Katie’s Story: Part II – Things are heating up!

With dry season setting in, things are heating up in the aviaries.

Breeding season is in full swing, and in Curu that is most apparent in the aggression of the pairs. Curu 2, 8 and 6 are quick to puff out their feathers and spread their wings when they see me, their pupils dilating and contracting rapidly (known as “pinning”). This is a good sign that these pairs are interested in protecting a nest. After much anticipation and a new natural nest box option made entirely of a recycled fallen palm, Curu 6 have recently begun showing curiosity in nesting. The initial sign of this process is to spot wood shavings on the aviary floor after the pairs have chewed a wider entrance hole. Then next of course is to see a head or tail poking out of it as they customise the interior of the box to suit their needs. Speaking of which, our nest box project has been completed just in time, with new boxes installed in a total of 23 aviaries.

Curu 11 Preparing their nestbox

Of course aggression alone doesn’t lead to chicks. Pair bonding behaviour is on the rise throughout the site, with sightings of copulation amongst the Great Greens. As for the Scarlets, Curu 8 spend almost every night inside their nestbox, where using a nestbox camera we have witnessed them mutual-preening frequently. The pairs in 9 and 2 can be seen during the day preening each other and 9 have recently begun feeding each other – an important skill to practice in advance of raising a chick. As can be expected the birds are shy around spectators so it’s a good thing to stay back and let them have their alone time in order to encourage more of this kind of behaviour and focus less on humans.

An interesting “wild-card” pair are Curu 11. Having just recently received a nest box, this pair is showing a huge interest in being inside and making home-improvements, as I can hear by scratching noises from the inside when I go down to work in the area. ‘Hello Bird’ – oddly the most human-focused of the pair as the name suggests, spends most of each morning inside the box, while his partner waits just outside. Preening is fairly common with these two, and although no copulating has been witnessed yet only time and observations will tell. Given that last year’s first Scarlet egg, laid by Curu 6, was laid in April , these are all promising signs.

Puns aside, it is hot at this time of year. We’ve been hard at work making adjustments to the site and our daily schedules to avoid the hottest parts of the day and keep the birds cool. This means putting up palm leaves on the roofs and walls of aviaries for additional shade as well as giving the birds showers in the middle of the day. In order to maximise cooling, the Scarlets love to flap their wigs and spread their feathers and it’s at these times that I can really see how magnificent and almost prehistoric these birds really are.

Scarlets enjoying the showers

As I mentioned in my last post, conservation goes hand in hand with construction. If you think about it we are rebuilding wild populations. Combining all of our efforts, progress on our cob veterinary room is well under way. Together, we’ve been learning and practising natural building techniques using loaves of cob – a mixture of straw, sand and clay, under the guidance of our head-builder Jeremy. I think we all agree that the hard-work pays off when we see the structure climbing and know that not only are we building a set of important new skills, we’re making a mark that will improve the project for the future. On top of it all, by coming together each afternoon to create using natural materials and methods, we become more than a team – we become a community.

The cobbing team
Always learning, Elliott and I have been taking our apprenticeship to new heights; we’ve been climbing using the single-rope access technique. It’s not all for fun and games of course; this skill comes in handy when checking nest sites of wild macaws and installing nest boxes. For me, the most challenging aspect of climbing so far has been to focus on using the ascenders and leg straps to push myself up the rope rather than instinctively trying to climb it. Another phenomenon I’ve observed first-hand is how much more complex each task seems when you are hanging from a high branch. In my case we’d taken the gear out to fix a wonky nest box installed behind the project site. I’d volunteered to go first, eager to get more practice in, but upon preparation for descent I realised I’d attached a piece of gear incorrectly and found myself in quite a tangle! Luckily for me, Sam came by at the right moment to perform an expert rescue. Meanwhile I was fortunate enough to encounter close-up two rival pairs who had arrived at the nest box after feeding and had begun confronting each other on the branch right beside me. Beyond being mildly terrified throughout the experience, I was able to witness interactions within a group of macaws from an unparalleled viewpoint above the beautiful backdrop of Punta Islita and the ocean beyond, and on top of it all I learned a lesson in using the equipment in perhaps one of the most unforgettable ways you could imagine.

Beautifully highlighted Scarlet macaws
With climbing in mind, I’ve noticed that working in macaw conservation requires some adaptation on my part. Being somewhat ‘vertically challenged’ certain activities call for a more creative approach – or simply more energy on my part. With climbing, it means using my energy efficiently in each movement and importantly being patient with myself when I see my climbing buddy reach the top in half the number of strokes. In building the cob structure, we’ve been constructing all manner of tables and steps out of cement blocks, wooden planks and old crates to lift us all to manageable heights as the structure keeps on growing. Not one to back down from a challenge, under this intense sunshine something I need to continue practising from here is definitely when to accept my limits and when to push them.

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.