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Why Scarlet Macaws could be in trouble in the near future

Juan Diego

As the dry season begins, rain falls only every other week, the heat during the day knocks you out, and the cool breeze of the night makes your body crave a thin blanket. The pleasant afternoon and night conditions give me the perfect opportunity to write — keeping you in touch, once again, with the magnificent Macaws of Tambopata..

scarlet macaws

Scarlet Macaws - Photo by Carl Safina

The Macaws are the largest members from the Psittacidae family. This charismatic group of birds includes macaws, parrots, parakeets and parrotlets, and has become one of the most endangered bird families in the world. Nevertheless, the Scarlet Macaws are currently categorized as “Least concern” for endangerment on the IUCN Red List.

So, why is it so important to research Scarlet Macaws?

There are two main reasons why Scarlet Macaw Research is so crucial:

  1. Scarlet Macaws are a flagship species. This means that everyone who visits the tropical rainforest hope to see macaws — one of the most endearing and charismatic jungle critters. This makes macaws perfect ecotourism resource, a way to connect people to the rainforest, and to fundraise for conservation efforts.
  2. Scarlet Macaws are also an umbrella species. This means that they have a large range of distribution, living all over one of the most biodiverse habitats in the planet. If we protect macaws, by extension, we're protecting the whole habitat and all the other rainforest animals! One study here at the Tambopata Research Center, led by our Macaw Project, used satellite collars to track macaw movements throughout the year. They noticed that there was a huge variation in the territory covered by individual macaws. Some of the birds barely moved a few kilometers from their nest, while others migrated over 150 km away, crossing into Bolivia and Brazil!

Macaws at clay lick

Macaws at a Tambopata Clay Lick. Photo by Carl Safina


The Tambopata National Reserve is home to the most biodiverse Clay Lick in Peru! These clay bluffs, known as colpas in Spanish, attract macaws and other birds searching for nutrients and minerals. Because our Tambopata Research Center lodge is located right near the clay lick, we have the perfect conditions to spot and study macaws!

Macaws normally mate for life, and can live for many decades. They look for tree hollows to lay their eggs in each year, generally using the holes of the towering Shihuahuaco tree (Dypterix micrantha). When a branch falls, it creates a perfect hole for a macaw couple looking to shelter for their future progeny. These regal Mega-trees can live for over 1000 years, offering a suitable nest for hundreds of chicks over generations! There's only about one Shihuahuaco tree in each hectare of forest, so limiting the nest space for our bird couples.

Because of this scarcity, the Tambopata Macaw Project Team decided to install artificial nests to facilitate the study, making macaws much more accessible for study. In fact, providing nests can increase the birds' reproductive rates. Like harpy eagles, the macaw’s future depends directly on this tree. This means that protecting Shihuahuaco trees is hugely important to the Scarlet Macaw's future.

In parts of the South American tropics, timber activities are increasing. The mighty Shihuahuaco has caught the eye of the logging industry, putting its population at risk because of the high quality of its wood. Logging, along with destructive farming and cattle ranching practices, are the main factors behind macaw habitat loss. Local hunting of macaws has also become a major problem. Macaws are the main predator of the “Brazil Nut” immature soft fruit — nuts which are a major rainforest industry. Because the birds threaten Brazil Nut production, and their bright feathers are highly coveted, hunting has put further pressure on the species.

Through better understanding of a species' ecology, we can hope to effectively manage the environment for their protection, promoting positive legislation and development. 

How does our MacawCam help to protect Scarlet Macaws?

In the field, our Tambopata Macaw Project Team works incredibly hard to protect the Scarlet Macaw. But beyond that, our MacawCam videos and monthly blog are powerful tools for education and awareness, making it possible for anyone to participate in our work.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about “Molinero” chicks’ development, and what’s going on in the surroundings of the lodge.

Meanwhile, you might want to know: Where you can see Macaws in Peru?

We invite you to follow our videos of the 2017/ 2018 season through the MacawCam, and share your thoughts on the 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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