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PROMOTING HIGH STANDARDS IN PARROT CONSERVATION AVICULTUREAND WELFARE

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Afri ca SlowlyAfricais comingintofocus. Duringthepast20years(before whichit wasalmostnon-existent) parrotconservation hascentredon SouthAmerica,Indonesiaand Australia.Thepagesof PsittaScene havebeenfilled withreportsof projectsdesigned to helpthreatened macawsandcockatoos, amazons andevenlories.ThewordAfrica wasnevermentioned. That continentwasthegreatunknown wherethestatusof parrotswas concerned. In theearly1990snews startedto leakoutof Africa regardingthedwindlingpopulations of someof itsfewparrotspecies. Withdisbeliefonthepartof some, welearnedthattwospecies of lovebird,bothwellknown aviculturalsubjects, were threatened; thatthenominateraceof theCapeParrotwhich(now confirmed)wasperhapsa strong species, wasin danger.Butthenews wasnotsharplyfocussed. ThenProfessor MikePerrinof the Department of Zoology,University of Natal,switchedhisattentionfrom mammals to parrots.Andthatwas thebeginningof a focusonAfrican parrotswhichis graduallybecoming sharper. Theclearpicturewill not emergefor severalyears.Lastyear Professor Perrinwasinvitedby the WorldParrotTrustto attendthe WorldParrotSummit,to reporton whatwasknownof thestatusof Africanparrots. In thisissue,participants in several conservation projectswill describe theiraims.All theprojectsare designed to providemore

, 'psittacine (sit'a sin) Belonging or allied to the parrots; parrot-like

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Vol. 8 No. 4 November 1996

In Focus informationonparrotstatusand habits,in preparation for actionto conserve them,wherenecessary. DuringthepastyearMike Perrin hasworkedto establishWorld ParrotTrustAfricawhichis a fledglingorganisation atthepresent time.DaveandVeraDennison,who producetheSouthAfrican aviculturalmagazine Avizandum, will assisthimin thistask.Mike Perrinwasthefirst to pointoutthat theloomingextinctionof rhinosand dolphinshasreceivedmore attentionthantheplightof parrots, evenalthough,in his words, "Parrotsareeconomicallyfar more important,charismatic, andsome speciesarethreatened withalmost immediateextinction." MikePerrin'sanswerwasto setup theResearch Centrefor African ParrotConservation atthe Universityin Pietermaritzburg. Someof its projectsareoutlinedin thearticleswhichfollow.In addition,thereareplansto study Black-cheeked LovebirdsAgapornis nigrigenisin Zambia,Fischer's LovebirdsAgapornis fischeriin Tanzania, andthedeclining Madagascar (Grey-headed) LovebirdsAgaporniscana.The needexiststo liaisewith other organisations. Thiswill havebeen facilitatedby papersto bepresented atthePan-AfricanOrnithological Congress in GhanathisOctober. Legislationis beingpreparedin SouthAfricato preventthe exploitationof andillegaltradein Africanparrots- importandexport. Mike Perrinbelievesthat experienced aviculturistswhocan makeasignificantcontribution throughcaptivebreedingshouldbe providedwith confiscated birds, suchasCapeParrots.In thecaseof theGreyParrot,captivebreeding providessufficientbirdsto meetthe

by

Rosemary

LoW'

Hearne.Nextmorningwewere introducedto Dr ColleenDowns, widowof thelateOlaf Wirminghaus. Shewasto accompany us,withMike and CAPEHABITATVISITED Sharynne, onourfieldtrip. Colleen hascarriedonherhusband's work In Junethisyear,atquiteshort with theenthusiasm whichhehad notice,I foundmyselfin South appliedto it. Hewastotally Africa with twofriends,ValMoat absorbed in research intothehabits andStaceyGelis.Thiswasmorethe of theCape Parrot; i ndeed, hisvery resultof chancethanlong-term lastwishwasto betakento their planning.Weenjoyedaholidaycum-information-seeking trip whose habitat,to observethemfor thelast time.(SeeReportontheCape highlightwasobservingCape ParrotProject,PsittaScene Parrotsin thewild - albeitbriefly. November1994,vol6, no4, page My owninterestin thisspecies datesback20years(seePsittaScene 12.) Olaf'sworkis alsobeing May1995, vol?,no2,pages 10-12). continuedby CraigSymes,whois To seeit in its naturalhabitatis majoringin zoologyandbotanyand something whichI hadhopedfor whowashisassistant. WemetCraig for severalyears.WithoutMike at Creighton,in southernNatal,the Perrin'shelpit wouldhavebeen areaonwhichhis studiesare impossible. centred.Fromthefarmstead where After meetingMikenear we stayed, hepointed to thedistant Pietermaritzburg, we weremade continuedon page 2 welcomeatthehomeof Sharynne

pettrade'sdemands; no more shouldbeimportedintoSouth Africa fromcentral,eastandwest Africa.

We publish this photograph

as a tribute to Dr. OlafWirminghaus

who died before his

study of the Cape Parrot was completed.

TONY SILVA - JAIL SENTENCE

Full details on page 13


mountains. "Thatis whereweare going",hetoldus. Whenwereached thearea,weleft thevehicleandstartedto climb.It wasnotlongbeforewecould surveytheareabelowus.The reasonfor thedeclineof theCape Parrotwasatonceevident.Only smallpatchesof forestremainin a vastseaof cultivation. Because scientistshaveonly recentlydetermined thatit is a speciesin its ownright,it hasyetto begivenendangered statusor nominatedfor Appendix1of CITES.But with sucha small population,alimitedareaof distribution,illegaltrapping,and killing by pecannutfarmers,it is clearlyin thiscategory. As weclimbed,Craigpointedout a nesttree.Suchtreesareusually deadyellow-woods thatemerge fromthecanopy,with a partially decayedcentre.Theentranceis usuallylocatedabout15mabove ground.Scarcityof nestsitesis almostcertainlyoneof themost importantfactorsin limitingthe CapeParrot'spopulation.Ascending higher,theterrainbecamemore rockyandsteep;thenwereacheda grassyinclinethatled to thehighest pointin thatarea.Fromhereata heightof 1,760m,welookeddown intothePodocarpus forest. It wasnotabig area.Monocultures suchaspine,encroached ontoits veryedge.Pineforestscanbe utilisedby fewbird species- and certainlynotby CapeParrots.This speciesof Cape,unlikethesubspeciessuahelicus fromZimbabwe andfuscicollisfromWestAfrica, cannotexistwithoutmontane yellow-woodPodocarpus forests. TheotherCapeParrotsare primarilylowlanddwellers.

The small areaof yellow-wood

forest (foreground) is surroundedby agricultural land and

pineplantations.

to readaboutit butthefull impact of thesituationis felt onlywhen youareactuallythere,hearingthe melodiccallsof theparrotsand watchingthemflying in small groupsabovethecanopy.Oftenthey circledor flew a shortdistanceto returnto afavouritefruitingtree. Theirmostimportantfoodtreesare thoseof Podocarpus falcatus; P.latifoliusandP.henkelliarealso used.Craigsaidthattheprotein contentof theseyellow-woodfruits is nothigh.Whileyoungarein the nest,theyhavebeenseentakingthe seedsof theintroducedacacia.They alsoeatlarvaein wattletreesand Proteabuds. A glimpseof thedistantbirds throughCraig'sspottingscope elicitedexclamations of admiration frommeasI lookedattheirgolden heads.Yes,golden!Thehead colorationof thisCapeParrotis totallydifferentfromthatof the others;it alsohasa smallerbeak, YELLOW-WOODFORESTS especiallyin thefemale.Andthe I askedColleenaboutthelogging orangeonthecarpaledgeof the situationin theareawhichwe were wingextendsfurtherdownwards. Theorangeonthefemale'sforehead overlooking.Shetoldmethatno is lessextensive. In appearance it is loggingof theseyellow-woodshad distinctiveandits vocalisations also occurredsincetheearly1950s. sounded differentto me. However,mostof Natalis either Weweretherein June(winter)grassland, or hasbeenconvertedto outof thebreedingseason. Nesting monocultures andagriculturalland. Fromwherewestoodtherewere usuallybeginsin September, in a dry season, andyoungfledgefrom farmsteads andcrop-growingareas, December to March.Accordingto plusafewpineforests,asfar asthe Mike Perrin,theyareheavilypreyed eyecouldsee.Therearea fewsmall uponby raptors,suchasGoshawks. yellow-woodforestsin southern Thatfirst afternoonwewere Natal,alsoin theeasternCapeand watching aflock of about20birds. throughtheTranskeito Karkloof. Wewerenot awareof thenumber, Probablytheyhavesurvivedonly because thesteepsouthfacing slopes of course,untiltheytookto the wingandheadedoutof theforest, arenotclearedfor agriculture,so probablyto aforestpatch Colleentoldme.As CapeParrots elsewhere. I askedCraig,who arealmosttotallydependent onthe spendstendaysof everymonthin yellowwoodsasafoodsource,they cannotsurviveelsewhere. thefield studyingthisparrot,what I wasshockedto realisehowsmall wasthelargestnumberhehadever seen.Herecalledwithenthusiasm wastheirsurvivinghabitat,andhow thememorable daywhenhesaw vulnerabletheyare.It is onething

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PhotoR.Low

120birds.Neverbeforeor sincehas heseensomany. Nextmorningwe aroseat5amand drovetowardsthemountainin the dark.It wasjust startingto getlight, at6.15am,whenweparkedthe vehicleandstartedto climb.It was bitterlycold.ValMoat,whowas carryingaverylargevideocamera andtripod,decidednotto climbto thetop.Craigshowedhera potentiallygoodareafor filming, wheretheparrotsmightcomein to drink.Whileweshiveredonthetop of themountain,overlookinga frost-covered landscape, with disappointingly fewviewsof the parrots,Val andCraig,hit the jackpot.Nearthedrinkingplace, Valprocuredthisparrotonfilm perhapsthefirst timethishasbeen achieved- andCraigcapturedhis beststill shotsever.Wehadto listen to theirtriumphantstoriesall the wayhome! As soonaswearrivedin Pietermaritzburg, wechangedinto presentable clothesatlightning speed,andhurriedto theUniversity. To agatheringof aviculturistsand reseachers, I presented a paperon threatened parrotsandtheworkof theTrust,andanotheronbreeding theCapeParrot.ValMoatgavean excellentillustratedtalkonbreeding Ruppell'sParrots.I continueto be delIghtedby Val'svideoof theCape Parrotsof southernNatalandtheir evocativecalls,echoingthroughthe forest. It waspleasingto hearfromMike thathehadbeenableto usepartof thefilm whenheappeared on televisionto promotethe conservation of thiswonderful parrot.


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TheEcologyandStatusof the CapeParrot by the late Olaf Wirminghaus

Thenominateraceof theCape ParrotPoicephalusr. robustusis

endemicto SouthAfrica.It breeds onlyin Afromontane Podocarpus forestsabove1,000m,whilethe subspecies Pr. suahelicus, which occursnorthandeastof the Transvaal Drakensberg Mountains, occursprimarilyin lowland woodlands.Morphological and colourdifferences exist. CapeParrotpopulations are declIningin SouthAfrica,mainly dueto illegalcollectingfor the aviculturaltrade(pastandpresent), habitatdegradation andlossof nest sites. PROJECT AIMS I, Todetermine thedistribution, abundance andstatusof Cape parrots.2.Todeterminethedietand thestateof theirfoodresources in thestudyareas,andto identifyplant species whicharereliedupon duringbreeding.3.If possible,to determine thenestingrequirements andnestingsuccess in theirnatural habitat.4. Todesignapredictive modeltohelpconservationists gaugeparrothabitatsuitabilityand carryingcapacityin forestswhere introductions arebeingconsidered; and5.Todetermineareaswhere CapeParrotscurrentlyfacegreatest survivalthreats. Fieldworkattwostudysitesis ongoing,thoughthebulkof thedata will beanalysed towardstheendof theprojectwhenalargersample will havebeencollected.Initial findingshavebeenveryinteresting, andtheimportance of yellowwoods,particularlyPodocarpus falcatus,a forestcanopytree,for breeding,feedingandsocial interactions, arebecomingevident.

Thishasimportantimplicationsfor theirconservation, andmayhelp explaintheirpeculiardaily movement patterns. Illegalcaptureof CapeParrotsin certamareasis still rife,particularly in theEasternCapeProvmce,and negotiations withconservation authoritiesandprivatebreeders to initiateacaptivebreeding programme arebeingmade. FIELDWORK Muchhasbeenlearnedsofar, particularlyfromHlabeniForest whichis small,hasmanyparrots andis veryaccessible.Mostof the movement patternsandregular

birdsmostlyremainperched,call, preen,allopreen,restor occasionally feed.Though visitationrateshavenotbeen calculated, observations suggesta highuseof Podocarpus species for feedingandasperches,Thekernels of mostfruitsarepreferredand eaten,whiletheexocarpis discarded.

SEASONAL VARIATION AND PATCHINESS OFFRUITING Leaflittercollections withtheaid of litterfalltraps(25perforest) havebeenmademonthlysincethe endof December 1993,tohelp determine thequalityandquantity

CapeParrotsfly from their perchesinto the scrub on a slope.They are on their way to a rock pool, fed by a small stream. Photo: Craig Symes

flight pathsof theparrotshadbeen workedoutby latelastsummer. Despitebirdsnotbeingmarked,it is possibleto follow (withtheaidof binocularsor a spottingscope)the movements of individualsor flocks oncleardays,andat leastthree forestsareknownwherebirds commutefromandto regularly. BREEDINGSUCCESS Certainindividualshave characteristic yellowfeathersin Breedingsuccess atthetwostudy theirplumage,allowingindividual sitesin 1995,basedoncountsof recognition.Suchmarkingsappear juvenilespresentwasverygood. in approximately 10%of the Thoughnocomparative dataexists, population(frommuseumskin goodrainswerereceivedthispast season, contraryto thenear-drought collectionsandfield observations). Observations eachmonthhave conditionsof theprevious10years, provideddataontemporaland andobserved foodavailabilitywas spatialactivitypatternsandfeeding high. Anotherexcitingfindwasthe observations. Thismonthlydata recentdiscoveryof theimportance collection will continuefor the of drinkingsitesfor theparrots, durationof fieldwork.Preliminary particularlyduringthedry winter analysishasshownthattheparrots monthswhenverylittle freewater arestrictlydiurnalthoughmost is available.UnlIketheirgenerally activeduringthefirst andlastfew raucousbehaviour, drinkingis a hoursof daylight.Mostfeeding covertactivitycarriedoutat sites well-sheltered withthickvegetation, alsotakesplaceduringthistime. andasaresulthasbeenoverlooked. Betweenperiodsof activitythe

of fruit in theforestcanopy,and seemsto beworkingwell. Thishas beensupplemented with visual assessments of thefruitingcondition of markedindividualyellow-wood trees(Podocarpus species only).This techniqueprovidesdataongeneral fruitingpatternsin thestudyforest. As moreintra-forestmovementdata is collected,it is becomingclearthat thereareseasonal preferences for particularpartsof .thefores.ts, and evencertamtreesm somemstances. Litterfallis alreadytootimeconsuminga techniquefor more litter-trapsto bedeployed,andother methodsneedto befound. Visual phelologicalassessment of selected, mdividualcanopytreesof anumber of species perareaof forestsmaybe oneoption,andseemsto workwell for thePodocarpus species. DENSITYESTIMATES Directcountscanbemadefrom goodvantagepointswhenanumber of parrotsarem viewatonetime,or whenthelocationsof a numberof

birdsareknownat onetime. Sofar numbershavebeenhighestin winterandlowestin springand earlysummerwhenbirdsare breeding.Directcountsarealso effectivefor estimatingnumbersof otherlargecanopybirdssuchas pigeonsandhornbills.It shouldbe notedthatareaswhichhave seeminglyhighnumbersof parrots, basedoncasualobservation, are provingto havesmallbuthighly activepopulationswithveryfew breedingpairs. Daily observations fromcliff and hill lookoutsalsoledto thedirect discoveryof threenests.All nests seento date(exceptfor onein a live blackwood),havebeenin natural holesin deademergent anddead canopytrees.All werePodocarpus. Thoughmoredatais acquiredfrom otherforests,suchdeadtreesarea scarceresourcein thestudyareas, andthushaveimportant conservation implications.If regeneration of youngPodocarpus is prevented (e.g.tramplingby cattleandcuttingof poles)or older treesareselectivelyfelledand removed,thismayhaveserious consequences for parrotnumbers. Basedon thelikelihoodthatCape Parrotsarelimitedby thelackof suitablenestsites,a supplementary nesthollowscheme is being planned;20 artificialnesthollows will beputupin oneof thestudy forests,andmonitoredmonthly. MORPHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS All thecollectionsof CapeParrot skinsin museums in SouthAfrica (Durban,EastLondon,Transvaal), andthosein theBritishMuseumof NaturalHistory(Tring)were examined, andmeasurements taken. All coloursanda suiteof 18body measurements wererecordedfor eachof the 113specimens. Data wasstatisticallyanalysed, and redundant characters identified.All threeracesshowedsignificant morphological differences, andthe nominateracedifferedfurtherin plumagecolourandhavingclearly separate habitatrequirements. CONSERVATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS Generalfindingswithconservation implicationsincludetheimportance of theyellow-woods to Cape Parrots.Thesetreesarelong-lived, andoften thetallesttreesin the continuedonpage4 3


Brown-headed ParrotStudyin southern Mrica by Stuart Taylor,MSc.BSc.

Withstricterlegislation,drastically reducedhabitats,areductionin parrotnumbers in SouthandCentral America,theattentionof aviculturists hasturnedto the Africancontinent.Like theGrey ParrotPsittacuserithacus,theCape ParrotPoicephalus robustusand Ruppell'sparrotP.rueppellii,the Brown-headed ParrotPoicephalus cryptoxanthus is increasingly vulnerable to habitatlossand fragmentation (Ledgers,pers. comm.)andalsothewild birdor aviculturaltrade. AlthoughtheBrown-headed Parrot is described asacommonresident in SouthAfricaandMozambique, its generalbiologyandecologyare virtuallyunknown(Maclean1995). In ZululandandtheEastern Transvaal it is largelyconfinedto conserved areaswhereit coexists withGreenPigeonsTreroncalva, HornbillsTokusspecies andLouries Tauracospecies.It is essential that beforetheBrown-headed Parrot enterstheRedDataBook(Brooke 1984)informationis gathered onits breedinghabits,status(mobility), habitatpreferences anddietary rangein thewild sothatthe development of aviable conservation planand/ora sustainable harvesting programme canbepromulgated. I proposeto carryouta studyas partof adoctorate degreeto provide essential informationontheecology of Brown-headed Parrots.Thiscan beusedtowardsaconservation plan

for thespeciesin northern KwaZulu-Natal. OBJECTIVES

1.Todetermine breeding biology in natural habitat. Thiscanonly beestablished by findingand observingnests.Somebreeding datais available(Forshaw1989, Maclean1995)thoughmore informationis neededontheir demography, breedingsuccess and recruitment. 2. To determine the nesting

requirements.As theparrotscannot maketheirownholestheyrelyon existingones;thequestionis raised whetherparrotdensitiesarelimited by thenumberof availableholes,as hadbeenfoundwithotherholenestingspecies(Newton1994). Thereforethenumbersof breeding pairsin anareawill becountedand comparedto thenumbersof availableandsuitablenestholes. 3. To determine if Brown-headed Parrots are co-operative breeders. It is notknownif youngerbirds frompreviousseasons stayon,and helptheirparentsraisenewchicks (co-operatIve breeding),before dispersingandfindingtheirown nest-holesandterritories. Answeringthesequestionswill requirecapturing,takingblood samplesfromandcolour-tagging birdssothatindividualsatnestscan beidentified.Socialorganisation is likely to beimportantandmaybe

Although the Brown-headedParrotis describedascommonin SouthAfrica, little is known about it in the wild.

vital to futurereintroduction plans.

4. Todeterminethe diet.Dietwill beestablished in thewild by field observations anddetermination of thenumbersof birdsperterritoryor home-range aswell asthepositions of thetemtoriesor home-ranges. Thetotaldurationof theproject will bethreeyears.Mostof the field workwill becarriedourin northernKwaZulu-Natal. REFERENCES: Brooke,RK. (1984).South AfricanRedDataBook- BirdsS. Afr. Nat.Sci.Prog.Rep.No.97.

C.S.I.RPretoria Forshaw,J.M.(1989)Parrotsof theWorld.Landsdowne Editions, Willoughby,Australia. Kemp,A. (1995).Curator,Dept.of Birds,TransvaalMuseum,Paul KrugerStreet,Pretoria. Maclean,G.R.(1995).Roberts' Birdsof Southern Africa.6th Edition.TheTrusteesof theJohn VoelckerBirdBookFund,Cape Town. Newton1.(1994).TheRoleofNest Sitesin LimitingtheNumbersof Hole-Nesting Birds:A Review. Bioi. Cons.70,265-276

Ecology and Status of the Cape Parrot -continued from page 3 forestarethemostfrequentlyused asdisplayperches.Podocarpus falcatusandto alesserextent P.latifoliusandP.henkelliarealso avitalfoodsourceandalmost exclusivelyutilisedwhenin fruit. Thisis possiblydueto thevolume of fruit produced, andthelengthof timetheyremainin fruit. Furthermore, Podocarpus falcatus bearsfruit frommidto latesummer, andis thusanimportant(if not exclusive)foodsourceduringthe breedingseason andfor newly fledgedparrots.Deadspecimens of P.falcatusremainstandingfor a 4

numberof years,andnatural cavitiesin thesearethepreferred nestingsitesof CapeParrots(8 of 9 knownnests). OBSERVATIONS A discoverywasmadeduring routinemonthlyobservations, in a partof HlabeniForestwell frequented by parrotsduringthe earlymornings.As feeding observations wereusuallynoted, nothingwassuspected untilparrots werenoticedflying fromtheir perchesintothescrubon a slopea fewmetresaway.Closeinspection

revealedarockpoolfedby a small stream,andwell shieldedby vegetation.Subsequent observations haveshownthatthe parrotsdrinkregularlyfor afew minutesonceeveryoneor twodays, andthisis atypicallydonewithout thebirdscalling.Avianpredators suchasLannerFalconsandBlack Sparrowhawks arecommonin the forestandriskfromsuchanattack is verypossible,ashasbeen observedontwooccasions.With thearrivalof thedry winter,the usualwatersourcedriedup,andthe parrotswereforcedto fly to another

source900mfurtherfromtheforest. Thispoolwasalsowell shieldedby vegetation, andalsoattractedparrots fromneighbouring forests,the closestof whichis 15kmaway. Althoughtheavailabilityof shelteredwaterpointsaredifficult to determine, theymayexplain manyof theinter-forestmovements observed.Dataobtainedmayalso betestedfor apredictedincrease in theamountof movements by parrotsduringthedry months,when norainsarereceivedandthewater availabilityis reduced.


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CAPE PARROTS FROM SOUTU AFRICA Poicephalus robustus robustus Photograph by Craig Symes, taken during his research into the biology of this species. This may be the first close-up photograph of Cape Parrots in South Africa to be published. It shows two males on Natal Bottlebrush Greyia sutherlandii. The Cape Parrot is the most southerly found parrot species in Africa. Today numbers are low with an estimated population of fewer than 1500 birds in the wild. Now classified as endangered in the Red Data Book, remaining popu1ations confined to the fragmented Afromontane Podocarpus forests above 1000m, are threatened by exploitation of their habitat and illegal trade. They are wary birds and it is not easy to approach them closely. Note the golden tinge to the head which distinguishes them from the other two forms of the Cape Parrot. See the reports on this species on pages 2, 3 and 4.

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Africa In Focus - PsittaScene Issue 8.4 Nov. 1996