The southeastern area of Peru is often called the “biodiversity capital of the world” and rightly so. The rainforest at the base of the Andes mountains is home to the start of the Tambopata river, one of the sources of the Amazon river, and is also home to record numbers of birds (over 500 different species), frogs and butterflies. The rainforest itself is also quite diverse with more than 200 species of trees per hectare.
The Tambopata Research Center is located in this area, and in January of 2009 I was fortunate to be one of fourteen Earthwatch volunteers helping to collect important data for the Tambopata Macaw Project. One of the main objectives of the project is to record behavior of adult macaws (mainly scarlet macaws, but also red-and-green macaws) at their nesting boxes when chicks are in the nest. The researchers are hoping to better understand the factors involved in how macaw parents raise their chicks and why some chicks survive and others do not. The volunteers worked in pairs in six hour shifts everyday at various nests located within about an hours’ walk from the research center. Many of the nests also had remote cameras installed to be able to observe the behavior of the chicks within the nest itself.
The other main project that the volunteers were involved in was daily recording of the numbers of approximately 15 parrot species that frequent the Tambopata clay lick, one of the largest clay licks in the world located about 15 minutes from the research center. Blue-and-yellow macaws, red-and-green macaws, scarlet macaws, chesnut-fronted macaws, and many other parrot species fly to the lick each day to eat the clay. This phenomenon has been studied for many years in an attempt to understand what the birds are gaining from ingesting the clay.
Many of the largest macaw species are endangered and more parrot species are one the edge of endangered status in the very near future. These birds reproduce slowly in the wild and also face loss of habitat, pressure from competing species, poaching for the pet trade and changes in climate. By trying to better understand the behaviors of these wild parrots in their natural habitat, the Tambopata Macaw Project is hoping to be able to make recommendations to the local and national governments to help protect the birds themselves and the resources they require to maintain healthy populations well into the future.
I was fortunate to be able to be an active participant in this long-term, on-going study that has increased the knowledge of these incredible birds and their behaviors tremendously over the last twenty years. Thanks to the Minnesota Zoo, Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant, Earthwatch, and the Tambopata Macaw Project for all their efforts in this conservation program.