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Choosing a Cape Parrot

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Cape parrots have a gangly look because their heads and beaks are so large they seem out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. The females of the species are more colorful than the males, with a red-orange frontal band or cap, depending on the subspecies. Both males and females have an olive-colored head and neck and a vivid green body. Wing coverts are blackish-green and tail feathers are black. Red-orange markings are also found on the bend of the wings and the legs. Beaks are horn-colored.
Sometimes known as brown-necked parrots, these birds are rather shy. They can be affectionate, but they are not generally demanding of attention. They tend to be independent as they reach sexual maturity (at ages 3 to 5 years old) and, while they are not great talkers, they have some limited mimicking ability. These birds make good companions for collectors. They are fairly common in the marketplace and are increasingly popular as pets.

Young cape parrots should be exposed to many novel situations in order to help calm and stabilize them. Because of the limited numbers of birds in captivity, breeding of available birds is important.

These birds are very playful and energetic, so they should be provided with toys, wooden blocks that can be chewed, and branches from non-toxic trees. In order to ensure safety, companion birds should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items.

Cape parrots (Poicephalus robustus) range through three separate areas of west, south central and southern Africa, inhabiting mangroves, riverine woodlands, savanna woodlands and mountain forests up to 10,000 feet. Their diet in the wild includes fruits, seeds and palm nuts, with seeds – especially ficus and acacias – the clear favorite. In addition, the birds may feed on crops including peanuts, pecans, millet and apples, but they are not considered significant crop pests.

Subspecies

  • P. r. robustus, found in extreme southeast areas of South Africa (Cape province, Natal and Transvaal). These birds' heads and necks are greenish to yellowish brown.

  • P. r. suahelicus, found in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. These birds' heads and necks are silvery gray.

  • P.r. fuscicollis, found in Gambia, Senegal, Ghana and Togo. These birds are similar to Suahelicus but have more bluish-green body feathers.
    While cape parrots can live to approximately 30 years, most survive for only 15 or 20.

    Feeding

    Cape parrots should be fed a pelleted diet – preferably one that contains a readily utilizable calcium source to help prevent calcium deficiency. Feed approximately 1/3 cup of pelleted food daily supplemented with approximately 1/3 cup fresh fruits and vegetables to add variety. Treats may be given in small amounts, especially as rewards for good behavior. Fresh, clean water must be provided every day. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a pelleted diet, however, birds kept as indoor pets may develop signs of calcium deficiency that can be a serious health threat. Natural or full-spectrum light may be helpful in treating the problem.

    For birds fed a seed diet, vitamin supplementation is necessary. Vitaminized seeds have vitamins added to the shells that are discarded by the bird when it eats. Add vitamins to soft foods rather than water since vitamins and their accompanying sweeteners promote bacterial growth in water.

    Grooming

    Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or they can be dried with a blow dryer. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively as heavy-bodied birds may fall and injure themselves. Clip only enough so the bird will glide to the floor.

    Housing

    Cape parrots are very active and should be provided with as large a cage as possible. The cage should have two perches so the birds can move between them. Toys and activities should be provided. Ideally, pet birds should have a cage outdoors to allow exposure to sunlight and fresh air in good weather.

    Breeding

    Cape parrots breed well in captivity. Some prolific birds will breed year round, but most breed in the winter and early spring. Clutch size is usually three to four eggs.

    Capes will use a vertical 10-inch by 10-inch by 12-inch or an L-shaped nest box. Cage size should be at least 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet or 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet.

    These birds are very difficult to hand-rear from the egg. Very young chicks need to be fed frequently (approximately every 1 1/2 to 2 hours during the day), and it is preferable to allow some parent feeding.

    Common Diseases and Disorders

    Cape parrots are relatively healthy birds but are susceptible to the following:

  • Feather picking
  • Chlamydiosis (psittacosis)
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease
  • Fearful behavior
  • Respiratory diseases - Aspergillosis
  • Bacterial, viral, fungal diseases
  • Calcium deficiency disorder
  • Toxicities

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