Military macaw, © Dick Daniels

A Military Victory

For the third year in a row, this nest monitoring project prevented poaching of endangered military macaws.

At one time, you could see the striking plumage of the military macaw up and down the length of Mexico. But over decades, as we lost swaths of forest habitat and saw poaching for the illegal pet trade become more aggressive, these birds began to disappear from the wild. Today, only a few thousand remain in Mexico, in small, fragmented areas isolated from one another. And the threats that put this species in danger still continue.

Military macaw, © Maria Elena SanchezProtecting Nests from Poachers

Military macaws are one of the most sought-after parrot species in all of Mexico for the illegal pet trade. While poachers will take macaws of any age, nestlings are the most vulnerable. And the methods they use to reach these young parrots are devastating in more ways than one.

Military macaws nest in cavities high up in trees. To reach a nest, poachers will often cut down the entire tree – a practice that puts the nestlings in danger, and destroys healthy nesting habitat for the species. So three years ago, we joined forces with a team of scientists in Puerto Vallarta to start a nest monitoring program. With a watchful eye on a specific group of nests, the scientists could collect important data about these birds in the wild. And if poachers knew the nests were monitored, they would be less likely to strike.

This year, I’m happy to say that we closed out the third successful season of the project in a row! MS Carlos Bonilla and his team of researchers were able to monitor 22 nests this season, 14 of which had successful parents rearing chicks until they fledged the nest. Not one of these nests was poached by traffickers. The end result: 15 fledgling macaws safely left their nests with their parents.

That’s not to say we didn’t have some challenges. One poacher targeted a nest by carving a spying hole into the nesting tree, which would help him determine the best time to rob the nest. But thanks to the education and awareness campaign we have supported in the local community, local residents helped the research team locate the would-be poacher and convince him not to follow through with it. The nest was eventually a successful one, and that young macaw is now flying free with his parents.

Another poacher who had robbed macaw’s nests some years ago also returned to the area. But again, the community helped authorities track him down, and he was seized before any of the macaws were taken. The poacher had already captured several Orange-fronted parakeets. The environmental authorities seized the parakeets, took away nets and traps, and delivered the poacher to the proper legal authorities for prosecution.

Since we started working on this project, a total of 33 young macaws have joined the flock, and not one of the monitored nests has been poached.

Making Room for More Nests

Another constant problem that macaws face is the lack of adequate nests. Macaws don’t create their own nests, so they use old nests or natural cavities in trees, but there are only so many of those – and fewer when nesting trees are poached. Macaws also have nest fidelity, which means that the same couple uses the same nest year after year. This forces new pairs of macaws to wait years for a nest to be unoccupied. Clearly, if we want more wild macaws, we need more nests. So this year we also joined a project to build and put up artificial nests for the military macaw in Puerto Vallarta.

Putting up artificial nests is not a sure thing. It often takes many years for wild parrots to accept the nests, and by then they could be occupied by killer bees or other animals, or even destroyed by weather. But this year we saw something remarkable. The project built nine artificial nests – and pairs of macaws adopted six of them! Having the nests occupied this early wonderful, and it led to four nests successfully rearing chicks that they might otherwise not have been able to raise.

We are working with teams of experts on site to ensure that the military macaw does not disappear from the wild, so that this generation and future ones can enjoy watching these magnificent birds flying free. If you’d like to help support communities like this one, come visit! Puerto Vallarta is still one of the best places in Mexico to see the military macaw, and visitors are welcome to join the experts on macaw watching tours.

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