|Greg Matuzak, M.Sc.|
|Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) Research and Restoration Project in Curu National Wildlife Refuge, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica|
|Location: Curu National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica|
|Species: Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)|
Abstract: In Central America, the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is found in isolated populations ranging from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. It is considered an endangered species throughout Central America. This research project is part of a long-term Scarlet Macaw restoration initiative in an area of Costa Rica where the species had gone locally extinct. The objectives of the restoration initiative are two-fold: (1.) Establish a new population to help repopulate an area where the species went extinct, and (2.) Provide a safety mechanism in case other populations in Costa Rica go extinct. Specifically, this research project will document the ecology of the Scarlet Macaw in Curú National Wildlife Refuge (Curú NWR) and areas adjacent to the refuge. The Scarlet Macaw was restored to Curú NWR through a reintroduction effort that was conducted in January 1999, and the population currently contains 10 individuals. It is important to document the success of this project and the ecology of the Scarlet Macaws established in the project area to identify appropriate conservation management measures for the species. Future releases of the Scarlet Macaw in Curú NWR are planned, and they are considered vital if a viable population is to be established in the area.
The funding will be used to study the link between food resource availability for the Scarlet Macaw in Curú NWR and their movement patterns using VHF radio telemetry. This is important for parrots and macaws because they are known to shift habitats or even move at the landscape level to track available food resources. The collection and analysis of data on this project will help determine the variability in the spatial and temporal availability of food resources for the Scarlet Macaw in the area. We will identify the "Keystone" resources for the Scarlet Macaw in the area, which include the most important food resources for the survival of Scarlet Macaws. Tracking the macaws will help us determine whether the macaws are using adjacent farms and forests, and it will help us identify the use of commercially important crops by the macaws in order to determine potential problems with adjacent landowners. Identifying movement patterns and commercial crops that are a part of the macaw diet will facilitate educating adjacent landowners on the merits of the project in order to avoid any problems created by the presence of the Scarlet Macaws in the area.
Project Report: February 2005
The purpose of this project is to: 1) evaluate the foraging ecology, diet, and food resource availability for the Scarlet Macaw in Curú National Wildlife Refuge (Curú NWR), 2) evaluate nesting success and document nesting parameters, 3) evaluate the presence of recently fledged young in the population, and 4) evaluate ranging patterns of the macaws and competition for food resources with other parrot species and wildlife. Identifying the link between food resource availability, diet, and the ranging patterns of the macaws on a monthly and seasonal basis is an important aspect of Scarlet Macaw ecology and has implications for the species conservation and management. If the area does not contain sufficient food at certain times of the year, the macaws may track food resources outside of Curú NWR, which could raise special management concerns. The establishment of a viable population of Scarlet Macaws in the project area will depend on the conservation and restoration of important seasonal food resources for the species, as well as continued successful nesting and additional release efforts.
In January 2004, a pair of Scarlet Macaw established in Curú NWR was monitored at an active nesting site in a large dead tree with a large cavity. By late January 2004, bees (probably Africanized bees) had taken over a portion of this active nest and the macaws abandoned the site. In March 2004, a windstorm blew the tree over and an assessment of the cavity was made. No sign of macaw eggs or chicks were documented; however, a beehive was documented as being under construction in one area of the cavity. After abandonment of this cavity, the active pair of macaw was seen approximately once a week feeding at the project's supplemental feeding area. In July 2004, two young macaws without numbered bands were documented in the area, and later at the supplemental feeding area with their parents. Their parents were the parents that abandoned the cavity with bees. The fledglings had large black pupils, very smooth facial patches, were smaller in size to the adults, and had patchy plumage. We suspect the young macaws fledged in late May and now are approximately 10 months old. This is the first documented case of captive-bred macaws, released to the wild successfully fledging offspring.
Funding from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has been used to study the link between food resource availability for the Scarlet Macaw in Curú NWR, their diet, competition for food resources with other parrots and wildlife, and their ranging patterns. We are finding that this is important for parrots and macaws because they are known to shift habitats or even move at the landscape level to track available food resources, which may have important management implications for areas used by the macaws that lie outside the refuge. We have identified two "Keystone" resources for the Scarlet Macaw in the project area, which include the most important food resources for the survival of the macaws. They include the fruits of the Jobo tree (Spondias mombin) and the seeds of the Beach Almond tree (Terminalia catappa). Both of these tree species provide an important food supply for the macaws when overall food abundance is low in the project area between September and November. We believe the survival of the macaws in the project area depend on these two species more than any others, so Curú NWR has initiated a program to restore these species within the wildlife refuge so that these species and their food sources will be in larger supply in the future as the restored population of macaws expands. An expanded list of the Scarlet Macaw diet documented on this project is attached at the end of this document.
We have also documented the ranging patterns of the macaws, which is helping us determine whether the macaws are using adjacent farms and forests, and it is helping us identify the use of commercially important crops by the macaws in order to determine potential problems with adjacent landowners. Identifying movement patterns and commercial crops that are a part of the macaw diet will facilitate educating adjacent landowners on the merits of the project in order to avoid any problems created by the presence of the Scarlet Macaws in the area. The presence of the project team on the site, made possible by this funding, allows the research and conservation program to continue, and it is helping to champion the reestablishment of the Scarlet Macaw in the area.
The educational component of this project includes the dissemination of the project's objectives and results to all visiting local and international tourists, local schools, and visiting biologists. The area surrounding Curú NWR includes several small villages, so local primary and secondary schools are being visited. The project and its benefits to the area are presented to the schools so that information on Scarlet Macaw conservation in the area will help facilitate interest and support for the project's goals. Each school has been invited to come and visit the refuge with the potential of seeing the Scarlet Macaw restored to its native habitats. Local acknowledgment and appreciation of the project is considered important for the long-term viability of the Scarlet Macaw in the area, which the education component will address directly. Lastly, all project participants will be involved in discussing the project and its merits with visitors to the refuge and project information will be posted on signs within and outside the refuge.
Presentations on this project were given at two conferences in 2004; the first at the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) Congress in San Francisco, California, and the second at the First Annual Scarlet Macaw Conference of Belize in Jaguar Creek Reserve, Belize. Both conferences took place in August 2004. In 2005, the Principal Investigator will give either an oral presentation or present a poster at the Society of Conservation Biology Conference in Brasilia, Brazil in July. The presentation will cover many aspects of the Scarlet Macaw research covered in this publicity report as well as other research efforts geared towards the threatened Yellow-naped Amazon Parrot (Amazona auropalliata).