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Tambopata Macaw Project

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Macaws make an excellent flagship species, and serve as charismatic focal points for the conservation of the ecosystems where they occur. Unfortunately, throughout most of tropical South America large macaws have suffered major population declines.

The Tambopata Macaw Project is a long term research project, started in 1989, with the goal of learning about the basic ecology and natural history of large macaws, so that this information could be used to help their conservation. It is located in the lowlands of south east Peru, under the direction of Dr Donald Brightsmith of the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Centre at Texas A&M University.

The reasons for macaw decline include habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade. Much of the local habitat is currently affected by the construction of a large highway through the centre of the country – with this comes, traffic, pollution and further construction activity.  As the rainforest is cleared, the macaw’s main food sources are reduced, and their nesting sites destroyed. It is difficult to restore these sites, as the macaws require large tree cavities to nest in, which are usually found in the heights of slow growing tress, which can take 20 years of growth before being suitable for use by the birds. As a result, the destruction of each site means not just the loss of a single nest, but also the loss of dozens of future chicks that could have been raised in this cavity. Pet trading also has a big impact because poachers will often cut down the trees to remove the macaw chicks from the nest.

The principal aim of the Tambopata Macaw Project is to study the various aspects of the ecology of large macaws and parrots to help us better understand the interactions among clay lick use, food supply, breeding season, breeding success, abundance, and movements. This understanding will be invaluable to the birds’ conservation.

Image credit: Google Maps


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Clay Licks & Predation

Other than protecting trees, another important habitat for conservation is clay licks. On a daily basis, up to 200 individuals of macaws and parrots, from across 17 species, can be seen congregating on one clay lick site at any one time. Whilst scientists have documented this phenomenon, there is still little known about why the birds use these licks. There is some evidence that consumption of the clay can reduce the absorption of dietary toxins in the blood, and provides an important source of sodium. Tambopata studies have found that predation drives the times of day in which the birds use the lick, and that the birds use them more regularly in nesting season, as they feed the soil to their chicks.


Parrot Breeding

Due to the naturally low reproductive rates of macaws, just protecting their habitat may not be enough to allow them to recover from decades of collection and tree cutting. For this reason, a major objective of the Tambopata Macaw Project is to develop and evaluate different methods to increase the reproductive success of large macaws.

Our scientists have designed new nest boxes for macaw species that have never nested in artificial nest substrates, and conducted experiments and observation aimed at understanding why some macaw chicks die of starvation, and how to enhance their survival. The findings of this research are being shared with conservation scientists worldwide to aid the conservation of parrots and macaws on a large scale.

In recent years the project took a focus on scarlet macaws, by using video surveillance cameras in the nesting sites, to collect information on occupation and territorial competition, and breeding behaviours, such as rate of laying, hatching and fledging. The scientists are required to climb to great heights to monitor the nest sites, and will take DNA samples from the chicks for lab testing, in order to provide information of breeding populations.in this area, and lead guided tours, and provide tourist information.

Parrot Pairs Game

Home Range & Habitat Use

Other general research includes monitoring the home ranges and habitat use of different species of parrot and macaw. For the first time we have solid data showing how far the birds fly, providing information of the scope of the area that needs protecting, which is important for conservation efforts, as the birds can often fly beyond the reach of protected sites, and even across international boundaries. To help gather this information, since 2008, we have been using specifically designed macaw satellite telemetry collars to track their movements and annual ranging patterns.

Ecotourism & Volunteers

Unfortunately, by gathering in large groups in the area, the birds are an easy target for hunters. On the other hand, the spectacle can also be a big attraction for tourism to the area, attracting scientists, wildlife enthusiasts and photographers from all over the world. As a result, a number of ecotourism projects now run in the area, which can be much use to use in helping to raise awareness for the protection of this area from hunting and logging.

Over the past decade the project has worked closely with Rainforest Expeditions, an ecotourism company that hosts the project at their lodge, the Tambopata Research Center, and provides the project with salaries, donations, transportation, food, lodging, and logistics. The project also has attracted hundreds of national and international volunteers, many of whom showed exceptional talent and are now associated with the project on an ongoing basis. The project has been also serving as an effective mechanism to find and train talented aspiring conservation professionals and activists.

We are proud to have supported the TMP Projecto Guacamayo for over 11 years.

Paul Waddington macaw

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