On Capes and Conservation

May 1, 2011 § 6 Comments

I’ve been learning a lot of fascinating information about Cape Parrots lately.  When I first set out looking for Lola, I had no preference when it came to the two subspecies of Capes that are available in the U.S.: the Grey-Headed [Poicephalus fuscicollis suahelicus], or the Brown-Necked [Poicephalus fuscicollis fuscicollis].  In fact, I didn’t even really know what the differences were at all– I couldn’t tell them apart visually nor did I know that anybody could.  I just wanted a sweet, adorable, big-beaked Cape.  I ended up with my beautiful Lola, who turned out to be a Brown-Necked Parrot [P.f.f.].

A friend of mine in Canada, who writes the blog Just Poifect, is also finally getting her dreamy little female Cape!  We got into a conversation about the different subspecies available and apparently, in Canada, the Grey-Headed is much more common.  It is also, apparently, much larger!  I was speaking to Scott Lewis of Old World Aviaries, one of the leading Cape Parrot breeders, who also takes a great interest in Cape Parrot conservation and wildlife status.  He is a wealth of knowledge!  He breeds both subspecies of Capes, and told me that there are two visual differences: size and coloration.  Whereas a Grey-Headed male (the larger of the two sexes) has an average adult weight of 400-425 grams, the average Brown-Necked male will weigh anywhere from 75-100 grams less.  The Brown-Necked females, however, tend to have much more vivid and widespread coral coloring on their heads and especially their faces.  A Grey-Headed female will have the coral on top of the head, but the cheeks and rest of the head will be more grey, as per their name.  It is not uncommon, however, for a Brown-Necked female to have coral spread along the face and not just the top of the head.

A particularly striking Brown-Necked female (image borrowed from: http://www.wingscentral.org/aps/faqcapes.aspx)

I found all this information fascinating, but also a bit puzzling.  Although Lola definitely has beautiful, coral-colored cheeks (as the Brown-Necked should), she is also quite a hefty little girl!  Her average weights are anywhere among the 350-365 gram range (and she is only a year old), whereas a Brown-Necked male is supposed to average between 300-350 grams.  Scott Lewis agreed that she is quite unusual in terms of size for a female Brown-Necked– she weighs as much as a female Grey-Headed should– but that judging by her coloration on her face, she is definitely a Brown-Necked Parrot.

Funnily enough, had I known about the differences between these two subspecies, I would have been very torn between the Grey-Headed and the Brown-Necked.  Whereas I prefer a parrot larger in size over a smaller, I definitely prefer the beautiful coral cheeks and faces of the smaller Brown-Necked Parrots.  Lola is my perfect little mix: the best of both worlds!

I really do love my Lola, and I take joy in caring for her as best I can: making sure she is healthy, safe, happy, and well-loved.  Thinking about how loved Lola is here makes me feel awful for the wild nominate Capes [Poicephalus robustus] in South Africa.  Right now, wild Capes are facing a horrible Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) outbreak.  The Cape Parrot Project, which works on Cape Parrot conservation, posted this excellent article (a PDF download) on their Facebook page today, basically outlining the current status of the Cape Parrot in the wild. Although they are endangered in the first place, since the disease has broken out, it has been estimated that there are only about 800 left, and as many as 60% may be infected with PBFD.  Wildlife conservations and ornithologists are not 100% sure of the cause, but one of the leading theories is that it is due to stress and malnutrition.  The natural diet of the Cape is the yellowwood tree, but due to habitat destruction (from logging), Capes have had to resort to other food sources like pecans, plums, cherries, etcetera, which could very well have dietary implications.

Reading this article as well as viewing photos of some of the PBFD-infected wild Capes made me very sad but also inspired me to help out and take action.  Although I follow the World Parrot Trust, the Cape Parrot Project, and the wonderful efforts of Dr. Steve Boyes (one of the leading Cape conservationists), I had yet to do anything myself in order to show my support.  This morning, I made a donation to the Cape Parrot Project through the World Parrot Trust here.  I am proud to say that I have done the little I can to support Cape Parrot conservation and strongly encourage anybody else that would like to help keep these beautiful parrots alive to do the same– no donation is too small!  You can donate here (many donation amounts are available).

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§ 6 Responses to On Capes and Conservation

  • Erika says:

    What a great article Coco!! I really found the differences between the greys and browns fascinating as well. I believe the poicephalus robustus is the smallest of the three, is this true? I hope more people help to save these guys. I wonder how many robustus there are in captive breeding programs to hopefully help their future and bring them back from the brink of extinction?

  • Natacha says:

    I actually think there are no Brown-Necked Capes in Canada – I think it’s all Grey-Headed.

    Do you think Lola’s head will ever be that coral? 🙂

    • Coco's Flock says:

      Thanks Erika! I think you are right about the size– I believe they are on par with Brown-Neckeds or a little smaller. I am not very sure about the robustus in breeding programs… probably in S.A. but not here in the U.S.! They have been viewed as a pest by pecan farmers in S.A. though and many are gunned down on sight 😦

      Natacha– good to know! As for Lola… I doubt it. Her coral coloring was actually much brighter as a baby. Now, it is still there, but it is subtle. In the sunlight it is much brighter. Who knows what’ll happen during her next molt though?

  • Saemma says:

    Great article and very fascinating info!! Lola is such a doll! Love her!!

  • Nikki says:

    Great article!

    I am starting to think Oliver is a grey-headed parrot. I finally replaced my broken scale & he weighed close to 400 grams! A couple of months ago I was at a bird shop in West Palm with 2 capes. I thought they were babies, because they were so small compared to Oliver.. the owner told me that they were his adult mated pair. I have been trying to compare the brown-necked & grey-headed parrot pictures with Oliver and can’t tell the difference between the 2.

    • Coco's Flock says:

      Wow! Really? Is Olivia (Stephanie’s Cape) his sister? Because I know that she’s a really tiny girl and definitely a Brown-Necked. How interesting!

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