Cape parrot
Poicephalus robustus

The Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus ) or Levaillant's parrot is a large, temperate forest dwelling parrot of the genus Poicephalus endemic to South Africa. It was formerly grouped as a subspecies along with the savanna-dwelling brown-necked parrot (Poicephalus fuscicollis ) and grey-headed parrot (P. f. suahelicus ), but is now considered a distinct species.


The Cape parrot is a short-tailed moderately large bird with a very large beak used to crack all sorts of hard nuts and fruit kernels, especially those of African yellowwood trees (Podocarpus spp. ). This contrasts with the closely related savanna species (Poicephalus fuscicollis ) which feeds on and a wide variety of tropical woodland trees such as marula, Commiphora spp. and Terminalia spp. These species are sexually dimorphic, with females typically sporting an orange frontal patch on the forehead. Juveniles also show a larger orange - pink patch on the forehead but lack the red on shoulders and legs of adults. These plumage characteristics vary among individuals and among the three recognized forms.



Biogeographical realms

The Cape parrot is endemic to South Africa. It occurs in Afromontane forests at moderate altitudes in eastern South Africa from the coastal escarpment near sea-level to the midlands at around 1000m. These forests occur as a series of small patches around the south and east of South Africa and are dominated by yellowwood trees (Podocarpus latifolius, Podocarpus falcatus and Podocarpus henkelii ). Cape parrots have a disjunct distribution with the largest population around in the Amathole mountains of the Eastern Cape Province and extending east, with several large gaps, through the Mthatha escarpment and Pondoland in the Eastern Cape and the southern midlands of KwaZulu-Natal Province to Karkloof, near Pietermaritzburg. A very small population, of around 30 individuals occurs over 600 km to the north in the Magoebaskloof area of Limpopo Province. Cape parrots are absent from large areas of afromontane forests such as those along the southern coast of South Africa, near Knysna, the higher altitude Afromontane forests in the Drakensberg mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, or the moderate-altitude forests of northern KwaZulu-Natal province and Eswatini, which separate the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and Limpopo escarpment populations. All of these areas are within the dispersal range of the parrots and there are old records of Cape parrots from northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Cape parrot habitat map


Cape parrot habitat map
Cape parrot
Attribution-ShareAlike License

Habits and Lifestyle

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition


Population number

The IUCN Redlist 3.1, which uses the Birdlife International checklist, lumps the common and widespread grey-headed parrot with Cape parrots and brown-necked parrots, each of which are more narrowly distributed and more threatened, leading to an assessment of least concern. This contrasts with alternative assessments of the South African endemic P. robustus, as endangered and possible threatened status of the brown-headed parrot of West Africa. There are only about 400 in the wild, and the Cape Parrot Project is trying to save them.

Show More

Hundreds of volunteers participate on the first weekend each May in the "Cape Parrot Big Birding Day" which is an annual count of the population throughout its distribution. The parrots are relatively easy to count at any forest patch due to their distinctive silhouettes, slow, 'rowing' flight and raucous calls. Counts are made in the evening as parrots arrive at roost patches and in the following morning as the parrots leave. A complete census of the population is difficult to achieve, however, as these forests are naturally fragmented and there are insufficient volunteers to count the more remote patches. There are also difficulties in achieving a precise count because the birds fly long distances for food and may be 'double-counted' at both feeding and roosting sites. Counts increased from about 500 specimens in May 2000 to over 1000 in recent years, although this may be largely explained by an increase in the particular sites that were counted. The parrots are particularly threatened by the fatal psittacine beak and feather disease virus (BFDV), and there have been suggestions that a diet heavy in yellowwood fruits greatly reduces the symptoms, although this has not been empirically investigated. Their habitat is being reduced by logging and modification of African yellowwood trees, in particular the loss of old trees and dead snags with suitable nesting hollows. The provision of nesting boxes has had some success and offers some hope for increasing the proportion of breeding individuals.

Show Less


Over one hundred P. robustus parrots are kept as cage birds, most of which are wild-caught birds although they do breed reasonably well in captivity. To date there have not been any successful releases of captive birds and the survival of this species is dependent on habitat conservation to maintain wild populations. Trade and export of wild-caught Cape parrots from South Africa has been made illegal by the international CITES agreement (appendix list II) and by South African law. They are rare as pets, despite low-levels of ongoing illegal collection and trade. Those that are kept have demonstrated wonderful personalities, and a talking ability that rivals their larger cousin the grey parrot. A small trade still persists in the related Grey-headed and brown-necked parrots.


1. Cape parrot Wikipedia article -
2. Cape parrot on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About