Cape Parrots, Bees and Champion Trees


The Cape parrot, Poicephalus robustus, is endemic to South Africa and considered endangered (Downs 2000) with less than 1000 birds remaining (Downs 2005). The Cape parrot distribution is in Afromontane forest areas from the Eastern Cape to southern KwaZulu-Natal, with a small population in Limpopo province (Wirminghaus 1997). Most of the decline is attributed to habitat loss, including their favorite food and nesting tree the yellowwood (Podocarpus sp). (Wirminghaus et al 2001).  Additionally parrot chicks are poached from their nests and adults are often shot by pecan farmers. The major limiting factor for reproduction of Cape parrots is the number of dead trees with appropriate nesting cavities (Wirminghaus et al 2001 and Downs 2005).   

The use of artificial nest boxes can help increase reproductive rates of Cape parrots by offering adequate nesting sites.  Additionally the use of artificial boxes that are accessible could help with the study of Cape parrot chick development.  Previous studies were unable to assess many wild chicks because they were located in dead snag trees that were not safely accessible by biologists (Symes et al 2004).  Artificial nest boxes were first implemented for Cape parrots in 1998 and the study was conducted until 2005, in 2005 the first Cape parrot chicks were raised in an artificial box (Downs 2005). Honey bees occupied up to 50% of nest boxes at times throughout this study, however their effect on the project was not determined (Downs 2005).

Amorentia Estate is located in Limpopo, South Africa and was established in the early 1950’s. In 2007 Cape parrots were first noticed on the farm and in 2008 large numbers, 20 to 40 a day, were seen on the farm.  The first nest boxes were installed in 2009 of cocas palm material.  This material however was not durable enough to withstand the rainy climate and after two years they fell apart.  It was also determined that the 5 to 6m height the boxes were placed at was not high enough. It was noted that honey bees were occupying some of the nest boxes. In 2012, 20 parrot nest boxes were installed by special aerial tree climbers at heights of 30 to 60 m and with more durable materials.  In order to discourage honey bees a cleaning fluid (Jeyes Fluid Adcock-Ingram, Johannesburg) was applied to the outside of the box as per Downs, 2005. X-ray film was also attached to the inside top of the box to hopefully deter honey bees from building comb. Unfortunately within 24 hours many of the installed boxes were occupied by honey bees. At the last inspection in July 2014, 100% of the installed nest boxes were colonized by honey bees.

In order to use artificial nest boxes to help increase the reproductive rate of Cape parrots the honey bees must be excluded form them.  Previous attempts with the cleaning fluid and x-ray film have been unsuccessful.  There is also a large agriculture industry in Limpopo mainly with Macadamia nut trees.  Macadamia trees produce large numbers of flowers that require honey bee visitation for adequate fruit set.  Therefore honey bees are important pollinators and are needed for the agricultural industry.  

An integrated pest management (IPM) protocol termed push-pull has been studied in Brazil and Southern Florida to prevent honey bees from colonizing bird nest boxes. We propose to use this technique to prevent colonization of Cape parrot nest boxes. Parrot nest boxes will be treated with a bee repellant insecticide to ‘push’ bees away and each parrot box will be paired with two bee trap boxes containing a "lure" to ‘pull’ bees toward. Bees that move into trap boxes can easily be removed and relocated to local beekeepers for pollination services. 


Habitat destruction has left very few trees adequate for nesting of the Cape parrot.  The use of artificial boxes is paramount to the recovery of this species.  Determining the preference of Cape parrots for the shape, size and height of boxes is important, however these efforts have been hampered due to the increasing colonization of nest boxes by honey bees.  Without a protocol to prevent honey bee colonization this artificial nest box project can never get established.

Public Awareness

Local beekeepers will get hands on training on how best to manage honey bees. This will include the best ways to safely remove bees from the trap boxes and place them into managed hives.  They will also receive training on the best way to reduce or eliminate swarming and absconding.   This will include techniques on physically capturing and handling queens, clipping the wings of queens and marking them, and replacement of older queens. They will also get training on management to maximize honey and wax production and how to market it.  This knowledge along with the harvesting of feral swarms from the environment and bringing them under management can become a lucrative sustainable local cottage industry while reducing the threat to parrots. Similar “boots on the ground” programs have met with great success in developing a beekeeping industry in other Caribbean countries like Haiti and Jamaica.

Additionally, education programs will be given at the local Thlatefa Combined School where the local farmers’ children attend.  These programs will introduce children to honey bee biology and beekeeping.  They will also learn about the Cape parrot and the importance of conservation.  After completion of each seminar each school child will receive a certification of completion and a badge.  We will also distribute posters, coloring and story books.


School teachers and children will also be taught how to work with bee by-products.  They will be shown how to extract and bottle honey.  We will also teach them to use bees wax to make candles, soap, and ornaments.  In addition to giving children activities to keep them occupied, engaged and empowered we plan to have proceeds from the sale of these products go towards food and personal development for the children while they are at the school.  We will provide all the equipment necessary for the children to make these products and have it be sustainable for long term.


Previous studies conducted in Brazil (Efstathion et al in review) and South Florida (Efstathion unpubl. data) have shown success with the push-pull method to deter bees from colonizing nest boxes treated with the repellant insecticide, while simultaneously pulling them toward baited trap boxes. Therefore this study would be a continuation of testing the push-pull method. This study will also serve as a pilot to examine how captured bee swarms can be placed into local beekeepers hands and how to start up a local cottage bee keeping industry.  Potentially any project that has issues with honey bees colonizing nest boxes could benefit from this study.

 Can you post the box? It's placed around 35m up in a beautiful Matumi tree.

Can you post the box? It's placed around 35m up in a beautiful Matumi tree.