On a recent trip to South Africa, I had the amazing opportunity to see Cape Parrots in the wild. I also got to meet Sanjo from the Cape Parrot project to learn more about the project and about the wild Cape Parrots.
The South African Cape Parrots are restricted to a fairly small habitat, the subtropical cloud forests of the eastern Cape. It is a dense wet forest environment with frequent mist and rainfall. The temperatures are cooler because of the 3,000ft+ elevation. It can be fairly warm in the summer but in winter time, these birds can be dealing with below freezing conditions.
This is why it should be no surprise that it was very difficult to get to see them. Not only did we have to travel to a fairly remote part of South Africa, that was only the beginning! Their population is very small and they are quite hard to find. They are considered quite large for an African Parrot, however, they are still a medium parrot at best when you compare with Cockatoos and Macaws. Green parrot, green trees, misty forest, and a broad range makes them a tremendous challenge to see. They travel for many miles from roosting to feeding sites so there is only a brief span of time when you can see them where they live. At night they are sleeping and in the day time they are spread out feeding. Only in the early hours of morning and at dusk can you catch a glimpse of them heading out and coming back.
With the help of Sanjo from the Cape Parrot Project, we set out early in the morning looking for the birds. We woke up and were out by 5AM to catch them as the sun was rising. Unfortunately a thick fog blanketed the entire area. We drove to higher ground to break out of the fog but still could not find them. We walked around several places known to be visited by Capes before we so much as heard a single call from them. Following the calls we saw a small group flying and followed them to the tree they finally landed in. We were lucky to be standing in enough of a clearing to even see where they went. Standing in the forest, it would be impossible to track them.
It was a joy to watch flocks of Capes flying and to listen to their familiar calls. The beautiful South African Cape Parrots are truly a sight to behold. But finding and seeing them is extremely tricky. Although they stay in groups, they aren't quite a "flock bird." The trees they land on are high and dense. They aren't ostentatious like Conures and other parakeets I've seen in the wild. Nor are they shy like Senegal Parrots and other small Poicephalus. They really do fall somewhere in between. They are certainly more shy and prone to spook than other types of parrots but at the same time, they are the most courageous of the Poicephalus genus.
What does that mean? Well, in regards to how close you can approach them or how predictable their movements are, that is how I rank them to be somewhere in between. It was not impossible to get footage of them but it was quite difficult. You have to be very patient, know where to look, and be even more patient still. It took us hours of observation across two days to get to spend just about 15 minutes in their majestic presence. And then, as quickly as they had come, they were gone.
It was so exciting to watch the resemblance of these wild Cape Parrot to Truman, my pet Cape Parrot at home. I got to see preening, calling, and playing behavior in the wild Capes that was essentially identical to the behavior that Truman exhibits. It was just so familiar even though I had never seen a South African Cape in person before.
What is the difference between Truman and the Cape Parrots in South Africa? Truman is a different subspecies. He is definitely not the Poicephalus robustus robustus subspecies. He is one of the other two and most likely the Brown-Necked subspecies (Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis) which is endemic to the semi-rainforests of Sierra Leone region of West Africa. You will notice in the pictures that Truman's subspecies is a bit larger while the South African Cape Parrots have an olive yellow head. Otherwise, they do look the same.
The South African Cape Parrots are extremely rare to find in aviculture or captivity. The ones you find as pets in the US and Europe are of the Brown-Necked Fuscicollis or Grey-Headed Suahelicus subspecies. They are more similar to each other than to the South African Robustus Cape Parrot. We encountered one Robustus Cape at a bird park in Johannesburg and heard that there are a few breeders of them in South Africa. I have yet to see or hear of any Robustus Capes outside of South Africa.
There has been research done by South African researchers and the Cape Parrot project to reclassify the South African Cape Parrot (P. r. r.) as a separate species from the two northern subspecies. They hope that by naming it a separate species, it could end up on the endangered species list and receive CITES protection. However, even as of 2016, Bird Life International and the IUCN Redlist, have not accepted there to be sufficient evidence to name them separate species. Heck, the differences between Timneh and Congo Greys or between Jardine's Parrot subspecies are far more significant than between the most distant Capes.
The biggest difference between South African Cape Parrots and the other two subspecies are not in their appearance but in their living habits. The South African Capes rely almost religiously on the yellowwood tree. They refuse to nest in anything but natural cavities of the yellowwood tree and they also rely on it for food. Not only do they eat the seeds of the fruit of the yellowwood tree, it has been discovered that properties of the yellowwood fruit help give these birds an immune system boost that helps them battle a beak and feather disease epidemic. Their survival depends on the yellowwood tree for fighting disease as well as for feeding and nesting.
Still, regardless of classification, science, politics, or what you call it, the fact that the South African Cape Parrot is critically endangered still stands. There are fewer than 2,000 known South African Parrot Parrots remaining. Deforestation of their peculiar habitat, widespread disease, and some remaining poaching is making their survival questionable. The Cape Parrot Project is performing research to learn more about these birds in order to focus best efforts on their protection. A main focus is replanting yellowwood forests to protect the Capes' natural habitat. The Cape Parrot project receives funding through donations to the Wild Bird Trust.
Here is an interview with Sanjo about Capes and the Cape Parrot Project along with my footage of Cape Parrots in the wild:
Ginger's Parrots Rescue, a 501c3 Rescue based in Arizona, is really innovative when it comes to bird rescue. It is the first of its kind. Ginger's Parrots Rescue specializes in Senegal Parrots and Cockatiels. By being a species oriented rescue, Ginger's is able to put a greater amount of expertise and knowledge into rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting out these parrots.
The Birdie Bus is the newest innovation of Ginger's Parrots Rescue. The bus allows the rescue to go mobile and cruise around the Phoenix area to search for potential adopters for the birds in need. The bus can transport many (but not all) of the rescue's birds at once so that the public can learn about parrots and consider adopting one. Ginger takes the bus to PetSmart adoption days to offer a bird adoption in addition to cat/dog adoptions normally performed inside.
The Birdie Bus itself is really cool. It has 4 different doors so that the bird can get an outside experience in safety. The side and rear door open exposing the bird cages to the outside. Viewers can see and interact with the birds while the cages are securely locked inside the bus. There is also plenty of capacity for moving a tent, tables, chairs, and other items needed at rescue outings.
I went down to Phoenix in November to help Ginger with the Birdie Bus unveiling event. Bird owners from the local parrot community stopped by to show support and people looking to adopt or volunteer came by as well.
Three purposes are served by the Birdie Bus. The first is to get birds out of the rescue for socialization and fresh air. Even if a bus outing does not result in adoptions that day, it is still a victory for the birds to gain experience being out of the rescue and seeing new people. The second purpose is to help the birds find adopters. This is a chance for the birds to meet people and people to meet the birds. Folks going shopping who may have always wanted a parrot have the opportunity to realize that bird adoptions are available! The third goal is to solicit support for the rescue project through donations and volunteers. The bus is fueled not only by gas money but also through a lot of help. The bus does a good job at attracting existing bird owners out of curiosity. They aren't always the best candidates for more birds if they are at their capacity, but having experienced bird owners volunteering is also a big help to the rescue.
There are several ways you can help the Birdie Bus project. The best way is adopting a parrot from Ginger's Parrots Rescue. If you are anywhere near Phoenix and looking for a Senegal Parrot or Cockatiel, this is the place to adopt! Also, Ginger can always use help from local volunteers. But just because you're not adopting or don't live near Arizona, doesn't mean you can't help. The bus needs corporate sponsors, donors, and social media support. If you can send some money, the bus is in need of repairs, maintenance, upgrade, and gas. The rescue is non-profit and depends entirely on donations. Your support will help the rescue get these birds seen by the public and promote the concept of adoption. Finally, even if you don't have any money to spare, you can help by spreading the word. As more people hear about the rescue and the Birdie Bus project, they may choose to adopt, donate, volunteer, or spread the word and the Bus can drive on! Thanks for your help.
Here is a video of the birds going for a ride on the Birdie Bus:
And this is a video of the Birdie Bus unveiling event:
Lori lives near Pittsburgh. This is close enough that we have the chance to visit her and Santina now and then, but from New York it is still quite far. By car, this is 6 hours each way, but by airplane just 2 hours. This is still a committed all day sort of trip, but a day drip nonetheless.
We were greeted in Pittsburgh with snow flurries and bitter cold after a challenging flight through the same weather. We agreed to stay quiet walking into the house to see how Santina reacts to each of us. Marianna went in first and I heard Santina greet her with an enthusiastic "Hi!"
I walked in and there was no denying that Santina remembered me. In no time she had her foot up, asking to step up. I was a little hesitant at first because if Santina forgot me, I could have been met with a vicious bite. She enjoyed some head scratches on my arm, danced around, and played with toys. While it was easy to get her to step up onto my arm, it was a bit of work getting her back off. She would cling on and be very reluctant to get off.
Lori walked in, and Santina couldn't be happier. All of her favorite people in one room. Incredibly, Santina was great with everyone. When I had her, Santina was much a one-person bird. Everyone else was so afraid of her that it was quite difficult to get other people to train her to open up to people. But, since Lori had no other choice but to train Santina, Santina finally got to learn to cooperate with multiple people. Once the bird is friendly with a handful of people, it's no longer a stretch for that bird to learn to be friendly to all people in general.
I could tell that Lori has done a fantastic job training Santina. It took Lori only a few weeks getting Santina to adjust and be good with her. Using training, treats, and patience, Lori had Santina stepping up and allowing head scratches in a very short time. All the time since was developing their own personal relationship and lifestyle. I can tell that not only has Santina adjusted to a new home but Lori has adjusted well to life with a parrot.
We weighed Santina and were really happy to see her weight is spot on. She has a good appetite and has been eating well. Lori has done a good job balancing the feeding Santina was accustomed to with her own variety of foods. Lori demonstrated how she cuddles Santina on the couch as part of their routine.
Then it was time to open presents. Santina was nervous of the wrapping paper so I let Lori try with her. They worked on it together and Santina grew the courage to open it herself. A giant foraging toy for sure! Santina ripped all of the wrapping paper to find a bag full of tasty nuts.
We exchanged gifts and enjoyed a special holiday dinner before heading back off into the sky. We were thrilled to see Santina doing so well and happy and we had a heart warming visit with our new friend. Here is a video of our visit with Lori and Santina the Green-Winged Macaw for the holidays:
It has been a tumultuous few years between adopting Santina, inheriting Rachel through marriage, and having sick birds all over the house. But now, for the first time in over a year, Truman gets reunited with the flock.
The last time Truman had seen Rachel (not counting a brief distant encounter at the wedding), was while I was birdsitting Rachel after the NYC Parrot Adventures Group outings at which I met Marianna. When Marianna moved in with Rachel, we opted to keep Rachel separate while the original three (including Santina) were dealing with health problems in the bird room. Every time we medicated the three, it would appear that Kili and Truman would do better but Santina's condition would return and then some weeks later, everyone else was back to square one.
We decided to experiment with quarantining every bird from each other. This was very difficult and time consuming with hand washing or showering between visiting each bird. After several medications and a lot of time passing, Kili and Rachel improved. Santina was still doing badly and Truman was a bit questionable. So, we had to juggle birds around and do a lot of sanitizing in order to get Rachel and Kili together in the bird room and Santina and Truman quarantined separately.
This September, I rehomed Santina to Lori in Pittsburgh. This was an effort to harmonize my own flock while getting Santina and Lori a wonderful pet situation. Mostly, Truman was doing better but now and then he was still symptomatic. We ended up giving him one more round of medication before going any further.
Without contact with Santina and since medication, the birds appear to be doing well so now it is time to have Truman united with Kili and Rachel. We thoroughly cleaned and sanitized Truman's cage, replaced all of his toys/perches with new ones, and were ready to move him in with the other birds. Just one more thing to do, to give Truman a really thorough washing. Marianna got him really soaked and clean before reintroducing him to the flock.
This is not the first time Truman was reunited with Kili. There was the time Truman was lost for a few days. Also, there were times that Marianna would take Truman to her home for some days at a time. So, it was not a massively surprising situation for Kili, but after going so long without him, she certainly displayed a lot of excitement. Rachel was curious but mainly indifferent. For now he will stay in the same room but a little bit separate during the adjustment period. Check out this video of the Trained Parrot flock reunion:
The Birdie Ring Toss Trick is a true display of agility and intelligence in your companion parrot. Not only does your bird have to use it's noodle to decide which color goes where, it also has to successfully manipulate the ring to go onto the peg.
Here is an old video of Kili demonstrating how she does the color matching ring toss trick. Not only does she put the rings on, she flies with them:
You can purchase the Birdie Ring Toss with 3 colors or 6 colors for most medium to large parrots at my Parrot Wizard Store. The size is perfect for parrots like African Grey, Eclectus, Cockatoo, and Macaw. For smaller parrots like a Senegal Parrot or Conure, it is a bit of a stretch. As you will see in the video in the end, Kili has no trouble handling the oversized rings. If you have a really energetic and well-trained small bird, it is still possible. However, for really small birds like Cockatiels, Budgies, Lovebirds, etc, the trick prop is just way too big.
Now a step by step guide to teaching the Birdie Ring Toss Trick:
Step 1: Teach the bird to fetch. Follow the fetch guide if you haven't already.
Step 2: Teach the parrot to fetch a ring to you. Set aside all of the rings and pegs. Just take one ring out. Lay it down or hand it to your parrot. Use the familiar open-palm fetch command and say "fetch." When the parrot places the ring in your hand, click and reward. If this isn't working out, review fetching other objects and start again.
Step 3: Teach the parrot to fetch a ring onto a peg. Before we confuse the bird with lots of colors, we need to simply teach the mechanics of placing a ring on a single peg. Take one ring and one peg of the same color while setting all of the others aside. Have your parrot fetch the ring to your hand in the vicinity of the peg. Begin to have your parrot fetch the ring to your open hand just above the peg. As the bird is about to drop the peg in your hand, pull your hand back and the bird will end up dropping it onto the peg. Click/reward. Even if the bird doesn't get the ring onto the peg itself but drops it somewhere close, this is progress so click and reward. When the bird improves, hold your hand further and further back. Start to change the open-palm fetch command hand into a point toward the peg. Keep practicing until you can simply place a ring down and the bird will fetch it onto the peg on its own.
Step 4: Teach color matching. Once the bird knows how to put rings onto the peg, it is time to introduce more colors. Start by adding just one more peg to the existing ring/peg combo. The bird has to first learn to ignore the different color peg and continue putting the ring on the matching peg as it did before. This will happen fairly quickly. Things get more complicated when you start shifting positions or adding colors. So, little by little lay on the complexity but not at once! First change places between the pegs. We want the bird to match by color and not by location. So frequently rearrange the positions of the pegs so that the bird can learn that only color matching is required. Whenever the bird puts the ring on the wrong peg, ignore. Don't click, don't give treats, don't say anything. Just stare blankly away from the bird for a few seconds to show that putting the ring on the wrong peg is completely irrelevant to you and then take it off and give the bird the chance to start again. There is no consequence for getting it wrong but likewise no reward. Attention and treats only come for getting it right.
Before you introduce the second ring, I suggest you get rid of the original ring and peg and practice the 2nd color ring/peg for a little while. There's no matching required but this way the bird will start to get used to matching A to A and B to B. Once the bird is good with one color at a time, it is time to introduce two pegs and two rings. When the bird puts the right ring on the right peg, click/reward. When it does not, ignore. Don't rush to correct the bird or take the ring off. Just ignore. If your bird is really struggling, you can cheat and help it a little bit by pointing which peg to put the ring on. These hints may give it the opportunity to get it right, get treats, and remember for next time. Keep practicing until the bird has a near perfect match of the two colors.
You can repeat above steps as you introduce a third color. If the bird is overwhelmed practice a two color regiment by removing one of the original colors and working between the 2nd learned and 3rd new color. Eventually return the other color and have the bird practice with three. You can use a similar process for adding the 4th, 5th, and 6th color. But if your bird is really smart, after doing a bunch of colors, it should rather quickly figure out that additional colors need to be matched with like colors rather than rely on learning one color at a time. This is the mark of an even higher level of cognitive learning.
So this is how you can teach the Birdie Ring Toss Color Matching Trick to your parrot. Knowledge of basic trick training, fetch command, and patience are the requisites. But with those and the steps outlined here, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to teach the Ring Toss Trick to your parrot. Here is a video of Kili helping me outline the major steps in the training process: