The Scarlet Macaw in Costa Rica - Dr Chris Vaughan

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The Scarlet Macaw (Ara Macao) in Costa Rica
An Environmental Education Project

Scarlet Macaw 1

Scarlet Macaw photographed at Desford Bird Garden, Leicestershire (AKJ)

This project has been part-funded from the PSUK Conservation Fund for several years now, with regular reports received from Dr Chris Vaughan published in our magazines. Money has been used to help publish colouring books illustrating these birds for local school children, as well as the construction of nest boxes and the installation of nest-box cameras.

Colouring book

Colouring book produced for schoolchildren to stimulate interest in the project (Photo: Dr Chris Vaughan)

Dr Vaughan reported in our magazine of July 2017 that "Scarlet Macaw numbers are in danger due to poaching for the pet trade and destruction of habitat. These huge, colourful birds require large, old trees to build their nests in. Their nesting trees have become quite scarce as development increases. Their reproduction cycle is fairly lengthy and includes - nest searching (Sept/Oct), egg-laying and incubation (Dec-Feb), chick-rearing and fledging (Jan-June). During this time the chicks are very vulnerable to poaching."

Nest-box cameras provide live streaming 24/7 to a website allowing public access to some very interesting real-time data during the birds' nesting cycle. Since this project commenced in the 1990s it has become one of those 'model' projects combining teaching, research and outreach. It is believed that what people learn 'live' about the nesting cycle of this endangered species using modern technology will ensure this species' conservation, and the coexistence of humans and wildlife. The team includes two former Scarlet Macaw poachers who climb trees to place cameras in nests and artificial nest boxes which they designed and built, and will visit schools to talk about this parrot. Local environmental education programmes involve some 80 school children studying the nesting ecology in four nests on school screens, with parents at home and/or on their smartphones, and writing down observations to discuss in classes. 

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Local schoolchildren proudly displaying their diplomas (Photo: Dr Chris Vaughan)

Dr Chris Vaughan updates us on 26 July 2018, with photographs of local school children receiving diplomas for completing the Scarlet Macaw course, as well as links to nest-box cameras, and a request for further funding for more nest boxes for the 2018/19 season. The school children will be involved in mourning the nest boxes and monitoring the sites.


Close-up of sample diploma awarded for completing the Scarlet Macaw awareness course (Photo: Dr Chris Vaughan)

Dr Chris Vaughan adds on 7th August 2018: "Your most recent donation was used to part fund the purchase of this computer server, which is now installed in Punta Leona, where the nest boxes and cameras are. Previously we had to send the signal to San Jose, which mad everything more indirect.The final chick has left the nest and I don't expect new nesting activity to pick up until October ... so we can get ready for an exciting nest season in 2019 with cameras, nests and excellent internet service!"

Computer server

The project's new computer server

Dr Chris Vaughan's latest update in September 2019 gives the following news-

"I returned from the field and working with scarlet macaws and local human communities two days ago and will include some pictures. The trip involved three themes: a) a presentation on September 10 of 20 rural high students from 5 rural high schools of  scarlet macaw counts they made last month; b) on September 11 observing over 50 scarlet macaws in Punta Leona preparing for the reproductive season; and c) on September 11 working with the expoachers who build and place artificial nests and the internet technician on the cameras and checking several artificial and natural nests. 

Rural High School Presentation. The high schools are from a region buffer to La Cangreja National Park (several kilometers east of Carara National Park, Carara being the area where the scarlet macaws and our research/management had concentrated since 1990. But with the counts, I am excited to report that the scarlet macaws have started to recolonize the Cangreja area and the students have taken the responsibility to learn about them and protect them. I was in this area several months ago with Humberto Solorzano, a retired teacher who gave our scarlet macaw course for 20 years, giving out coloring books and explaining course methodology to rural school teachers/directors. So with the highschools students, I feel we are covering grade and highschoolers. To my knowledge, it is the first time in Costa Rica and perhaps Latin America that an endangered species is understood and protected in this way. In several weeks, I will visit the high schools with the park guard who began the counts and teach them simple methodologies to gather data on diet, nests, historic and recent distribution, reproduction, and if the scarlet macaws are living year round in the region (subpopulation). I think having these young conservationists involved studying and protecting their scarlet macaw is exciting. We will also give them coloring books because although they are for elementary school children, there is a lot of important information. And finally a diploma in recognition of their work. I have attached several photos of the September 10 event. 

studentsChris Vaughan

Presentation about the Scarlet Macaw project (Photos: Dr Chris Vaughan)

Nests, Cameras, Reproduction. Several cameras aren't giving signals and we are exploring why before nesting season begins in November. We may change cameras, cables, splitters, camera position, etc. One of our most long-term natural nest has filled with water  which we need to fix if possible. Also observed scarlet macaws playing and getting ready for reproduction. 

Scarlet Macaws

Scarlet Macaws displaying (Photo: Dr Chris Vaughan)

Again I thank The Parrot Society-UK. The scarlet macaw population is increasing and spreading out. We must work on stopping poaching; in their talk, one highschool student angrily told the public that a man showed up near their farm asking to buy wild scarlet macaw chicks and the family angrily sent him on his way. We need that throughout the region. Environmental education is a major step. Little by little." 

A big thank you to Exotic Direct Pet Insurance for helping us to sponsor this project - Parrot Insurance


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