Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus


Justification of Red List Category
This newly-split species has a small population, which is currently estimated to be stable. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The population has been assessed annually by the Cape Parrot Big Birding Day since 1997. Population numbers prior to 2002 were below 500, but since then the numbers have been higher (average 1,366 ± 245 individuals between 2008 and 2012, with a high count of 1,786 individuals in 2009; Downs et al. 2014), likely a consequence of an increase in survey coverage.

In Downs (2015) the population size was listed as 1,100-1,500 mature individuals. However, since it was stated that it was unknown what proportion of these individuals were adults, this estimate is considered here to relate to total individuals rather than mature individuals. Treating the population estimate of Downs (2015) as an estimate of the total number of individuals would also fit with the estimates presented by Downs et al. (2014) and Downs and Singh (2016). This estimate could be altered to take into account the maximum record of 2009, so that the range is 1,100-1,786 individuals, which would roughly equate to 733-1,190 mature individuals, rounded here to 730-1,200 mature individuals. There are estimated to be 60-80 individuals in the isolated Limpopo subpopulation, 500-600 in the Amatole forests, and 400-500 each in the former Transkei and southern KwaZulu-Natal forests (Downs 2015). The number of individuals in the largest population is therefore thought to be 800-1000, roughly equivalent to 530-667 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Higher numbers reported since 2002 likely reflect better survey coverage, and the population appears to have been stable over at least the 15 years of surveys from 1998-2012 (Downs et al. 2014). The 2016 survey reported a maximum of 1,499 individuals (Downs and Singh 2016) and numbers since 2012 are considered to have remained broadly stable.

Distribution and population

This species is restricted to eastern South Africa, where it occurs in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, with a small, isolated northern subpopulation of 60-80 individuals in Limpopo.


It occupies montane mist-belt evergreen Podocarpus forest in the temperate zone from 1,000-1,400 m (Downs 2015; Collar and Boesman 2017). Although primarily resident, the species undertakes three different types of excursion into lower areas: daily flights, short visits with overnight stops, and more extensive periodic wanderings, all largely prompted by the availability of Podocarpus fruits (Collar and Boesman 2017).


Human impacts on indigenous forests, most of which have little visible protection, may affect nest site and food availability. There is a long history of logging by settlers, with selective logging taking place more recently and continued illegal logging in some areas (Downs 2015). Removal of adults from the wild for illegal trade is a potential threat; the number of birds involved is uncertain but it does not currently appear to be having a population-level impact. There is a potential risk that recognition as a species, and CITES listing, could increase international demand for trade in the species in the future (Collar and Fishpool, 2017). An increasing prevalence of Psittacine Beak-and-Feather disease has been predicted, but the likely impact is uncertain (Downs 2015). Climate change may lead to increased drought within the range and have negative impact on recruitment and fruiting of indigenous forests.

Conservation actions

Conservation and research actions underway
Long-term monitoring by the annual Cape Parrot Birding Big Day encourages public involvement and awareness of the species. Ongoing research includes conservation of forest habitat, monitoring of food availability, nest box provision, monitoring of bird trade, monitoring of disease, captive breeding, genetics and planting of food trees. There are a number of ongoing educational outreach activities. The Cape Parrot Working Group liaises with researches, aviculturalists, conservation authorities and the public. The Cape Parrot Project has been ongoing since 2009 in the Amatole region; its activities include growing indigenous trees, provision of nest boxes, and community outreach work. It also rescues and rehabilitates birds with beak-and-feather disease (Downs 2015). 179 nest boxes were provided for the parrots in Hogsback, Eastern Cape, between 2011-2012 (Wimberger et al. 2018).

Conservation and research actions needed
Continue annual population monitoring. Consider controlled captive breeding to meet demand for the pet trade. Elevate the conservation status of unprotected and partly-protected forests within the range. Investigate nest site requirements and availability. Research fluctuations in forest fruit availability and influence on Cape Parrot density. Determine seasonal home range and habitat use (Downs 2015).


Text account compilers
Clark, J.

Lee, A., Masello, J. F., Symes, A., Westrip, J.R.S. & Willows-Munro, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Poicephalus robustus. Downloaded from on 25/01/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/01/2022.