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A wounded female and possible siblicide

Toa Kyle | Nov 11, 2006


I’m back in town after checking on nest 20 (the new nest we discovered late October).  The nestling is progressing fine.  It weighed in over 300g at around 17 days of age.  It’s always a relief when a chick gets to this size as it’s highly unlikely med-sized predators such as toucans and Crane-hawks can predate nestlings of this size.  The location of this nest is a bit odd as there are few other macaw species around and we’ve yet to see any potential nest predators around.  This chicks still has along way to go though prior to fledging (nine weeks in fact).

We’re banding all the nestlings we find this season. This is the first time we’ve banded.  It’ll help us track chick survival after the first year in the wild and also help us trace any birds that may show up in the illegal bird trade.  We slip bands on around 10 days of age, allowing birds to ‘grow’ in them.  Once fully grown it is impossible to remove a leg band. 

We received quite a scare from another potential nesting pair in this area.  This pair had been excavating a motacu palm snag we’d carved a cavity into in 2002.  Since 2004 a pair was regularly seen guarding the cavity during the nesting season though with no chicks to show for it.  The upper part of the snag (containing the nest) fell over but the pair excavated a new cavity directly below where the old one broke off.  I went to check on this pair a few days ago and took my first photos of this pair.  To my horror the female was bleeding profusely in the neck and breast area. 

She didn’t appear to have problems flying but to see a bird in distress like that was troubling. It returns us to the unresolved question of what animal is predating adult BTMs.  A more disturbing explanation for the cause of this female’s injury relates to when we saw her like this and the area she inhabits.  There are many lakes in this region and people from the city come here to fish on Sundays (I should add that at this particular ranch they are doing so illegally, though there is little enforcement here).  Last year, at the side of a lake I found the remains of a Blue-and-Gold Macaw stuffed into a tree cavity with a bag of salt.  Someone had actually shot the bird for fish bait.  While I can understand the factors that drive people to trap macaws for the pet trade it’s hard to accept killing them to catch fish.  We’ll be keeping an eye on the island where we regularly see the injured female and her mate to see if she pulls through.  In the event that we don’t see her anymore, we’ll search for her remains.  Hopefully there won’t be a lead slug in it.

More bad news to relay (so goes BTM conservation at times).  The second chick of nest 27 was found dead in the nest during an inspection last week.  It was almost seven weeks old (and only a month from fledging).  This is a perplexing as there were no obvious wounds on the bird.  It was growing normally and had a full crop when it was discovered dead.  The only clue which may explain its death lies in the manner in which its remains were found.  It was partially buried in the nest litter with the first (and larger) chick sitting on top of it.  This may be an extreme case of nestling rivalry where the older chick may have killed its nest mate possibly by suffocating it.  Whether this happened accidentally or intentionally we don’t know but to lose an otherwise healthy chick at this stage of development is truly sad.

On a positive note the ‘bee-hive’ nest hatched two chicks the other day.  This brings us up to seven chicks but we’ve lost five nestlings along the way.  With each passing field season the bar is continually raised with respect to what more needs to be done for the recovery of BTMs in the wild.  This year the theme is nestling mortality.  At least three chicks have died in the first few days of life due to neglect from their parents (ie. starvation).  Another nestling lost possibly to siblicide.  A goal for next season is to prepare ourselves to raise third (and possibly second) hatched chicks in captivity for later release.  This will take a lot of preparation in terms of having hygienic conditions and suitable release sites but given that every wild BTM chick that hatches is so important the species’ recovery, we need to do more to assist more of them through to fledging.