Everything You Need to Know About the Cape Parrot

Pet Type


November 5, 2020

Also known as Levaillant’s parrot, the Cape parrot is an exotic bird with captivating looks and a warm personality. It’s South Africa’s only native parrot, and bird specialists describe it as one of the prettiest parrot species on the African continent. While these beautiful birds make exceptional family pets, they are also incredibly rare, adding to their allure.

Getting to Know the Cape Parrot

The National Geographic Society describes this species as Africa’s most endangered parrot, and considering that they have an ever-dwindling habitat is a true testament to that fact. The Cape parrot relies on the real yellowwood for food, and it’s also where they nest.

Unfortunately, loggers also favor the same tree for furniture, meaning that the parrots are slowly losing their natural habitat over time.

According to multiple reports, South Africa’s real yellowwoods population has decreased by over 60% in the past two centuries. The drastic loss along with the Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease virus that’s often fatal have contributed significantly to the declining numbers of Cape parrots.

The Cape Parrot’s Native Region

As previously mentioned, the Cape parrot is native to South Africa. This species occupies the smallest geographical region in Africa as compared to other parrots. Its populations are spread out across the South African provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape.

Specifically, the parrot prefers the Afromontane woodlands that are just adjacent to the country’s coastline. At merely 1,000 meters or so above sea level, the moderate altitude favors the proliferation of real yellowwoods, the Cape parrot’s tree of choice.

Cape Parrot Physical Features

Levaillant’s parrot is a robust bird that’s well defined and with an undeniable muscular build. Individuals in the species have a short tail, but their rounded wings make up for this limitation. Interestingly, these two features make the Cape parrot somewhat resemble an African Grey.

On matters of size, Levaillant’s parrot has an average height of 13 inches and a weight of up to 14 ounces. For a parrot, anything greater than 10 ounces is quite a considerable weight. As for the bird’s beak, it is sharply curved and robust enough to crack the hardest of nuts.

It is also fairly easy to tell males and females apart within this species – female Cape parrots have an orange patch that’s missing on the males’ forehead.

Cape Parrot’s Plumage

If you’re familiar with this bird, you know that they have some of the most colorful feathers in the avian world. So vibrant are they that describing them as captivating would be a vast understatement.

Covering the center wings, belly, and thighs are green feathers, making green the bird’s dominant color. The chest joins the party with its gray hue and complimentary brown speckles, a pattern that both the bird’s head and nape mirror.

Next, come the black upper wings that slowly turn into a bright orange color as you approach the edges. The flight feathers keep up the flamboyance with their attractive gray while the twin orange bands on each of the bird’s ankles complete the pretty sight.

Behavior and Personality

In addition to being eye candy, Cape parrots are renowned for their wonderful personality. Their warm charisma comes from the combination of intelligence, their playful nature, and just how cuddly they are. Bearing in mind that they are some of the most massive parrots on the planet, many have described these birds as gentle giants.

The combination of all these positive qualities makes the Cape parrot a fantastic pet. If you’re lucky enough to acquire one, there’s almost zero chance that you’ll be disappointed in your new friend.

Speech and Sound Ability

African parrots are celebrated for being great talkers, and the Cape parrot isn’t any different. They are almost as good as the African Grey, a comparison that speaks volumes to this bird’s speech and sound ability.

Naturally, Levaillant’s parrot is a loud bird. Fortunately, this bird is almost always calm. As such, you will hardly ever hear their natural sounds. What you’re sure to hear is the chatting, either to themselves or engaging you in conversation. Who wouldn’t want a pet that actually replies when you talk to them?

Cape Parrot Feeding Habits

Out in the wild, the Cape parrot feeds on fruits, nuts, and blossom trees. As already stated, their tough, large, and powerful beaks come in handy as the perfect nutcrackers.

As expected, pet Cape parrots don’t have the same luxury their wild counterparts do. What they do have, however, is a fantastic friend in you. It is, therefore, your responsibility to provide a well-balanced diet.

Truthfully, this bird shares multiple similarities with the African Grey. Like the Congo parrot, Levaillant’s parrot’s staple diet includes fresh fruits, vegetables, and fruit mixes. They also seem to enjoy cooked rice a lot, so it wouldn’t hurt to include it as part of their main diet. To boost their protein intake, cooked chicken is the preferred choice.

Cape Parrot’s Physical Health

If there’s one thing anyone who owns a Cape parrot takes great pride in, it has got to be just how resilient this bird is. Feed them right, and you’ll never have to worry about your pet bird falling sick. As the icing on the cake, these pets can live to the ripe old age of 60, so you’re both assured of decades of keeping each other company.

While a proper diet keeps the Cape parrot disease-free, bird specialists report that Levaillant’s parrot has the least susceptibility to avian diseases of all parrot species. The genetic trait explains the parrot’s lengthy lifespan.

To ensure that your bird lives for as long as it should, specialists also recommend keeping them as active as you can. There is no doubt that the Cape parrot is a large bird, one that consumes a considerable amount of food. Consequently, they have a lot of energy they need to burn up, and you should let them. Ensure that you provide ample space for your bird, bearing in mind their massive wingspan.

Sex and Family Life of Cape Parrots

By age 4 or 5, the Cape parrot is already sexually mature and starts breeding, doing so in alternate years. Copulation is an all year round event, but it hits its peak between August and February. After about a month, females lay four eggs on average but more often than not, only one or two ends up hatching.

Caring for the young is a partnership between males and females as they take turns to feed the young. The female, however, tends to spend more time with their offspring. Within two and a half months, the chicks are usually fully-fledged. They, however, don’t leave the nest as their parents continue to feed them religiously.

In captivity, you’ll find the Cape parrot in isolation or with a partner. In the wild, these birds prefer to live in flocks of ten individuals or less, all being members of the same family. A typical flock comprises of the adult pair (parents) and about four of their offspring. When the chicks reach sexual maturity, they fly off to find partners and start flocks of their own.

Cape Parrot’s Scientific and Local Name

Were you a fan of biology lessons in high school? Even if you weren’t, you must know that all living organisms have a Latin scientific name. To bird specialists, the Cape parrot is known as Poicephalus robustus.

Poicephalus is the genus name, and it translates to “different head.” Feathers on the parrots’ heads within this genus have a color different from those covering the rest of their bodies. Derived from Latin, robustus means “robust” (strong), and it references the parrot’s strong nut-cracking beak.

Being an African bird, locals residing in its native region have different names for the Cape parrot. The Zulu refer to it as isiKwenene, the Xhosa isikhwenene, the Tswana hokwe, and the Afrikaners Kynsa papagaai or woudpapagaai.

Distinction from the Uncape Parrot

The brown-necked parrots otherwise referred to as the uncape parrot by bird enthusiasts, are closely related to the Cape parrot. The two birds belong to the same genus, as the uncape parrot’s scientific name shows. Going by Poicephalus foscicollis, the species is further classified into the subspecies Poicephalus foscicollis foscicollis and Poicephalus foscicollis suahelicus.

Up until 1997, scientists believed the Cape and brown-necked parrots to belong to the same species. Phillip Clancey, a renowned ornithologist, disputed this fact by studying differences in their beaks and bill, their preferred habitats, and head coloration. It was further argued that recognizing the Cape parrot as a species distinct from the uncape parrot would create room for conservation efforts aimed towards the endangered bird.

A Momentous Point for the Cape Parrot

As previously mentioned, the Cape parrot is an endangered species. Annual surveys dating as far back as 15 years ago reveal a global population of between 1000-15000 individuals within the robustus species. There are currently less than 500 breeding pairs of Cape parrots in the wild, and breeding efforts in captivity have not been as successful as conservationists hoped.

Fortunately, South Africa is increasingly passing laws to protect the parrots while more and more conservationists and like-minded volunteers are taking it upon themselves to ensure that Cape parrot populations are maintained.

Summing Up

Given its desirable qualities, the Cape parrot might be every bird lover’s dream pet. With them, you have an intelligent mate, a chatting companion, a cuddly friend, and a vibrant attraction in your house. You also get to experience the enrichment that comes with sharing your life with such a fascinating friend. What more could anyone ask for?

It may not be easy to get one, but the fact is that a Cape parrot is definitely worth the wait. And when you finally acquire one, be sure to conform to the norms of responsible aviculture.