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Start of the new field season

Toa Kyle | Aug 12, 2006


Trinidad, Beni, Bolivia

Welcome to a running diary I’ll be keeping this field season for the World Parrot Trust Blue-throated Macaw nesting study.  This species has the unenviable distinction of being the most endangered macaw in the wild.  If you want to get some background on Blue-throats you can read more at these links ( With luck we’ll begin field activities tomorrow.  I say with luck because organizing logistics in Bolivia never comes easy.  I have to remind myself to add a day or two to my original departure date, anticipating delays and unexpected surprises.  Today I’m keeping my fingers crossed diesel will arrive in town, as well as the 12m ladder I bought last week in Santa Cruz (but has yet to materialize via the transport company I left it with).

I’m looking forward to this coming season to make amends for last season which was full of disappointments.  The success of this project is measured in the amount of Blue-throat chicks entering the wild population each year.  In 2005, five of the six active nests we had failed in the late stages of incubation.  Six nests may seem like an extremely low number of nests to find but given the rarity of the species it’s a decent number to work with (we know of around only 80 birds where we work). 

Of the nests that failed, some were flooded due to heavy rainfall, some predated by toucans.  We also observed that most of the nests were of low quality, being found in motacu palm snags (“snag”=dead tree).  This type of nest is difficult to work with from a management perspective as they’re harder to climb (no branches to swing climbing ropes over) and can even fall over due to strong winds.  In an attempt to provide the birds with alternatives to motacu snags we’ve designed some wooden nest boxes we’ll be putting up this month.  We’ve cut the entrance holes so they’ll allow Blue-throats to enter but exclude the larger and more numerous Blue and Gold Macaws.  We’ve seen in past breeding seasons that Blue and Golds will take over nest sites being guarded by Blue-throats. 

Anticipating toucan predation we also inclined the entrance to the nests 45 degrees (I’ll be attaching photos directly below relavent text in these blogs). 

Toucans have weak perching feet (unlike macaws) and will be unable to perch at the entrance of the nest box and climb in at an angle (we hope!).  Whether or not Blue-throats will take to these nest boxes remains to be seen.  Previous studies with other parrot species have had mixed results with nest boxes.  A colleague of mine told me that in Mauritius they used almost 100 different models of nest boxes before the birds finally accepted one.  As much as I hope Blue-throated Macaws will rush to nest in our boxes, my feet are firmly planted on the ground.  For now I’ll be content if one of 15 boxes is used.  Best to aim low for starters. 

I also am curious to see how the severe drought last year affects nesting attempts this year.  In general, fruit production (and Blue-throats are fruit eaters, not seed predators) is lower the year after a drought.  This in turn can decrease the number of nesting attempts as scarcer food resources leaves few nesting pairs capable of raising young.  It’ll be interesting to see how the number of nesting attempts for 2006 compares to past seasons.  Stay tuned for updates from the field…