The C.A.P.E.S Stud is situated 75km from the city of Cape Town, at the foot of the Cape Fold Mountains on the Southern Peninsula. With an altitude of 50m above sea level, the region experiences a Mediterranean climate conducive to bird breeding – hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Summer temperatures range from an average minimum of 15°C at night to an average maximum of 27°C during the day, while average winter temperatures range from 7°C at night to 18°C during the day.
Freedom to Fly
Natural environments are crucial to the birds’ well-being and, at C.A.P.E.S., nothing is spared when it comes to the health and happiness of the resident breeding pairs. The Stud’s aviaries are integrated into endemic Fynbos gardens, with indigenous trees like White Milk-wood (Sideroxylon inerme), Wild Pear (Dombeya rotundifolia) and Natal Wild Fig (Ficus natalensis) providing a forest-like environment – and an important sense of security for the birds.
The Stud boasts an aviary design best-suited to the
C.A.P.E.S focuses on breeding programmes of African parrot species only, particularly the genus Poicephalus. Most Poicephalus parrot species are rare in the wild and are under-represented in captivity, both in South Africa and abroad. C.A.P.E.S. believes every effort must be made to ensure that their numbers are upped, through sustainable, viable breeding programmes.
The accepted CITES classification describes three subspecies of the Poicephalus Robutus group – Poicephalus robustus robustus (the True Cape Parrot); Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis and Poicephalus robustus suahelicus (sometimes referred to as the Un-Cape Parrot).
Recent DNA research – as yet unpublished – indicates that the nominate Poicephalus robustus robustus may be a different species from the other two subspecies. The West African Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis and East African Poicephalus robustus suahelicus have been proposed as together representing a new species, P. fuscicollis, with the two subspecies being P. f. fuscicollis (the Brown-necked Parrot) and P. f. suahelicus (the Greyheaded Parrot). This proposal remains controversial and the taxonomy has not yet been accepted by CITES.
A Natural Breeding Environment
C.A.P.E.S focuses on raising fewer species, but in greater numbers. This to ensure the greatest genetic diversity of the progeny produced. This approach allows C.A.P.E.S to socialize offspring of similar ages in large groups, allowing young birds at least five years of vital gregarious interaction – similar to the scenario in the wild – before pairing them up for breeding purposes
C.A.P.E.S’ major project centres on South Africa’s only endemic parrot species, the green Poicephalus robustus robustus. The species numbers approximately 1500 individuals in the wild, and just 200 legal birds in captivity.
C.A.P.E.S endevours to recreate as natural a breeding environment for its stock as is possible. While hand-raising chicks is widely practiced – and is sometimes necessary – the Stud encourages its breeding birds, wherever possible, to incubate their own eggs and to raise their own chicks. C.A.P.E.S has found in its own breeding stock that parent-raised offspring tend to breed more successfully themselves.
Once gregarious socialization of the chicks is complete, around the age of five years, young cocks and hens are encouraged to select their own mates. These pairs are then placed into their own large breeding aviaries. While Poicephalus parrots are, by definition, sexually mature at age three, C.A.P.E.S has observed in its own stock that breeding takes place from seven years old.
Spoilt for Choice
The suspended breeding cages are landscaped with the Cape Parrots’ favourite feeder and nesting tree, the Yellowood tree (Podocarpus falcatus), as well as with fruiting vines. Endemic South African shrubbery completes the ‘forest-in-a-cage’, which lends a sense of safety, security and serenity to the birds’ environment.
Feeding stations and nest boxes are housed within the enclosed sleeping quarters, to which the suspended cages are attached. Yellowood perches are placed up high – 30cm below the top of the cages.
C.A.P.E.S’ breeding stock is presented with a choice of nestboxes – the traditional ‘grandfather clock’ type but also natural logs and sisal stumps in a sheltered area. It has been found that a breeding pair may work in one box, then in the other, whatever takes their fancy at the time.
Nest box preparation has also been found to be conducive to successful breeding. C.A.P.E.S places large Yellowood sticks into the boxes. Dead sticks are collected then washed in Virkom S to kill any micro-organisms and viruses, dried at 180°C in the oven, before being soaked in water. The interior surfaces of the boxes are also rubbed with aromatherapy oils – pine, sandalwood and cedarwood are preferred.
C.A.P.E.S stock usually lays two to five eggs during March and April and/or in October and November, at three day intervals. Fortunately, C.A.P.E.S’ stock seems to require no human intervention to double-clutch. The first clutch of youngsters does not seem to interfere with the second clutch; in fact, it has been found in the Stud’s breeding stock that the hen will incubate the eggs while the cock attends to weening youngsters.
The Stud has also observed how the cock bird keeps the hen company in the nest box throughout the incubation period, which lasts approximately 28 days. Hatchlings – covered in cuddly white down – are fed by both parents from Day One. After 50-60 days, the chicks are ready to fledge. At C.A.P.E.S, fledglings will stay with their parents for six months, before being transferred to the communal socialization aviaries.
Healthy diet, happy birds
In nature, Cape Parrots evolved to eat the fruit of the indigenous Yellowood tree. At C.A.P.E.S., they are fed a varied diet of raw fruits, raw and cooked vegetables, nuts and extruded avian pellets. Raw carrot, cooked yellow maize and pecan nuts are favourite treats, while cooked and sprouted legumes – like yellow peas, maple peas and mung beans – are a must. Birds with newly-hatched chicks also seem to benefit from large helpings of pine-nuts, and C.A.P.E.S stock seem to hone in on this fruit, to the exclusion of any other food during those first two weeks. As fruits from a gymnosperm, could pine-nuts have a similar nutritional value as that of the Yellowood tree, on which they would feast in the wild?