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Achieving a DREAM: The Macaw Project Approaching 30 years

Gabriela Orihuela

It was the late 80s when Rainforest Expeditions’s founder, Eduardo Nycander and a group of friends from the Agraria University in Lima, came to Tambopata for the first time and joined a group of researchers and enthusiast conservationists who were aiming to save populations of wild macaws. This dream of a project turn out to be the longest study of wild Scarlet Macaw, Red-and-green Macaw and Blue-and-yellow macaw to date in the Amazon basin, a renowned initiative known as the Tambopata Macaw Project.

This project started at the Tambopata Research Center (TRC), at that time, a Spartan accommodation for scientists, which, after being documented in a cover story of the National Geographic magazine, became a bucket list destination for nature and macaw lovers all over the world. The eyes of the world had turned to Tambopata rainforest, and people learned about its uniqueness as a species rich ecosystem, and, the fate of these amazing psittacines was never ever the same.

Scarlet Macaw Nest 

So, the Macaw project initially aimed to help with the decline of the local macaw populations, which was suffering due to habitat loss. The idea was to develop a system where macaws could reproduce in a free-ranged environment, providing enough nesting places for the birds to reproduce. The project focused in one species, the largest of the macaws, the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao). The scarlet macaw’s nesting preferences include the tallest trees in the forest, like the Shihuahuaco (Dypteryx spp.) and Lupunas (Ceiba spp.). Original trials used wooden boxes, which worked at first but got colonized by several other creatures, from termites to wasps, to other arboreal animals. The macaw project team after several trials and errors got to a final structure for the artificial nests. They had designed a long lasting structure using pvc pipes, the strongest material to resist erosion from inclement weather and attacks from unwanted colonizers. These structures needed to look attractive enough to allure the birds, so they were transformed into roughed tree-looking hanging pieces. From the outside they look like a limb of the tree, and in the inside, they had a chicken-wire system wrapping the pvc walls which allowed birds to climb up and down using their dexterous claws. Macaws liked it, the artificial nests turned out to be 100% successful, which made the macaws returned to the nests every reproductive season.


The system worked...

 From the original project we still have the “Chicos” coming back to the jungle lodge. But, who are they? They are the first, second and third generation of macaws born during the first stage of the project. These birds still come to the TRC clearing; throughout the years they have come back on their own and also bringing along some wild friends (I mean born-free macaws).

I mesmerize on the days we used to call “Chicos, chicos, chicos…” and feathery-rainbow birds landed on top of our heads like kids coming home.


The Macaw Project is approaching 30 years, becoming the longest study on this group of birds in the neotropics (!). The project, directed by Dr. Donald Brightsmith, is conducted throughout the year by his team from Texas A&M University, and volunteers from all over the world. It has accomplished several research goals, but every year a new spark from the scientists brings a new question. For example, this season, Ph.D. student, Gabriela Vigo, and team, had some new trials, they tried to use robotic...

So, with many new questions we wonder what would be the results of the season and the fate of the translocated chicks. Any thoughts?

 We invite you to follow the videos of the 2017/2018 season through the MacawCam, and share your theories on this amazing world of macaws. We are listening! 


And of course, if you´re thinking (or even dreaming) of Amazon Travel, you can chat with the Amazon Travel experts right here. We will help you get there.

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