Artificial pine nest boxes should increase breeding success of the Cape Parrot in the wild

April 27th, 2016 | by Cassie Carstens
Artificial pine nest boxes should increase breeding success of the Cape Parrot in the wild
Conservation projects
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The Cape Parrot Project has been active in the Amathole region of the Eastern Cape since 2009. This region is one of the strongholds for the Cape parrot, and a large proportion of their population occurs here. Besides working on community involvement and awareness, reforestation and the removing of non-indigenous plants, the Project also investigates the general biology of the Cape parrot such as their population size, daily movement, feeding activity, and nesting behaviour. This last aspect, nesting activity, is one on which we have focused a large part of our attention.

The Cape parrot is a secondary nester. It nests in either natural tree cavities or in cavities excavated by other bird species, such as barbets or woodpeckers. These cavities usually occur in large, old, and mainly dead trees (snags) that grow in Afromontane forests. One tree species that the parrots are especially associated with is the Outeniqua Yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus, previously Poducarpus falcatus). They rely on these trees for food, nesting, and as meeting and socialising spots since these trees grow to rise above the canopy. Unfortunately these trees have historically and continue to be sought after by humans for timber to construct furniture. This has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of available and viable nesting sites which the parrots can use.

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In 2011 the Project decided to try and increase the availability of nest sites to the Cape parrot by constructing and installing 200 pine nest boxes in and around the town of Hogsback. The type of nest boxes used and positioning in the trees was based on Cape Parrot Project founder Dr Steve Boyes’ work in Botswana on Meyers parrots. It was hoped that these boxes would provide attractive nesting sites. In most cases, more than one nest box was placed per tree: one “bee box” low down and close to ground level for bees to occupy, and a second “nesting box” high up closer to the canopy. As you imagine this was quite a large undertaking, and many hours were spent hanging from branches up to 30 meters above the ground. Limited monitoring of the nests took place over the past few years and despite some interest being shown by breeding pairs no nest boxes have been used to successfully raise chicks.  However, crowned hornbills have occupied one nest box.

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Cape Parrot in tree cavity (c) Ryan Tippett

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In other areas, most notably the Hlabeni forest in KZN where a number of artificial nests were placed and monitored over 8 years (1998-2005), none were used either, but some were occupied by bees and rodents . However , one nest box placed close to an exisiting cavity which had been damamaged was successfully used in 2005 by a pair (Downs, 2009: 223) Despite this limited rate of success we remain motivated to continue using these nest boxes as a mechanism to improve nesting success, particularly since parrots are long-lived birds and so take a long time to feel that a nest site can be trusted!

We plan on inspecting every single one of the nests in the Hogsback area over the next few months, to gain a better understanding of their use, either by parrots, bees, or other animals. We also need to fix several boxes and remove those that are completely broken. We will be replacing these in the next few months and putting up a few at newsites. We will leave those boxes occupied by bees, as bees are also cavity-limited.

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Artificial nestbox for Cape Parrots (c) Cape Parrot Project

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Another type of artificial nestbox (c) Cape Parrot Project

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 Hopefully we will discover a few that are actively used by the parrots and then use the information we have gained in improving the use and success rates of our artificial nests. Please follow us on Facebook for regular updates: www.facebook/capeparrotproject.

For more information regarding the Cape parrot and how you can get involved in helping to monitor these artificial nests, please contact:

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Cassie Carstens

Research Manager

Cape Parrot Project

hogsback@wildbirdtrust.com

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Title photo: (c) Rodnick Clifton Biljon

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