I often get asked what Cape Parrots are like because I have one. So for everyone that wants to know what a Cape Parrot is like, here is my review of the good, the bad, and the ugly. In case you read no further, let me just say that Truman is a great bird and I love him, but I wouldn't recommend a Cape Parrot to virtually anyone. Now to understand why, read on.
When I mail ordered Truman from a Florida breeder, I knew very little about this species. Based on my good experience with Senegals, appreciation of the Poicephalus genus, and fear that an African Grey may be too neurotic for my lifestyle, I decided to go with a Cape Parrot. I heard nothing but good things about them and unfortunately that is most of the information that is out there. That kind of information does not help an owner make an honest well thought through decision. But a decision like this must not be made lightly as these birds live for a very long time.
Before I got Truman, I heard Cape Parrots described as "gentle giant," "cuddly," "playful," "adaptable," "non-aggressive," and other high marks of praise. I heard that they are good at playing with their toys, independent, and social. Furthermore, I was impressed that they are considered less prone to common parrot problems like biting, plucking, or screaming. After nearly 3 years of Cape Parrot ownership, I can say that these descriptions are very true. BUT, the typical descriptions leave out the real problems with Cape Parrots.
While the Cape Parrot is very good on paper and on quick comparison to other parrot species, this is is very misleading about their quality as a pet. The best way to put this is that Cape Parrots are very difficult in a way unique from other species. This part is missed on comparison because it is hard to describe and unique. So for a beginner it is tempting to think that a parrot that doesn't bite, pluck, or scream must be easy and suitable. But instead, their unique difficulties are far more difficult to remedy than the more common and understood problems that other parrots may engage in such as biting.
Simply put, Cape Parrots have a very difficult and unmanageable personality. They are extremely stubborn and it is impossible to change their mind when they are set on something. Capes tend to get very moody at times and good past relationships are challenged. Cape Parrots don't take very well to normal taming and training.
For spans of time Truman may be well behaved and easy to handle but every once in a while out of nowhere he will throw a tantrum. Suddenly he decides he doesn't want to go in the cage or doesn't want to be handled by me and he'll be flying all over the place to avoid it. If I manage to get my hands on him, he'll be throwing his beak all over the place and biting like crazy. Under normal circumstances he has never bitten anyone, however, when he is throwing a fit he bites very hard. These moody spells seem to happen every several months and keep coming back. Even with great efforts on my part to resolve these matters (and even to do preventative training when things are normal), things will be bad for up to a week at a time. During this span Truman generally doesn't want to hang out with me, doesn't want to be grabbed, does a poor job at training, and I'll be lucky if he steps up without any fuss.
While my Senegal Parrot, Kili, can go through hormonal periods or get upset on rare occasion, it is far easier to work things back to normal with her and this is all extremely infrequent. So while a Cape Parrot isn't likely to bite when being stubborn, they go through extreme lengths to have their way and resist yours. Shortly I will get to why hunger and training don't sufficiently help like they might with other species. Maria Brinson from The Purring Parrot says of her Cape Parrot Jupiter (who happens to be Truman's older brother), "Overall this a not a good bird for someone that has no bird experience. I have learned that if Jupiter sees me coming for him and he doesn't want to interact he will start grooming and ignore me. If I push the issue I will get bit." Natacha the Poicephalus Lady doesn't mind so much but has a similar experience with her female Cape Lea, "Lea is also quite into drama reaction, making things seem bigger than they are...again, not something I mind but some people might find irritating. But yeah..very very very stubborn, when her mind is set on something, it's hard to redirect her attention towards something else."
If a Cape Parrot is set on doing something you don't like, virtually impossible to make them stop. Either they will keep on doing it anyway or they'll hate you for interfering. It's a very fine line in between and almost impossible to manage even with extensive parrot keeping experience.
Cape Parrots are also very injury prone. Since he was a baby, Truman frequently falls off his perch in the cage. Less so now than before, but even after 2 years I occasionally hear the "Cape Cannon Ball" when he thuds down on the cage bottom. Truman always has some kind of scrapes, bruises, or broken feathers. Whether in his cage or out he tends to knock into things and get a cut between the ceres, break feathers, or bust the tip of his beak. If in 4 years I have only seen Kili bleed once or twice, I see Truman bleeding at least once every few months. When Truman isn't hurting himself, he's getting hurt by Kili. But the unfortunate thing is that he puts himself in her way more often than she comes after him. A few ripped out feathers and a bloody cut later, he's still landing on her cage asking for it. This is that Cape Parrot stubbornness at its max. They never learn.
Maria sums up the trouble by saying that Cape Parrots "can be very stubborn, prone to light injuries from too much rough play with toys. Can be a bully with other birds, will hold grudges for a least a few days, bites can be very bad since beak is so large, quick temper." Her Cape, Jupiter, once flew into something and busted the tip of his beak and was bleeding badly. Truman goes through the same and then is mad at me for a week even though I had nothing to do with it.
Not only does my Cape Parrot hurt himself a lot but he also gets very dirty. All parrots are messy, but that doesn't mean they let the mess affect them. Sure parrots will throw stuff out of the cage and make you clean the floor and things like that, but Truman will take a poop on a perch, walk around in it, get it on his beak, climb all over the cage wiping it everywhere, and then have bits sticking on his back. I've noted my Cape Parrot to be pretty smelly right from the very start. And it's not just that he's a bigger bird. I've been at a rescue with 8 Senegal Parrots and all those birds combined did not make the kind of smell a single Cape Parrot does. And all these birds eat the same foods. Truman is messy, gets dirty, and worst yet is completely shameless about it. I've had to put up with countless poopscapades with him where he'll poop on some vertical surface and manage to hit everything on the way down.
When it comes to their voice, Cape Parrots can be fairly good talkers. It is still debated if they are as good as an African Grey or not but this isn't particularly important. Personally I don't think they are. Unlike smaller parrots, Truman talks in entire phrases rather than individual words. However, the downsides are far worse than the infrequent nice bits of talking. For everyone one word he says, Truman has to let off several dozen honks, screeches, and whistles. He is extremely shy about talking in front of people and only does it when no one is looking. Truman tends to spend at least an hour a day on a screaming fit. He screams a lot when I come home and even more when he wants something. Despite the fact that I ignore screaming, he still has it in him to let off a bunch each day regardless. I encourage Truman to talk when he wants to come out and he does. But he alternates saying things and screaming just to be sure. The worst part is that if I give in to his talking or quiet and let him out, he'll come out and then start screaming but really close to me. Here is an example of Truman screaming but to get the authentic experience, turn your volume up to full, sit close to the speakers, and put it on loop for an hour:
When it comes to training, it is much more difficult with a Cape Parrot. The way I'd best describe it is that he's too smart for his own good. It's not so much that it is difficult to teach specific tricks to him as his mindset in general. When it just comes to simple things like practicing flight recalls or maintaining what he knows, he is always trying to come up with ways to cheat the system. This may seem smart but it's not because I never give in. In fact I usually am less generous with treats when he's pulling these kinds of things, yet in his stubbornness he won't give this up. However, I know that he's not stupid because when I get a good motivation day out of him, he will do everything exactly right which only indicates that he is purposefully screwing around the other times.
For example even after years of the same going back in the cage routine, he still does it all wrong. The idea is that I recall fly the parrots back and forth across the room a bunch of times and at some point put them away for their meal. Kili has this down perfect and will fly any number of times I request her to and gets to have her meal. Truman will either jump the gun and try to fly over when he wasn't called or refuses to come when I do call him. I bet he thinks that if he just stays put while I make Kili do all the flights, that he can just come once at the end and get his meal. What the smart aleck doesn't realize is that I'll just put Kili away and then make him fly as many if not more flights by himself until he gets to eat.
Managing Truman's motivation with hunger is quite problematic as well. When overfed, he's extremely stubborn and unresponsive. As he gets progressively hungrier, nothing happens for a while and then it quickly jumps to the flip side where he is too hungry and troublesome in other ways. Truman seems more likely to scream a lot when he is hungry (not that I ever feed him because he's doing this, so I still can't figure out why he thinks that's a beneficial thing to do). Also when he becomes too eager for food, he'll jump the gun and fly to me when uncalled and then be too tired to fly when I do call him. So across the spectrum of hunger, there seems to be no middle ground where he can train well without effects of being too hungry. With Kili this is no problem and there is in fact a pretty good range of weights where it works well.
So in conclusion, even though Capes have many desirable qualities and seem to make pretty good pets on that basis, they are extremely difficult in ways that are not well known. Except for people with extensive parrot experience, no one should even consider them as a companion because they will run into difficult issues. Clipping a Cape Parrot is about the stupidest thing someone could do, so forget that as an option. They are clumsy and get hurt flighted as is, if they can't catch themselves they'll get even more hurt. Worse yet, a Cape Parrot that cannot fly away when upset will turn to biting and that is not a beak you can afford to get bit by. Little is documented or known about Cape Parrots so if you get one, you're pretty much on your own. Basically if you rely on books, videos, help from other people, etc, you will be in deep trouble with a Cape because that sort of information doesn't exist for them and you'll have to figure it all out on your own. Like I said, their stubbornness is like no other and I don't know anyone who has found a universal and successful way to manage it (except putting up with it). While for example a Senegal Parrot may be prone to known problems such as aggression and be a one-person-bird, I find those issues to be simpler and more probable to solve. When it comes to the Cape issues, it's not only that I haven't been able to solve them yet but I don't even have a solution/approach on the horizon. For now it's just something I have to put up with and keep trying.
I hope this article will help people understand that even though Cape Parrots can be fun and exciting parrots, they should be avoided as pets by anyone that is looking for anything but an extreme challenge.
Wow. Are you sure that these aren't traits particular to *your* Cape?
This post makes some pretty big generalizations and a pretty stark categorical statement that is based on experience with one bird, which appears to have a few traits in common with a few other Capes (particularly being stubborn). Animals are individuals, particularly the more intelligent ones. I've seen two birds from the same clutch who have different personalities, just like I've seen two dogs from the same litter (let alone the same breed) have very different personalities.
My Cape is younger, so I have limited standing to argue. He's about 9 months old, so some of these traits Michael describes could very well could show up in the future. But my guy is easily led and trained (he'll do anything for a nut), never throws a fit, and is pretty easygoing for a parrot. He's great with my kids, who range from 6 - 13. He's also a bit clumsy and a bit careless about stepping in his waste, so, yes, he apparently does have some less desirable traits in common with Truman. I wouldn't say he smells--although he does have nut breath! I wont generalize either way from these experiences. Mine may be the exception or the rule, just as Truman may be representative or not.
My decision to get a bird was more recent, so my research was more recent, and I'd say that there *is* some informative material out there, particularly over at Avian Avenue. I'd urge people to look at that material and other things. Go visit Mytoos for that matter, to effectively hear why nobody should ever own a bird. However, so far, I haven't regretted it a second.
Finally, I'd like to thank Michael for running a fantastic site. I've been lurking here long enough to know that it's safe to disagree with him on his site, which is pretty cool. I find his opinions too stark sometimes, but I get where he's coming from. He does not want to see these intelligent animals abused, abandoned, or neglected.
Heck, when I think about how most people are, maybe I should just agree with Michael. If you are like most people, you probably shouldn't get a bird, or a dog, or even a goldfish. I'm skeptical that Capes are particularly difficult birds, however. I find Cockatoos and Macaws far more intimidating for extensively documented reasons, while conures seem ear-splittingly loud. I find my Cape quite pleasant to be around.
I agree with some parts, the stubbornness, the throwing tantrums (which only really started a little while ago). However, I did expect some type of "rebellious" behaviour, and the timing might be right, as she was to shed her baby ways and become an "adult". I was not expecting easy sailing the whole way through.
However, I wouldn't call Léa smelly (there isn't any real odor emanating from her), and while she was a clumsy baby, I wouldn't call her anymore accident prone than any of my other birds. She's very rarely come into a situation where she would have bled or gotten a scuff.
The screaming you showed - she never does that out of her cage. She will, and this is not[/u:n1znossw] everyday, do it when she feels it's her turn to come out of her cage but if we pay no attention to it, she'll be done with it in five minutes and just proceed to play with something else.
I don't exactly train my birds in the same way, but I can generally get her to come to me if I'm in a bind and she's been uncooperative, if I have a pumpkin seed or almond handy.
Thanks for the comments. Let me just clarify about generalizations that I made. When I wrote things about Truman, I am speaking about the individual. When I wrote Cape Parrots, then I am basing this on my Cape as well as anything I've read or other people I have talked to that concurred. Although I quoted two people, I would say the pool of sources I gathered my generalizations from was over 10. I realize this is still a very small sample but this is the best we can really do with such a rare parrot. If I avoid using generalizations all together, then this would be only a biography of my bird and serve little purpose for people trying to weigh whether or not to consider the species.
Mfs, thanks for being understanding. Considering your Cape is only 9 months, I would say it really is too soon to say. When Truman was less than 1, he was such a baby, easy going, fairly quiet, and more "respectful" in that he'd go along with stuff I did or requested. As he's getting older, he's definitely becoming much more stubborn and difficult. Although he has always let off some noisy calls, the more extensive screaming or endless chirping (or whatever you'd call what he did in the video) is a newer development. Just out of interest's sake I want to point out that [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmmMQxtUHgQ:z3samb6c]Kili went through a phase of making weird repetitive noises[/url:z3samb6c] any time she was around me near 2 years old as well. Luckily she grew out of it, so I'm hoping that with patience and ignoring this will be the case with Truman as well.
I also realize that Truman is still young and maturing. However, I am to some extent comparing to what I had gone through with Kili at similar stages so I can confidently say he's more troublesome and difficult. The being too smart for his own good description is a large part of it. As for being smelly, it's not much and I'm used to it. However, by contrast to other parrots it is pretty distinct. I suspect it is the smell of his poop and the fact that he is very generous with it so the smell is present in his general vicinity. It's not just me, when I visited Ginger, she noticed the smell too and I also noticed that 8 Senegals combined don't make as much odor as a single Cape. Still it's not much but by comparison I just found it noticeable. I've never smelled another Cape so in that regard I can't say.
When it comes to being clumsy, this is the impression I got not only from Truman but also his breeder and from Maria who owns a brother of his. Now it may just be that the breeding pairs from that breeder are more prone to being clumsy than others but to the greatest extent of what I've learned, this seems fairly universal.
Natacha, I really hope you can attempt to detail specific examples of the Cape Parrot stubbornness. It's really hard to put down in writing but it's a very stark impression that Cape owners seem to share.
Let me end by clarifying that Truman is well trained and well behaved most of the time. It's not that he won't step up for me, defies me, tests me, or causes trouble always. 70-95% of the time he is cooperative and things are fine. 99.9% of the time he will step up. However, by comparison to Kili (even 2 years back when she was rebellious and his age), he comes off as more problematic. Kili steps up what would basically round off to 100% of the time. She never throws this kind of fit where I can't get her. I can grab Truman, cuddle him, play with him, put him away in the cage, recall fly him, and all that kind of stuff without treats/training most of the time. But unlike with Kili, there are times that he doesn't want it and when he has his stubborn little Cape head set on something, nothing in that moment can be done to change it!
Hey Michael, thanks for the info. I'm also considering a Cape and I'm visiting a breeder probably this weekend, so I'm glad you showed the downside of having a Cape.
Although you (wanted to) make it sound having a Cape is a bad idea, I'm not really scared off by your review.
At the moment I have 2 eclectus males and they're completely different, characterwise.
Phoenix is a bit shy put is very trainable and I've learned him many tricks already, while Phantom couldn't care less and I havent been able to teach him anything.
I think you already saw this video of them:
Phoenix can't wait to get the treat out whille Phantom is just waiting for Phoenix when he's done doing the work. He doesnt try it himself, so maybe he is smarter than Phoenix, or wayyyyy more stupid, I don't know.
I’ve tried it when Phoenix wasn't close by, than he just calls him to do it for him. I tried it when Phoenix wasnt in the room, he just looks at the tower, turns around and walks away.
When I get the floor toys out, Phoenix gets the cups and starts putting other toys in it and plays nicely, while Phantom just runs around throwing and kicking all the toys around or tries to steal the toy Phoenix is playing with. In spite of all that, they are best friends.
So eventhough they are the same specie, same gender and the same age, they dont look alike at all, characterwise.
Most of the things you wright you put away as character trades for Capes and I know you explainted why, but I think you can never compare 2 birds with each other, and always have to be prepared for everything when you get a new bird because it is an individual with it's own character. Ofcourse there are "guidelines" when it comes to species but you just never know what you're gonna get.
Phantom is messy too, and walks around in its own poop whenever he can. He sometimes poops on Phoenix too, that's how dirty he is. And he is clumpsy too, always has been. He never looks where he is walking and most often trips over a toy when he walks on the ground. His feather are ruffled most of the time and when he was younger at one time he had only 4 tailfeathers left because he broke the rest because he always fell or did stupid things. And he is definetly not a Cape. Phoenix at the other hand always looks perfect and never walks in the dirt. But I wouldnt put Phantom's messiness away as a bad character trade because it's just a little more cleaning. If I wanted a clean pet I should have gotten something else.
And I dont know if you ever smelled an Eclectus, but they smell too when they are exited, scared etc. And they scream too and that can be an earpiercing sound.
And they also have periods that they’re trying to test me again, I think every parrot does that every once in a while.
The bad comes with the good.
What I’m trying to say is that what you find irritating, might not be irritating for someone else. So because you don’t like Truman being stuborn, that doesnt mean someone else would call that a really bad character trade. Some people keep up with screaming/biting cockatoo’s, I wouldnt do that, but they dont seem to mind. But its good that you point out the “flaws” of Truman and people, including me, can take that in consideration.
Sorry for any missspellings, I'm from holland
That was a very good write up and I do agree with a lot of the bad. I liked that you show the wing stretch which is their hello. Since Jupiter is around so many different types of birds he has learned all of their calls and what they say. He goes through his reportie every morning. Right now he is working on cat meows. I still need to get him on video doing this but he clams up in front of the camera. He does talk away with people when they are there and always asks "How are you doing" in his deep voice. He also changes his voice with his human speech too. He also goes off on tagents that can get very loud and when that happens I start whistling which he quickly starts doing and that calms him down. I have learned that he won't quite down but I can substitute that sound for something less ear splitting then his sun conure imatations.
I do have to say that I think they talk better then the greys I have met and he makes up a lot of his own sentences.
You hit the stubborness right on. I learned about how bad it can be from Thor's website and also my own experience.
Food motivation isn't big with Jupiter but a favorite toy piece is. As far as injuries, his only bad one was fracturing the end of his beak. Now I make sure that when it gets to long to take him in and get it groomed. Every now and then he will get a scrape but overall is good. His poop factor is good and he doesn't get poopy foot plus it isn't smelly. He does like to smear his bedtime mush of sweet potatoes and banana all over his cage while eating it.
He cannot be trusted around any of our guest birds, not even the big ones. He is buddies with our grey though and they preen each other and hang out but after 5 minutes or so they get on each others nerves and start beak sparring, and who backs down most of the time? Our grey, Sodapop.
Totally agree with many of the things said. I have thought about trying a harness on Jupiter but the pain of those bites aren't worth it.
Would I still get a cape, yes, but this breed is not for a first time owner.
I also forgot, Jupiter is a fantastic flyer, I tried clipping his wings jusy a little, so he could be around the guest birds but it did make him more clumsy. I won't clip them again. He and our grey will race each other and Jupiter always wins because he does some crazy darting turns to cut Sodapop off. He is like a little green bullet and very good at corners.
I enjoyed your article but I wonder if your impressions are such because you are comparing Truman to a Senegal parrot. Senegal parrots are not typical to most parrots, especially in terms of training motivation. Senegals are a lot more focused and very easy to motivate. Also...differences can also be attributed to the fact that you are comparing a male parrot to a hen.
I think you could have written the article the same just saying "My hen does this, my male parrot does that". People don't often realize how different sexes have different behaviors - that may or may not be indicative of how they respond to cues. My male Senegals are night/day from my hen. Still smart, still responsive, still eager to please...but different.
Also, you do use food management and you will get different reactions in terms of cue-response without food management. Personally, I don't use much food management and get good responses from my greys depending on time of day. Greys are also A LOT different from Senegals. Senegals are just really, really easy to train. For senegals, the downside can be quick aggressive/fear responses....but that's just the flip side effect of sharpened and alert responsiveness combined with an animal that knows it has freedom of movement.
Finally, have you checked Truman for a bacterial infection. Sometimes, odiferous poo can be due to a bacterial infection.
Thanks and have fun!
Hey Michael. Have your thoughts about Senegal changed from back then. You had always posted saying they are difficult bird with their aggression and unpredictable behaviors but now it seems like you would easily recommend people to get a sennie compared to other birds. Perhaps it's all relative since having a cape in your opinion is much harder. Please clarify. Also in your opinion since you have met a good amount of sennies, are their and noticeable general differences between the sexes?
Much of what you said is true except that the yellowwood dwelling Cape Parrots are not the kind any of us own. We all have the Brown Necked or Grey Headed subspecies, Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis[/i:2g7qppjq] and Poicephalus robustus suahelicus[/i:2g7qppjq]. There is much hype about the nominate P. r. r. because it is critically endangered, however, there is next to nothing about the more populous Cape Parrots of central and west Africa. Their diet and lifestyles are quite different but barely studied. Thus when I say that when you buy a Cape Parrot, you're all on your own, that's really how it is.
caitlin, even though I don't own any species even remotely related to a cape parrot i still read your post - and i found it REALLY educational and informative! i absolutely agree with you that observations of birds inthe wild can give us great clues as to how to care for them in our homes. a lot of the more "theoretical" points that you made in your post were really helpful for me to read, and it reminded me big time that i need to start looking around for more items i can put in my birds diet that are natural to their environment and that I need to do some real research on how my species actually goes about its day in the wild - something i've never really set aside time for, because its so easy to just get swept into managing the birds daily lives the way we have always done.
so thanks for posting this, and I hope you will share info you find about the illigers macaw with the forum, as I will be eager to read it!
Well - -- When I decided -- to get a new bird -- other than my little Parrotlets - or the Linnies -- I looked like crazy - through everything - I'm a natural researcher- so - after - maybe 10,000 articles - I decided that I wanted a Senegal- and Got a young one - And she has made a wonderful pet - I have been thinking again - And the idea of a Cape has crossed my mind - So - Michael =-I do want to thank you - for your time and effort and your input -- on Capes - And have decided - that The Cape isn't a good idea for me right now.
Good Luck with everything -
Thanks. I love to hear it when people make a well informed decision! It's not that I'm against anyone getting a Cape Parrot, but only as long as it's a very difficult challenge that they intentionally seek. It's all for the best of bird and owner alike. Truman is not at all what I expected but luckily I'm in the position to deal with it but it is my obligation to warn others now that I know.
Michael, if you could go back in time knowing what you know know about either capes or senegals would you have made a different decision about which species to get?
I'm not suggesting for a single second that you might regret getting either of them, but I know for sure that as much as I love my GCC now and I wouldn't swap him or change the past for the world, that there were times that I wondered if I had made the right choice of species. He is a wonderful bird now he has had training and socialisation but there were certainly days in the past where I thought we were never going to get over the issues we were having.