Belize 2015 – Protecting the Scarlet Macaw

May 2015 – Belize

After his initial participation in 2013 and on behalf of the HARI Conservation Networking Efforts, bioecology technician Marc-André Villeneuve returned to Belize to learn more about efforts for protecting the Scarlet macaw. This is a brief account of his journey.

It started with a six day stay with the Belize Bird Rescue (BBR), where upon arrival Marc-André presented the BBR team with donations from HARI. The BBR is a nonprofit organization which provides care and shelter for parrots that have been rescued, donated, confiscated, orphaned, injured, etc., as well as other Belizean bird species in need of assistance. Once successfully rehabilitated and educated for release, if their health permits, birds are released into their natural habitat. Individuals challenged with chronic health conditions, injuries or disabilities that prevent them from being released will find peaceful permanent refuge at the center.

Belize Bird Rescue HARI Donation
Pictured here are Nikki Buxton (BBR Owner/manager), Marc-André Villeneuve (HARI), Sarah Mann (BRC manager) and Oscar Valle (avian caretaker at BBR) inside the BBR newly built clinic/ laboratory area with the donations provided by Mark Hagen (HARI). Donations included Tropican Hand Feeding Formula, Prime, Knot- A-Rope therapeutic perches, Clay-Cal and various materials required for the care of parrot chicks and medical interventions.

The BBR also houses under their “wings” the Belize Raptor Center (BRC) headed by Sarah Mann. Both the BBR & BRC play an important role in the community, through their educational program, in the plight for conservation awareness for endemic bird species of Belize.

Additionally, the BBR has a license to keep the Yellow-headed Amazons (an endangered Belizean subspecies that are not releasable) as part of a conservation breeding effort, thereby introducing them into a captive breeding program to eventually release their offspring into the wild. Since 2013, BBR and HARI have been collaborating together on this ambitious program.

During his stay with the BBR, the daily work routine for Marc-André was frequently interrupted by the arrival of new patients – such as these pygmy owls. Their nest, originally built in a palm tree had fallen to the ground. Sadly, one of the chicks was already dead (probably due to the fall from the tree), the oldest one was severely dehydrated and regular rehydration was necessary before regular feeding could begin. Contrary to the older one, the two younger owls were very alert and eager to devour a good meal right after their physical exam.

Pygmy Owl Belize 2015
Fallen Pygmy owls – Belize 2015

Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team

After a week with the BBR, Marc-André headed up to the Chiquibul forest with Roni Martinez the co-director of the Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team.  S6 is a registered Belizean Non-Governmental Organization protecting endangered species in their habitat. This organization is dedicated to the monitoring and the protection of the Scarlet macaw (Ara macao) against poachers.

In the field, Marc-André once again had the chance to work with Luis Mai and Isael Mai (Scarlet Six) along with Luis Manzanero and Yair Chan (two volunteers) – an invaluable team. Base camp was set-up under the nest no. 18 – protected against any poachers.

Protection is not always possible

Despite the Scarlet Six Bioteam and volunteer efforts to protect the macaws nests against poachers, natural predators also pose a threat. One day, while relaxing at the camp, the team witnessed a red-lored Amazons’ nest (very close to the macaw nest they were guarding) getting attacked by a great black hawk. This undesirable predator was quickly chased by some jays nesting close to the scene, eventually forcing the hawk to abandon its prey. The pre-fledged Amazon did not survive the attack.

The following day, a second inspection of the macaws nest needed to be made to ensure the hawk had not returned to attack the scarlet macaw chick, in exchange for his loss of prey the day before.

Thankfully, the chick was safely sleeping in the comforts of its cavity. Inspection of the nest revealed two eggs had regrettably failed to hatch. As an aviculturist and technician who explores nutritional health at HARI, Marc-André immediately recognized the abnormal oblong shape of one of the eggs as a sign of nutritional deficiency. Due to the advanced stages of decomposition, an egg necropsy could not be performed in order to give further insight to the DIS (dead in shell). The eggs were retrieved from the nest to avoid any potential contamination of the cavity or the chick.

Remarkably, both macaw parents preened peacefully in the tree above while the team conducted the surveillance of the nest. Despite the teams’ presence so close in proximity to their nesting cavity, the watchful parents seemed relatively stress-free. They may be growing accustomed to their human guardians.

A physical evaluation was done on the chick to monitor its growth, health, and well-being. Biometric values were also collected for research, comparative studies and general knowledge of the species.

After a week in the Chiquibul with the Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team, Marc-André traveled to the magnificent village of San Ignacio to dry his gear and replenish his food stores. He took this opportunity to observe and photograph local wildlife.

Joint Efforts for the protection of the Scarlet Macaw

The protection of the Scarlet Macaw in the Chiquibul region is directly (and indirectly) provided by numerous organizations. Some have decided to join efforts in order to improve the net of protection with the unique goal to increase the chance of survival for this flagship species. This is the case of the Scarlet Six, Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) and the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) under the supervision of the Forest Department of Belize.

Even though Scarlet macaw nesting cavities are guarded by FCD rangers and the S6 team (until chicks fledge), many are considered to be at “high risk” of poaching. To ensure the security of the chicks and their caretakers, “high risk” chicks are pulled out and carefully brought to an “in situ” nursery, to be hand-reared and then released back into their natural habitat when ready. Because these chicks are highly valuable for poachers, the whereabouts of this nursery is kept secret (for the security of the chicks as well as the caretakers). This safety measure also allows the adult Scarlet macaws to double-clutch, increasing the number of chicks produced per breeding season.

Within the “in-situ” nursery, FCD caretakers ensure the chicks receive the highest level of care. Caring for the chicks presents challenges and requires the caretakers to be creative, as the new nursery facility is not yet completely operational. Both silence in and around the nursery and the wearing of masks are implemented procedures in the hopes of decreasing human imprinting on the chicks.

HARI’s Early Parrot Education hand-feeding techniques were taught to the FCD caretakers and adapted according to the different challenges they encountered within their makeshift nursery.
Part of the daily routine for FCD caretakers is walking through the forest looking for indigenous fruits to offer to the chicks that are reared in the nursery. Knowledge of the natural foraging habits of the Scarlet macaw in its natural habitat is essential and is incorporated into the chicks’ fledgling and weaning education.

In Belize, Scarlet macaws are known to nest uniquely in quamwood trees (Brazilian fire tree), to respect their natural behavior and offer optimal comfort and hygiene, FCD caretakers provide nursery chicks with quamwood shavings that they splinter by hand. “Cleaned” daily, the litter shavings are sun-dried on sheets of metal to prevent bacterial and fungal growth.

While in Belize, Marc-André also had the opportunity to spend a few days with some veterinarian students from the USA and Canada and experience the reality of wildlife veterinary practices at the BWRC under the tutorage of Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durant and Dr. Tom Egglestone.

Veterinary Students Belize

To learn more about Scarlet macaw conservation efforts in Belize visit: