breeders assumed that they had P.f. suahelicus because it was assumed that only P.f. suahelicus was imported. So, some breeders who actually have P.f. fuscicollis may not realize that they do. And, like Eclectus, the subspecies of Cape hens are fairly easy to differentiate. But, like Eclectus, the males, with the exception of P. robustus, are similar, although perhaps not as similar as Eclectus males.

Cape Parrots are a key focus of our aviary.

Links to more information on Cape Parrots:

Lexicon of Parrots
African Parrot Society -- Cape Parrot
Thor -- the Thunder Baby. The best pet Cape site on the web.
The Cape Parrot Working Group (P. robustus conservation)
Cape Parrot FAQ

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