Cape Parrot Nest Box Project in South Africa

The Echo project monitors the Yellow Shoulder Amazon parrot of the island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean.  These endangered parrots nest in cliffs and the few remaining large trees on the Island. Poaching and habitat degradation are the main threats to this parrot.  Biologists had reported that the Invasive Africanized honey bees were occupying nesting cavities and posing a threat to staff trying to monitor parrot nests. 

In 2005, the  Amorentia Estate, a 1000 acre avocado and pecan farm located in Limpopo, South Africa noticed Cape Parrots  on the farm. Then in 2008 large numbers, 20 to 40 a day, were seen on the farm.  Because the major limiting factor for reproduction of Cape Parrots is the availability of nest cavities, the farm decided to implement an artificial nest box program for the parrots.  In 2013, 20 parrot nest boxes were installed by special aerial tree climbers at heights of 30 to 60 m.  Unfortunately, honey bees found these boxes to be to their liking and soon 100% of the nesting boxes were occupied by bees.  A protocol to prevent honey bees from colonizing nest boxes was needed.

In order to reduce the threat of large trees being cut down to access feral honey bees, it was decided to set up some beekeeping workshops to encourage beekeeping as a cottage industry.  APEC staff taught local beekeepers how to safely capture swarms and move them into bee hive boxes that can be managed for honey and wax production.  The feral swarms that colonized the bee trap boxes would also be given to the locals to be managed for honey.  In addition to beekeeper management workshops, educational programs were provided to the local junior rangers youth group.  The Junior rangers are a group of teenagers interested in environmental and service projects on the island.  The work has continued since our departure with the beekeepers organizing their own bee club.  The Junior Rangers applied for and received a grant to supply langstroth beekeeping equipment for their group. 

An educational component was also included in this project.  We gave educational talks to the children at the Thlatefa Combined School. Children were told about the Cape Parrots and how unique they are to that area.  They were also told about the issues the parrots were having with the bees and how honey bees are important for the environment and their farming community. We showed them how to extract honey, make candles and even had them put on a bee suit.  Many of the children got to taste honey for the first time.

The Limpopo region is known for its avocado and nut production.  Bees are  necessary for pollination of this type of agriculture, so part of this project is to take the captured honey bee colonies and use them in a management program with local farmers.  Local farm workers received training from the APEC staff on how to manage the bees for pollination and honey production.
To date, several bee trap boxes have been occupied by bees.  The bees have been transferred to managed bee hives and moved to the farm. All parrot nest boxes remain bee free. We look forward to continuing with this project and have future plans to better assess the population status of this important group of Cape Parrots.

In May 2015, APEC members along with a team from Explore Trees, traveled to the  Amorentia Estate to implement our push-pull protocol. The team installed 20 artificial Cape Parrot nest boxes and 40 bee trap boxes throughout the Amorentia property.  The push-pull system works by repelling, or pushing honey bees, away from parrot nest boxes using a bird safe insecticide, while simultaneously pulling bees toward a trap box better suited for the bees needs. The bee trap box is constructed to the ideal dimensions preferred by the bees and contains a pheromone lure to encourage them.

Avian Preservation and Education Conservancy

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Thank you to our sponsors of the Cape Parrot  Project

In 2014, APEC staff with the help of a grant from The  Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund  went to the island to assess the situation.  APEC staff worked with the Echo project director, Dr. Sam Williams, to construct and place, bee swarm traps around the parrot nesting areas to provide an alternative nesting site for the bees.  While working on the island, it was noticed that a culture of honey hunting existed where hollow trees were cut down to access feral colonies of bees.  These were the same trees that were suitable as nesting sites for the parrots. 

The Cape Parrot, Poicephalus robustus, is endemic to South Africa and considered endangered with less than 1000 birds remaining . The Cape Parrot distribution is in Afromontane forest areas from the Eastern Cape to southern KwaZulu-Natal, with a small population in Limpopo province.  Most of the Cape Parrot decline is attributed to habitat loss, including their favorite food and nesting tree, the yellowwood (Podocarpus sp).  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.

Beekeeping Project on the Island of Bonaire