Birds, bees & babies Part 2


As a photographer, I am used to documenting the achievements of other people and following their steps into the field to capture their hard work. I absolutely love doing this because the people I work with are humble and don’t like to make a fuss despite the amazing work that they do, which means I get to do it for them and tell our supporters about their efforts. But now I find myself on the other side of the lens, documenting my own work…. well, with some slight help from Jack. Okay, a lot of help from Jack. Either way, its my first experience of photographing and documenting my own work as part of a project that I’m privileged to be a part of. I was now building refurbishing and maintaining nest boxes for the wild Scarlet Macaw population in Punta Islita, Costa Rica.


Last time I posted about my work here, we had the predicament of how we were going to get a very heavy nest box back up the 20ft tree. Thankfully “we” didn’t have to, Jack and Tom, however, did. They had the manually intensive job of lugging this 60lbs nest box in to its new location.

Picking a spot for a nest box isn’t as easy as just finding a nice tree, its a mix of logic, experience and a little trial and error. The first artificial nest boxes were installed in 2015 in logical places that seemed suitable for the Macaws i.e. with a clear flight path, good surrounding view, high elevation and in an area familiar to the flock. Since then, we have a better understanding of the behaviour of the Macaws which has helped us find better locations. This is one of the many results that come from monitoring the nest boxes intensively. If a nest box has been totally ignored, we know that it is likely in a completely unsuitable location. If a nest box has been investigated but not used, we know we are on the right track and have picked a good area, but that we should reconsider the position/tree/height to make it more attractive to the birds. Finally, if a Macaw pair are known to have laid eggs in a nest box, we know that all we have to do is refurbish it and put it back in the same spot. That’s the theory behind it anyway and although it may seem trivial, without the long hours that are put into monitoring and collecting data, we wouldn’t have got to the point where Macaws are interested in our artificial nest boxes. Especially as we all know how picky our clients can be!

After a hop over a river and a pretty steep climb to a very awkwardly placed tree we arrived to one of the most beautiful locations in Punta Islita, over looking the entire valley towards the shining sea. All I could think was, “Wow, I wish my bedroom had a view like this”. Tom and Jack started to unpack the climbing equipment while I ambled about finding the perfect spot to get a tan…. I mean photograph the climb.


I’m not going to pretend I know anything about climbing, so please forgive any of my misinterpretations. So whether it was a tactical decision or not, Tom and Jack started by throwing the first line to guide the climbing rope over a branch, which then became completely tangled up……1 hour and an invasion of army ants later the climb was back on.

Jack readied himself in the climbing harness and was soon already half way up the tree! Its a good job that by this point I had set my camera up to the perfect position and fiddled with the necessary settings.

The position of the nest box is important to ensure both the birds’ and the field biologists’ easy access, but it must also be placed so as to not allow too much direct sunlight into the entrance. As such, trying to position such a large heavy object up a tree, while dangling from some rope, isn’t an easy task but nevertheless it was handled like a pro. The nest box was then strapped to the tree and being wiggled (pronounced forced) into the correct place. Once Jack was happy the Nest box was safe, secure and in the correct position he descended from the tree, a little sweatier…Okay drenched and much more tired than when he started.

Now the nest box is up and ready for the upcoming breeding season. What next? When the breeding starts, typically from December until June, all of our artificial nest boxes will be monitored. Jack kindly explained what that all involves.


Monitoring the nest boxes requires Binoculars, shade, ALOT of water and even more patience. Its Jacks job being the field biologist to regularly spend whole days watching them taking notes and tracking the Macaws movements and timings through out the surrounding area. If a pair are to be seen using a nest box, then he needs to determine what stage of breeding the Macaws are at (investigating, roosting, nesting, incubating or if there is a chick inside). Depending on this, the tree will be climbed/filmed and the nest checked upon by Jack. Regardless of the outcome the nest is monitored all season in case there is a change I.E. a pair starts to investigate/roost or egg is laid. Sometimes intervention is needed, such as more wood shavings/drainage or change of position. This intervening means our nest boxes have the highest possibility of being suitable for our wild population of Macaws to want to breed in them.


Just like you or me our feathered friends check out the surrounding area when house hunting, ensuring its familiar to their flock, good food sources, nice views & somewhere suitable to raise their young. Once the area is just right, they will then investigate a home (nest box) and spend time in the area and in/around the box. If for some reason something isn’t right they will move on until they find one more fitting (en suite?). As soon as they do they will increasingly spend more time inside the nest box. This is called roosting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean breeding so other behaviours need to be factored in such as pair feeding, preening and being territorial. These details of the Macaws behaviours are all recorded so we have a clear understanding of how many pairs are investigating, roosting and breeding. With so many nest boxes to keep track of its a good job we know all their locations or it would be a very long day trekking through the Costa Rican jungle chasing Macaw squawks.

Thank You

We are all so excited for the upcoming breeding season, I cannot wait to document and share our Macaws breeding in these wonderful nest boxes that our donors have so kindly gifted to them. A Big thank you to our donors, to Jack for putting up with my thousands of questions and everyone who had to spell check me! I look forward to sharing some beautiful photos with you of these majestic Macaws and hopefully their new babies!



About the Author
Staff and volunteers at The Ara Project come from all over the world and all walks of life! Some of us have years of experience working with parrots and in conservation and for some of us, this work is brand new! But we all have one thing in common which is that we're dedicated to helping these beautiful birds roam free once again in Costa Rica.