Discovery of breeding area for rare blue-throated macaw raises hopes for survival in the wild

A new nesting area for the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw has been discovered by an expedition led by the Bolivian conservation organization Asociación Armonía, the Washington, D.C.-based  American Bird Conservancy (ABC) announced this week.

“The discovery may solve one of the riddles of the rare macaw’s life cycle and is a major step toward ensuring full protection for the species,”  ABC said in a news statement. “Blue-throated Macaw has been devastated in the past by the illegal pet trade, habitat loss, and feather use for traditional dances, among other threats. Only 250 to 300 of these birds remain in the wild,” ABC said.

Flooded palm-tree snags where Blue-throated Macaws nest. Photo by Tjalle Boorsma, Asociación Armonía.

Flooded palm-tree snags where Blue-throated Macaws nest. Photo by Tjalle Boorsma, Asociación Armonía.

From American Bird Conservancy:

Since 2008, with support from American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and other partners, Armonía has been protecting key roosting and feeding grounds of the largest remaining wild Blue-throated Macaw population at Barba Azul Nature Reserve. Recent sightings of 118 macaws—a record high—indicate a healthy increase of the macaw population there, a sign that Armonía’s conservation program is working.

However, most of these birds only use Barba Azul in the dry season, from May to November. They disperse to breed at the beginning of the rainy season, which runs from November to April, and return to the reserve in small groups starting in March. The mystery has been where these birds go to breed.

The beginnings of an answer arrived in January 2016, when Armonía’s Blue-throated Macaw Conservation Program Manager Gustavo Sánchez Ávila discovered 15 roosting birds north of Barba Azul during an expedition supported by Loro Parque Foundation. With this evidence in hand, Armonía kicked off the search for breeding grounds to the north, with support from ABC and The Cincinnati Zoo.

The nesting period of the Blue-throated Macaw coincides with the region’s rainy season, when the Beni savanna, the grassland habitat that covers the much of the area, is mostly flooded and makes traveling by car difficult. The Armonía expedition set out on horseback, led by Barba Azul Nature Reserve coordinator Tjalle Boorsma.

A demanding 130 km (70 mile) ride led the team deep into the flooded grasslands, northwest from the boundaries of the reserve. Initially they focused their searches on forest islands of motacú palm. In the reserve the Blue-throated Macaw prefers these trees, foraging year-round on their abundant fruit.

At first the expedition met with no success. “We registered a significant number of Blue-and-yellow Macaws in the area but, to our surprise, the motacú-dominated forest islands showed no signs of Blue-throated Macaws,” Boorsma said.

At last the team sighted a pair of Blue-throated Macaws flushing from an elongated patch of royal palms. “The discovery gave a new scope to the whole expedition,” Boorsma said.

The birds had been perching in dry royal palm snags flooded by recent rainfall and difficult to access. That natural barrier could very well be the reason that the macaws choose these palm snags for their nesting cavities.

To confirm that the Blue-throated Macaws were indeed nesting there, Boorsma concealed himself in a makeshift palm blind. After six hours of patient waiting, he observed the cautious Blue-throated Macaw pair return to their nest. A second nest was later discovered in another dead royal palm trunk.

Two more nests were found in totaí palms at another location about 50 km northwest of the reserve. In that case, the birds chose locations 50 meters (164 feet) away from a populated farm, and showed no signs of disturbance from being in such close proximity to humans and livestock.

“That was the missing piece we needed to complete our investigations,” Boorsma said. “Now we definitively know that Blue-throated Macaws prefer totaí and royal palms to nest in, as dead palm snags provide an excellent vantage point from which to observe their surroundings.”

It’s too early to know for sure whether the macaws found during the expedition are the same birds that visit Barba Azul Nature Reserve in the dry season or whether they constitute a separate population. To answer this and other questions about where the birds go, a group of experts led by an independent researcher, Lisa Davenport, is in the process of testing tracking devices suitable for this species, so that tagged birds can be traced during their seasonal migrations.

Learn more about the expedition here, and to help support work to conserve Blue-throated Macaw, here.

American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.

Asociación Armonía is Bolivia’s premier bird conservation organization. From the Andes to the Amazon, we work to halt bird extinctions, conserve biodiversity, protect vital ecological systems and alleviate poverty through sustainable livelihoods provided by healthy ecosystem services. We contribute significantly to improve the knowledge about Bolivia’s bird diversity and conservation priorities, and conduct effective education initiatives to help develop a conservationist culture among Bolivians.

American Bird Conservancy links/publications:
Blue-throated Macaw
Protected Habitat Doubles for Magnificent and Endangered Blue-throated Macaw
Support the work to conserve Blue-throated Macaw.

Asociación Armonía publications:
Armonía discovers new breeding area for the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw
Bird of the Month: Blue-throated Macaw

Top photo: Blue-throated Macaws. Photo by Daniel Alarcon, Asociación Armonía.

Bottom photo: Flooded palm-tree snags where Blue-throated Macaws nest. Photo by Tjalle Boorsma, Asociación Armonía.

#BluethroatedMacaw, #BarbaAzulNatureReserve, #ReservaBarbaAzul, #ArmoniaBolivia, #BirdsofBolivia, #AvesdeBolivia, #Bluethroatedexpedition

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