Americas
21 Aug 2017

Critically Endangered macaws are learning to trust artifical nest boxes

This year, nine Blue-throated Macaw chicks have successfully hatched from nest boxes erected by Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia) - including the first-ever second-generation nest box fledging.

Blue-throated Macaw chicks in one of the nest boxes. ©Aidan MacCormick
By Alex Dale

Found only in the Llanos de Moxos - a tropical savanna in northern Bolivia - the striking Blue-throated Macaw Ara glaucogularis was nearly trapped to extinction as a result of demand for the cage bird trade, until 1984, when live export of the species from Bolivia was banned.

But while that threat has been reduced (if not entirely eliminated), the remaining Blue-throated Macaw population, estimated to be in the low hundreds, faces a significant hurdle in its attempts to rebound. The entirety of its known breeding range is situated on what is now private cattle ranches, and the resultant tree-felling and burning has left the Blue-throated Macaws - picky nesters by necessity - short on viable options.

Blue-throated Macaws prefer trees with spacious cavities to nest in, but 150 years of cattle-ranching has resulted in the clearing of most of the larger trees in the region. The beleaguered species has been recorded to suffer a high rate of nesting failures in recent years, with predation from species such as Southern Caracara Caracara plancus and Toco Toucan Ramphastos toco cited as one of the main factors.

 

 

However, since 2006, Asociacion Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia), the Blue-throated Macaw Species Champion, have been working to boost the species' nesting options. With support from the Loro Parque Fundación, Bird Endowment – Nido Adoptivo – The Beni-Factor and the Mohammed bin Zayed Conservation Fund, Armonía has erected numerous next boxes across the southern part of the Blue-throated Macaw's breeding range, to great effect. In the eleven years since the programme has been running, 71 chicks have successfully hatched - a significant number for a species with such a tiny (50-249) estimated adult population.

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This year, nine Blue-throated Macaw chicks fledged from Armonia's nest boxes - one of which represented a significant milestone in our attempts to save this Critically Endangered species -  our first-ever second-generation nest box fledging. Both of its parents were themselves hatched in a nest box seven years ago, and the pair have now returned to raise their own offspring in the same boxes.

Macaws are intelligent birds and much of their behavior is learned from their parents. We are confident that once a macaw pair breeds in a nest box, their offspring will learn this behaviour. - Bennett Hennessy, Development Director, Armonía. 

Armonía are now working to improve and expand upon this programme. In 2014, Armonía installed 67 nest boxes in a potentially successful site in the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, where currently Blue-throated Macaws forage and roost, but do not yet breed. It is hoped that in time, these intelligent birds will adjust to the presence of these artificial cavities and begin breeding within this protected area.

Also, Armonía are also constantly revising their nest box designs to better suit the needs of the species as new insights become available. The discovery of a new breeding site this past February has given Armonía furtherinformation on the Blue-throated Macaw's preferred nesting conditions; as a result, future designs will be taller and more isolated to reflect their preferences.

 


If you wish to donate to support Armonía's work to save the wildlands and wetlands across Bolivia, click here.

BirdLife works to save the world's most threatened breeding sites. Please consider donating to our Quest for a Safer Nest appeal.