While Blue-throated Macaw numbers are steadily rising thanks to the efforts made by World Land Trust’s (WLT) partner, Asociación Armonía, with an estimated 450 living in the wild, Armonía are looking at every trick of the trade to improve the housing market for this Endangered macaw.
Once thought to be extinct in the wild, in 1992 a population of about 50 Blue-throated Macaws was rediscovered in north eastern Bolivia, surviving among the ‘islands of palm trees’ that rise above the Beni Savanna’s seasonally flooded plains. Since then Armonia has worked tirelessly to protect this Critically Endangered bird. Blue-throated macaws like to nest in cavities of palm trees, preferably dead trees where natural hollows have been made by insect grubs after the tree has died. The number of suitable nest trees has been systematically reduced by land clearance and these macaws tussle for space with different species of macaw, woodpecker, toucan, owl, bats and bees. Consequently, Armonía recognised that a solution must be found for homeless Blue-throated Macaws if numbers were to be boosted to bring them beyond the threat of extinction.
Save land, protect the birds and find them homes
With help from supporters including WLT, Armonía has created a 27,100 acre (11,000 ha) reserve which has become a safe haven for Blue-throated Macaws by protecting food resources and, hopefully, nest sites. Because of the loss of suitable trees for nesting, Armonía began installing nest boxes in 2009. Disappointingly, those put up for the northern population were steadfastly rejected with not a single macaw coming, even for a viewing. This was puzzling as in their southern range the nest box scheme had achieved good results with Blue-throated Macaws using 26 nest boxes to fledge 81 chicks over the last 13 years. So why was it that the northern population chose to leave the reserve in November to breed in what was assumed to be palm tree stands in cattle ranches, leaving them highly vulnerable?
How to attract nest builders?
In 2017, Tjalle Boorsma, Armonía’s Conservation Program Director led a research party about 50 miles (80 km) north of Barba Azul searching for breeding birds and what he found was a complete eye-opener. The nesting cavities, more like shallow saucers, were placed around 40 feet (12 metres) from the ground on top of isolated dead royal palm trees. This was nothing like the preferred nesting holes of the southern Blue-throated Macaws who were breeding in a cavity about three times higher and much more isolated from other trees.
After looking closely at their desired features, last year Armonía built five penthouse next box suites and chose positions determined by Tjalle who had observed the birds taking a predictable sunset flight to their roosting site; it made common sense to place the boxes directly in their path.
They found their dream home
In June Barba Azul Reserve guard, Carlos Roca reported seeing a pair of Blue-throated Macaws perching and investigating a penthouse nest box, and at the end of the month Tjalle observed three different pairs not just perching on the nest boxes but taking a good view inside and squabbling over the prime real-estate. This is a major breakthrough for the Armonía team who now have a better understanding of how to market suitable homes for these macaws.
About the reserve
Roughly twice the size of Portugal, in northern Bolivia the Beni Savanna is almost entirely ranched and its grassland habitat burned every year to clear the way for cattle. The good news is that the 27,180 acres (11,000 hectares) are under permanent protection thanks to everyone who has supported land purchase and protection through Armonía. The reserve harbours a wealth of threatened wildlife and also provides a vital stopover site in Bolivia for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on its migration. Impressive mammal species include Jaguars, Pumas, Maned wolves, Ocelots, Giant Anteaters and Black Howler Monkey.
You can support the protection and recovery of the Blue-throated Macaw and the other species of the Beni Savanna Reserve through our Keepers of the Wild appeal. Your donation will enable rangers and our partner Armonía to install additional nest boxes over a wider area, helping secure the future of these charismatic macaws.