The Tambopata Macaw Project – Saving Scarlet Macaws

One of the things I’m most passionate about on this blog is the protection of parrots, wild or tame. As many readers here already know, habitat loss and the illegal pet trade cause serious damage to wild parrot populations (the latter being one more reason for “adopt, don’t shop”). As it happens in Mexico and Guatemala, scarlet macaws are one of these critically affected species, with population numbers dipping below 500 birds total 1. Did you know that scarlet macaws typically lay two to four eggs each breeding season? However, parents only care for the first and possibly second chick.

The others are sentenced to starve to death – which is where the Tambopata Macaw Project steps in.

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Baby scarlet macaw. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Project.

Yes, there are foster “parronts,” and it’s science.

The Tambopata Macaw Project Team is working to develop fostering and supplemental feeding techniques (“parront” being 100% my term, not theirs!) that move abandoned third and fourth chicks into new, empty nests, or nests containing only one. It’s too risky to test new field techniques in areas with rapidly declining populations, so they focus work in the Tambopata region, where the populations are more stable. According to Shannon Courtenay, team project media leader, “From our research, we know that over 20% of all scarlet macaws that hatch die of starvation, the leading cause of death amongst wild chicks.” A hefty 45% of second chicks, and nearly all of third and fourth chicks are left to starve to death, while the parents focus on the first. Utilising wild foster parent macaws could dramatically cut down on these percentages

And okay, so perhaps using the word “parront” doesn’t convey quite how scientific this research is – or, indeed, how important that data is to the long-term conservation of parrots, which itself has a positive impact on whole ecosystems throughout Latin America. You see, the family Psittacidae is one of the most endangered bird families in the world. Low natural reproductive rates, coupled with habitat loss, and capture for the pet trade, especially among the largest psittacine species, are driving this high rate of endangerment.

The Tambopata Macaw Project trialled their “chick adoption” program last year with promising results: nearly all of adopted chicks survived. Now they are asking our help to run this program on a larger scale, to save more Scarlet Macaw chicks, and allow them to share this vital information with other conservation programs around the world.


Scarlet macaw chicks in their nest. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Project.

About the Tambopata Macaw Project:

Based in the lowlands of southeastern Peru, the Tambopata Macaw Project is a long-term research project on macaw and parrot conservation and ecology. To date, their researchers have developed and tested an array of conservation techniques, helping parrot populations around the world, including Puerto Rican Parrots in the U.S.A., Blue-throated Macaws in Bolivia, Scarlet Macaws in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala, and Salmon-crested Cockatoos in Indonesia – as well as others.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend following them on Facebook (Tambopata Macaw Project). They’ve been studying scarlet macaws for over three decades, and there’s a lot to learn.

Science in action.

Working in remote environments such as the lowland jungles of southeastern Peru means that things we normally take for granted are not always readily available or reliable. For instance: electricity.

The researchers have a brooder in the Research Center to keep the young chicks warm and safe. These need to be maintained at a constant temperature, but the center only has electricity for limited times throughout the day. For all other times, including at night, they need to use a car battery that is hooked up to the brooder, constantly checking that these are still in working order. All of the equipment, from chick food to measuring equipment and climbing gear needs to be brought in, usually from America, flown to the jungle city of Puerto Maldonado, and put on a 7-hour boat ride up river.  The team is in constant battle with nature: ants eating electrical wiring, humidity destroying their electrical equipment, and limited funds for replacement gear.

This is why the Tambopata Macaw Project needs funding to make this important research possible.

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The difference between scarlet macaw chicks. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Project.

How can we help save wild parrots?

If you’re passionate about protecting our earth and its incredible, rich ecosystems, this is the perfect time of year to donate to a great cause – so be sure to check out the Tambopata Macaw Project’s Experiment page. In case you’re wondering, it’s a project endorsed by multiple respected aviculture professionals, including Phoenix Landing Parrot Rescue’s Ann Brooks, Susan G. Friedman, Scott Echols, and Sharman Hoppes.

The project will last approximately four months, from mid December 2017 to mid February 2018. According to their mission statement,

“We predict that first macaw chicks will be hatching by late-November. So we will have third chicks hatching by mid-December, with the possibility of more late hatches by mid-January. Chicks will be translocated into their adoptive nests approximately 15 days after hatching and will continue to be monitored using video cameras placed inside their nests until they fledge.”

We can all help pull Scarlet Macaws from the brink of extinction. Even if you aren’t able to donate now, a quick share or a comment helps spread the word, too!

By the by: Keep an eye out for a first-hand account of what it’s like to participate in this important research from Tambopata Macaw Project team member, Shannan Courtenay. This is in the works!


Scarlet macaw. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Research Project’s Facebook page.


Meet Tayir: Dilute Blue Parrotlet

Say hello to little Tayir (tai-year). This 25 gram parrotlet joined our flock in late 2015, and has been fitting in ever since. He loves food, bath time, and (to Ptak’s dismay) his big brother. I just realised that while I introduced him on the SwB Facebook page, I forgot to do so here!


Dilute blue pacific parrotlet

Tayir is also a talker. He has many new words (a favourite being ‘Ptak’) and sound effects to match. I’ll try and grab some video to put up.

Mavi is unconcerned with Tayir, which is just as well, since I don’t let them out at the same time. (Mavi is much faster and more territorial.) And Ptak just really doesn’t know what to make of the new addition:


Dilute blue and cobalt blue parrotlets (Tayir is left)

Like many parrotlets, Tayir is fierce, and has a mind of his own. Look for more birdy updates soon!

Greetings from the Flock

We’re back! I don’t know for how long, but I hope to post a bit more frequently than, you know, not at all. Long story made very short, I’ve been working long hours to keep the flock supplied with toys, and focussing on them when I’m home, rather than posting. Ptak loathes any device that takes my attention away from him, being a proper parrot. Mavi is admittedly not too keen, either, though he does enjoy posing for blog pictures. But life is good, in spite of the odd broken bone (mine), and a general lack of free time.

‘Yes, minion?’

Although I keep up with a number of my favourite blogs, what inspired me to get back to Students with Birds was one little ping from my mobile. Upon checking it, I discovered several notifications and an influx of views from WordPress! As it turns out, this little parrot blog has gone a bit viral, at least as highly specialised, serious, and somewhat controversial sites go. My daily visitors number in the thousands – which isn’t much, unless you write about topics that most people don’t know or care about.

With the surge in popularity, I also happen to have haters! These are mercifully few and far between. I truly appreciate different opinions (this is, after all, what makes us human, and I do love a good debate), but less so the apparent attitude of ‘I can’t articulate WHY I disagree, so I’ll throw as many insults as I can think up.’ Still, it doesn’t get me down, because it means I’ve made someone think, in the end.

So here is a sincere thank-you to everyone who has liked, commented, shared, followed, or even just stopped by to read. I will try to catch up with everyone’s comments and questions this week! In the meantime, the flock – aka Mavi and Ptak – would like to issue a very grand gesture of their own (ahem). They wish me to convey how much they enjoy having minions fans, and would like to give their thanks to everyone who’s stopped by.

Senegal Parrot ‘Mavi’

In case you’d like to catch up, the article that has garnered so much attention is one of my favourites: Seven Reasons Why Parrots are Not Good Pets. I mean, if any one were to be passed around by folks, I’m grateful it’s this one. Controversial, yes. But also one I wish everyone could read.

And lest you think I am a cold-hearted parrot-hater, here is a follow-up article in the series: Why I Love Parrots as Companion Animals, because truth is, I adore these little buggers. They may drive me nuts sometimes, but they are also dear to me beyond any words.

If there is a topic you’d like to see here, feel free to get in touch. Comments and questions are also always welcome, even if you just want to state your side of things! Just remember to respect others (plus, bonus, you’re more likely to make your point and convince people that way).


Why I Love Parrots as Companion Animals

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Celestial Parrotlet

Parrots may not make good pets, but I was thinking about this: There are endless reasons why I love them anyway. I’d never give my birds up if I had any kind of a choice! It takes a saint-like amount of patience to live with one…as well as an immunity to mess, noise, and waste…yet if you can tolerate the negative aspects of ownership, a parrot can make a wonderful life-changing companion.

My parrots are typical. They are affected by seasonal hormones that make them many times more likely to bite and scream and act like little terrors. After chewing up my valuables (and maintaining an uncanny knack for identifying these things), they fly around like creatures possessed and steal foods that are bad for them even when I’ve lovingly prepared a wholesome meal. No, I adore my flock because they are birds, not cats or dogs, and because they do bird things. I enjoy all the little things that differentiate them from our domesticated pets.


Parrots are not domesticated, and this is the root of all their behaviour.

 Parrots are true to who they are. They do exactly what they want, when they want, and they don’t have ulterior motives – such as pleasing you. A parrot follows his instinct. This is exactly what makes them so unsuited to captivity, but also what endears them to me. I like that predictability (which is in itself sometimes unpredictability).

I am enamored of their soft, brilliant feathers, of course, but more so with their bold personalities. Everyone one of them is unique, and has his or her own likes and dislikes. For example, Mavi hates red cabbage. No matter how I disguise the occasional bit of red cabbage, he will not touch it. Ptak loves strawberries, but Mavi won’t touch those either. Bobo the cockatoo loves everything, ever, while cockatiel Mishka only liked green things. If you had food she wanted, she’d be dangling from your collar and doing acrobatics to try and get some – and if you still weren’t sharing, she’d try to stuff herself into your mouth or casually saunter right through the middle of your plate. These little things make parrots very special. To me, it totally makes up for the fact that you shouldn’t be cuddling them, or that you will sometimes get bitten randomly.

When I look into the eyes of a parrot, I see someone looking back at me – more even than with dogs, cats, or horses, which are all very intelligent and wonderful companions. Parrots are thought to be sentient. I appreciate that when I talk to my flock, they are aware and truly listening. Or at least I feel like it.

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Senegal Parrot in the window.

Parrots also smell good – or at least, mine do! Mishka smelt of fresh powder… I used to bury my nose in her feathers every now and then. You can guess how much she liked that. I loved her un-tameable wildness, how she used to mimic the phone dialing, or ‘sing’ the music to one of my favourite city-builder games. I came to admire her fierce independence. Everything was done on her terms. If she wanted to be with you, she’d let you know by trumpeting the song of her people into your ear. If not, she’d self-amuse on top of the door. She was courageous and neurotic at the same time. I loved her for her for being, well, Mishka.

In truth, there are endless small things to adore about each individual in my flock. They test my patience every day, but I always smile when my littlest parrot, Ptak, pipes, ‘Baby bird, you’re so pretty, bird!’ and makes up his own grammatically-correct sentences from words I taught him in a different context. Or when Mavi the Senegal declares, ‘You’re so CUUUUTE. I love you!’ as I wake him up. They’re mirrors of your home life. If you shower them with love and respect, they reflect it!

In the end, it’s the small things that make even the toughest times bearable. It takes just one sweet little moment to remind me that today was tough, but tomorrow can be better.


Umbrella cockatoos in their aviary

 I think the best and final part of having parrots is that you will never be alone again. I am flock now.

Their neediness can be wearing; parrots thrive on social interaction, making it a prerequisite of life with a bird. Their highly social nature is a pro and a con, but really a pro – if you’re ready for the sacrifice. The problem arrives when the novelty of that super-close companionship wears off. When it begins to impact your life, will you still think it’s so fun or interesting? Many people don’t.

So why do I do it? This is a question I’m asked a lot, especially after I’ve been honest about my life with parrots. It’s a challenge! If you’ve read some of the articles on this blog, you, too, may reasonably wonder the same thing.


Biting Caique “Monty.”

Well…I share my life and home with parrots because are very lovable – and they need humans who can tolerate their quirks and wild nature. Captive parrots can never be released into the wild. They are completely and utterly dependent on people. In the end, however, their intelligence costs them their homes. Parrots are always looking for something to do, things to chew or explore, and often that leads to trouble. It is no longer so cute after your parrot escapes his cage for the fifth time while you’re out and destroys your house. Or chews your antique furniture to bits. Or screams until your eardrums ache and your neighbours file noise complaints.

I aim do my part to help captive parrots, and what that means to me is adopting the birds I can provide for and doing my best to give them good lives – plus writing about the truths of parrot ownership so that others can learn from my experiences.

Life with parrots is about sacrifice. In the end, I love that they taught me selflessness, compassion, and patience. So yes, they may be terrible pets, but I choose to remember the quiet moments and let the bites and the frustrations slide past. And mostly I stay sane doing it!

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Senegal parrot looking to step up.

Parrotlet Mimics the Rain

Parrotlets can actually mimic and talk incredibly well, which people tend not to expect out of small birds. This is just a quick post today, but I wanted to share Ptak’s adorable ‘trickling faucet’ noise. It does sound rather like a running tap. He has recently applied this noise to any water, including rain, whether that be a drizzle or a downpour. Previously, he only used this noise to signal when he wanted a drink or bath in the sink.

Rainy days are full of extra fun for him now, as he spends a lot of time watching the world go by outside my bedroom window!

Bird Visitors


Had a friendly little visitor to my garden yesterday morning. This homing pigeon got a little lost on his journey from Ohio to New Jersey. They apparently will often stop to rest for up to two or three days in a row, but this one picked a bad spot. Our property is up against wilderness and a small wooded area, so we have all kinds of predators, including pets, hawks, feral cats, coyotes, owls, foxes, etc. All would be happy to munch a pigeon.

I made friends with him by offering him some safflower from our treat stash, plus a little pan of fresh water. He then followed me around for a bit on the ground and had a nap. I didn’t think he seemed sick or injured, just tired and hungry.

When he didn’t leave by dinner time, I got a cat carrier, tossed some seed in, and in he went. I christened him Nigel.

In any event, dear Nigel (after contacting Animal Control and the local club of his owner) is on his way home to New Jersey. Websites usually suggest leaving these birds alone if they appear to be okay, but since this one refused to get off the ground, we all decided he needed a little help! Happy endings all around.

Side note: I washed thoroughly after contact with the strange bird, and my flock never came into contact with him – very important!