It’s amazing how much can change in just a few weeks.
When I went away in early April it was still definitely dry season here; it was HOT and dusty and the hills looked brown and exhausted. I have returned just 4 weeks later to a changed land! In that short time, the Wet, as we say in Australia, has arrived and changed the landscape entirely. We’ve only had a small amount of rain so far but already everything is green and lush. The empty spaces between the bare branches have filled in, there’s water in the rivers and creeks and the jungle has come to life. There are butterflies and bees everywhere and a plethora of vibrant, colourful, often very large insects. There are gorgeous bright green baby iguanas sunning themselves all over the place and all the birds are nesting. The jungle is never quiet but now it is positively vibrating with life. On my walks I’m almost nervous to stand still because of the constant movement in the undergrowth!
And what about our macaws? Well… we have some eggs! Just a few right now but for me, this says that all our hard work over the past half a year is paying off.
The Ara Project’s breeding centre relocated to Punta Islita around 3 years ago. Prior to that we were located in Alajuela, in San Jose. There, both our Scarlet and Great Green pairs bred successfully but here on the west coast, the Nicoya Peninsula in particular, the dry season (roughly December to April) is particularly hot and very dry. While people successfully breed macaws all over the world, in climates far more distinct from their natural ones, we still believe that the conditions here affect them. We’re in the process of improving our birds’ environments and finding out what they like and what conditions will encourage them to breed. Now that the wet season has started we can really get going with our planting program. We are putting ground cover and trees and bushes in all our aviaries. Thanks to generous contributions from our donors, we can purchase plenty of young plants and as everything
grows so fast here it won’t be long before the ground in the aviaries is covered in green (which will help to prevent potential parasite transfer from soil to parrot) and vines and bushes will provide shade, keep the temperature in the aviaries down and be a source of enrichment for the macaws in the form of foraging, climbing, playing and chewing.
And if our macaws are more relaxed and more physically comfortable, they are naturally going to be more inclined to breed. And yes, the topic of music and romantic dinners for two has come up – unfortunately I don’t play the violin and all our pairs do eat together every evening, maybe macaws think about romance a little differently to us?
Of course, it’s not going to be a success story every time, a lot of our birds are young or inexperienced so it may take them a few goes before they get it right. Recently, a new couple laid an egg but it was unfortunately infertile. Candling (a process where a bright light is shone on the egg to show its contents) revealed nothing inside but an undeveloped yolk. A fertilized egg would have looked very different with visible veins and a growing embryo – our website has a nice diagram showing this. However, this little hiccup hasn’t stopped the couple and mum is back in the nestbox clearly feeling broody, maybe sitting on another egg already!
We also have a few older couples sitting on eggs. One is an experienced Scarlet macaw pair who have been together for many years and raised many chicks, despite the fact that the male is blind! He is familiar with where everything is in his aviary and has plenty of perches to help him navigate. They seem pretty dedicated parents, with mum only leaving the nest box briefly in the morning and evening to feed. Naturally in the wild, the female incubates the eggs for about a month, coming out briefly to be fed by dad. In an aviary where food is easily accessible, our females tend to come out and feed themselves instead. I guess macaws prefer fresh food to regurgitated and who can blame them!
Macaws are great advocates for gender equality so mum certainly doesn’t do all the work. Once the eggs are hatched, both parents will be kept busy feeding their hungry chicks. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the sounds of healthy baby birds screaming for their breakfast at 5am in the coming months!