The Macaw Gathering

Friday 9 February: 19.30–20.00

Continuing the fascinating wildlife series, Jake Willers ventures into the Amazon rainforest to chart the feeding habits of macaws – and play his part in preserving their environment.

The small village of Pucani, nestled deep in the Amazon jungle, is home to the Asha Ninca and Nyena people, who share the lush land with some very colourful neighbours. The macaw, the largest member of the parrot family, is among the most beautiful birds in the world. They are shy creatures, but here in the Amazon they come out of their forest hideaway to feed from the clay licks – exposed riverbanks – that surround the region’s rivers. The birds use the rich source of minerals found in these licks to neutralise the toxins in their diet.

Many of the area’s clay licks are established tourist sites, attracting birdwatchers who come to admire the colourful spectacle. However, Jake has decided to avoid these and head deep into the Peruvian jungle to establish a whole new clay lick. “Success here would not only allow me to bring you a first view of this brilliant event; it would also allow the site to be opened up to tourists wanting to experience this moment for themselves,” he explains. “It is these tourist dollars that will help protect the people, the area and the birds for future generations.”

Although Jake has already found a suitable site for the lick, it will take careful planning to bring the project to completion. “The trouble is, these macaws aren’t used to people,” he explains. Having anticipated this challenge, he sent his clothes out ahead of him, hoping that if local guide Oscar visits the clay lick daily while wearing Jake’s clothes, the birds will become accustomed to seeing him and will not be scared by the time Jake himself arrives. Will this ‘fake Jake’ trickery pay off?

Jake admits it won’t be easy to win over the timid macaws. “They don’t just come down and land on the clay to start feeding,” explains Jake. “They congregate in the surrounding trees and watch until they’re happy that there are no predators around, before one or maybe two will venture onto the clay and start feeding. This gives confidence to the rest in the trees.”

The local guides, who have built a special ‘hide’ from which to observe their subjects, place a red rag on the side of the clay lick in the hope of tricking the macaws into thinking that one of their number is already feeding there. “If we’re lucky, they’ll see this, come down and we’ll be in with some luck.” But next morning, when Jake and the team return to the lick, there are no macaws to be found. And to make matters worse, the heavens open, despite the fact that it’s supposedly the dry season. “The macaws don’t like this weather at all,” says a disappointed Jake. “They’ll go and hide themselves up in their nests; they won’t use the clay licks when it’s raining.” Luckily, it’s not long before the weather clears up and the team can get to work on creating a new hide. Will their determination pay off?

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