Macaws, Camera Traps, and the Need for Salt


I figured this day deserves a post for itself.

This morning started out per usual, with the pairs of macaws squawking as they crossed our field. But a little before breakfast, there appeared to be more activity than we typically had. Several pairs of macaws were circling the clearing around the Comedor, flitting back and forth between the surrounding trees. Then from the south, a storm of squawks set off; about a dozen or more scarlet macaws all appeared at once!





Shortly after breakfast, a few pairs were still around. As I sat finishing breakfast, two came from apparently nowhere, swooping lower than I had ever seen them fly to about 10 meters above me. We see these birds constantly, but only in these rare moments do you get a full look at their beauty.

During lunch, a small flock of scarlets still persisted in our clearing. Alli and I decided to head down the trail a little bit to investigate, and we got a solid look of a few of them roosted in a tall castana.

I wish these photos could capture all of their the vivid colors, but even from these you can tell they are gorgeous birds.

Macaws perched 2.jpg




Macaws, o guacamayos en Espanol, are one of South America’s largest birds. In Madre de Dios, the most common species are the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), the Red-and-Green Macaw (Ara chlorptera) and the Blue-and-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna), though occasionally one will see Blue-Headed Macaws (Primolius couloni). Some of the greatest risks to these birds are habitat loss, of course, but also collection for the pet trade. Most macaws nest only in large dead trees, which will be cut down for the sole purpose of extracting the eggs to be illegally sold both domestically and internationally.


Macaw clay lick.jpg
Macaws at a clay lick. Salt is limited in the forest, meaning it’s pretty tough for many organisms to find enough relative to other nutrients. One source of salt is the clay underneath the topsoils, which also provides other micronutrients. The banks of large rivers occasionally expose these salts, to which macaws, parrots, and many birds flock in droves. Photo from


Over the past few months, we’ve noticed an interesting trend in the behaviors of the macaws. In the morning, many of them fly from the southwest, and during sunset they return in this direction. We’ve been recording this daily commute throughout the summer; one theory we have in mind is they might be visiting the Madre de Dios River farther south for a visit to a clay lick.



Clay licks aren’t just a POI for birds, however. Particular clearings in the forest, high in salty clay and other essential minerals, will bring various mammalian life to frolic in the muck. These clearings, called cosas, are hotspots to sight all sorts of charismatic megafauna.

We here at Fincas are lucky enough to have a cosa right in our backyard, near our aguajol stream. A couple of weeks ago we set up a camera trap there, which is set off any time there’s motion nearby.

Camera trap.jpg
Geoff sets up one of the camera traps at the cosa on our property.


Agoutis, peccaries, and even tapirs have been recorded coming by the cosa. Exciting to have it close by, when we might never get a chance to see this wildlife otherwise!

1 thought on “Macaws, Camera Traps, and the Need for Salt

  1. Very interesting details. Love the pic – WOW!!


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