Progress in Manzanillo

Progress in Manzanillo

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After spending over a decade working with exotic animals and promoting wildlife conservation in the US, I decided to travel in search of wildlife conservation organizations making a direct difference in their own country’s native wildlife. The reality is that many of these organizations never get the attention and most importantly the funding they deserve. As an aspiring grant writer, my original plan was to volunteer at The Ara Project in Manzanillo for a month. After learning everything there was to know I was going to continue traveling and fundraising in jungles around the world. They say the universe always laughs at your plans. With that said and the incredible progress I’ve been able to witness I am now into month five and I never want to leave, and here’s why….

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A typical design of on of our artificial nest cavities.

It all started with the nest box. When I arrived to The Manzanillo Site, one of the team’s first priorities was getting the completed artificial nest cavities installed into the trees. Because breeding season was soon approaching, the birds needed time to scope out all of the nest boxes, pair up and begin to “play house”. We have a few different designs for to the boxes, but most are similar to the photo on the left. Building the nest boxes was the easy part. Hoisting them over 100 feet up into a tree however was not so easy, but our “rock star” team got the job done. We now have 10 nest boxes installed throughout the surrounding forest at the site.

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Our gear all ready for climbing!

         Now, I’m sure you’re wondering….How do we get a nest box installed over 100 feet up in a tree? We climb! Climbing is an important part of the job here at The Manzanillo site. Although it can be fun it’s important to be properly trained. Our Director, Dr. Sam Williams, has over 20 years experience and trains anyone who will be climbing. We go up to install the nest boxes and to inspect them once they become occupied. A lot goes in to “learning the ropes” here at Manzanillo.

Monitoring nest boxes at first light.

Once the nest boxes were finally installed, we spent many days monitoring the nests for any type of activity. There’s nothing like being in the middle of the jungle as the sun rises, with a pair of binoculars and a notebook. I felt like a young Jane Goodall! Monitoring nest boxes, surrounded by a plethora of magnificent wildlife. Anxiously waiting for the first signs of activity is one of my favorite things to do here at The Ara Project. It’s also crucial to know if and when these birds may breed.

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A pair of Great Green Macaws hanging out by a next box.

We were elated to see that the birds quickly discovered most of the boxes in such a short amount of time. It was still a month or two shy of the breeding season, as the typical season starts in April. However, we were seeing more pairs and mating activity everyday. But we knew that the telltale sign would be when the birds spent most of the day and night in the nest boxes. Then, either both parents or only the male would leave the nest in search of food in the early mornings and late afternoons.

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Toucans eat primarily fruits and insects, but some varieties eat younger birds, lizards and eggs.

When we finally saw the signs we were looking for, we ascended to the nest box to discover the first confirmed eggs laid at The Manzanillo Site. The possibility that these birds would be successful so early on in the project and at such a young age was beyond exciting! However, we now had to wait 28 days for the eggs to incubate to find out if they would be fertile. There are so many factors that make for an anxious wait! For example, toucans might eat the eggs, the eggs might not hatch or the parents might not properly rear the chick(s) if they do hatch. Of course, I had hoped that one day these Great Green Macaws would breed in the wild. But never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be around long enough to witness the first time these macaws would lay eggs in that first next box I helped put up.

By Genevieve Peterson

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.