Ana Macaw (Ara Ana)
It’s a flurry of red feathers and it makes no sense, at least to my eyes. Before me is an aviary with a newly combined flock of Scarlet Macaws and next to me is Ana, The Ara Project’s Bird Manager. We are observing the birds’ interactions, but they look remarkably similar to each other and can be difficult to identify. I point to a nearby bird and apprehensively comment, “That’s Cooper, right?” Ana glances at the bird and gently says, “No, that’s Harry, Cooper’s over in the corner next to Owen.”
There are just over 90 macaws cared for at The Ara Project and 19-year-old Ana can identify nearly each one at a glance. She’s been a part of the project since December 2016 and during that time, has displayed unique skills that make her an invaluable team member and manager while diligently working to protect Costa Rica’s two native macaw species: the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) and the endangered Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus). She will soon embark on new adventures in conservation and entrust her responsibilities to others but observes, “I fell in love with conservation here.”
Ana is no stranger to birds. At age seven she received her first parakeet and continued to care for and raise birds in her Utah home; familiarizing herself with amazons, budgies, parakeets, conures and eventually a Blue and Gold Macaw. She fostered many of these birds while also learning the intricacies of breeding and hand-raising. At age 15, her love for animals as well as the natural world lead her to become a vegetarian and later a vegan. A practice she continues to enjoy today.
Impressively, Ana graduated from high school when she was 16-years-old and decided to attend The University of Utah where she (not surprisingly) snuck a variety of pets into her dorm room, including a tarantula, python and fish. After a year in general studies, she decided to pursue volunteering abroad. While looking for a place to go, she recalled a lesson on the rainforest she was taught in 2nd grade, “It was on South America, the rainforest and parrots. I dreamed of going there as a kid and it shot me on the course to parrots.” In that same lesson, she and her classmates also made their own macaw species. Naturally, she made hers the Ana Macaw.
While it’s not in a rainforest, Ana discovered The Ara Project in Punta Islita, Costa Rica and chose to dedicate five months as a volunteer and resident artist (yes, she’s a talented artist as well). Five months turned into six and when the Bird Manager at the time decided to leave, Ana’s experience and knowledge put her in line to assume the role. When offered the position, she didn’t hesitate and effectively extended her stay another year.
Tremendously petite and unassuming, Ana has successfully supervised more than 30 volunteers and monitored the hatching and growth of 11 macaw chicks (thankfully, their parents do most of the work). She continually strives to improve site records, promote best practices in bird husbandry, demonstrate leadership skills and make difficult decisions. When there’s extra time she teaches art classes in Islita, works on a mural in the community and perfects the ultimate bean burger recipe.
Living in Costa Rica, specifically at the project, Ana has learned that she can quickly adapt to new situations. She decided to live in a tent for a year and a half on the site grounds, relinquishing the comforts of home and opting for a slightly less conventional life. She was surprised with how comfortable she felt living in the untamed world and would like to explore more of it. She could do without the mosquitoes, though.
Recently, Ana has been accepted to the University of Exeter and will begin courses this fall studying Conservation Biology and Ecology. She is looking forward to the experience, which includes research, papers and future field work opportunities. The natural world awaits her and she is open to the possibilities saying, “I have a special thing for birds, but I wouldn’t close myself off to the option of working with other animals.”
Looking back, Ana is proud of the work she has done and the growth she has experienced. She’ll miss the birds, specifically the ones she’s worked with daily, but one bird in particular has a special place in her heart. At only two months of age, a Scarlet Macaw had to be rescued from a fallen tree and brought to the project. Ana called her “Babyface,” who needed to gain weight and be treated for parasites; a process that took nearly four months. Today, Babyface has integrated into a captive flock and is a candidate for release back into the wild. Ana expresses, “It’s amazing to see her healthy and flying around with other birds!”
Life in the wild for Ana is far from over. She is presently preparing for a five week trip to Bolivia where she will volunteer with the critically endangered Blue-throated Macaw and enjoy being surrounded by crazy plants and animals a bit longer. The mural she has been painting in the community is nearly finished and its completion will be celebrated by the team of The Ara Project, members of the local community and visitors to the area. “Friends of Islita” depicts many of the common species found in the Islita area such as sea turtles, jaguars, coati, howler monkeys and of course, Scarlet Macaws. It’s a wonderful illustration of the biodiversity that exists in this world, a diversity that Ana respects, advocates for and has dedicated her time to. Her sharing this with us is just the beginning of her story.
*While Ana has kept parrots before as pets, she recommends only bringing a parrot into your home if you are willing to put the time and energy into meeting their needs. They are extremely intellectual, social, loud and tend to show some signs of aggression such as biting if not managed properly. If you decide to bring one of these critters into your home, please first check with rescue centers instead of purchasing from breeders, as there are many homeless and unwanted parrots out there.