. Birds of Ambergris Caye- - The Scarlet Macaw

The Scarlet Macaw

From the Kingdom of Aves, in the order of Psittacidae (Parrots), is a species known as Guacamaya Roja, or in English, the Scarlet Macaw, one of the rarest birds in Belize. The whole order of parrots (Psittacidae) are brightly colored and unfortunately popular as pets. Of all the birds in the small library Bubba keeps on the subject, the Macaw seems to be the most beautiful, standing two feet tall, adorned with brilliant plumage; bright scarlet wing feathers with dabs of yellow, orange and blue. As a result growing number of species in the order are becoming endangered in the wild and several have been expired from their natural range in Belize. Until recently the threat of their demise has been from capture by locals who sell them as export, to residents as caged birds or simply to eat.

Macaws have bills that are deeply hooked and feet that are zygodactyl (two toes forward and two toes back) for walking through the trees of the jungle canopy. Macaws eat mostly nuts, seeds and fruit; most often lifting food to their bill with their dexterous feet. Data about their breeding is poorly known. All parrots lay gloss-less white eggs without markings. They are rather small for the size of the bird and rounded or oval shaped. Probably, if the scarlet is like other macaws, they lay only two eggs and both male and female tend to the incubation and feeding of the naked newly hatched young. Most macaws inhabiting forest or woodland habitats occur in small groups or pairs and nest in small colonies.

The Macaws of the world are endangered and only exist in a few small colonies in Central and South America. Belize is blessed with a colony in the Raspaculo wilderness. Like the Howler Monkey they are dependent on a few nut and fruit trees and if those trees are cut down, flooded by hydroelectric projects or even the path blocked between roost and feeding ground they will vanish completely from Belize in a few years.

I told Bubba that it seems we are always writing about man threatening the lives and livelihood of birds. The Belize Scarlet Macaws most recent threat is the proposed Macal River Chalillo Project (MRCP). The project proposal is to dam the Macal river, flooding its upper valley near the Raspaculo colony. Belize Electricity Limited is currently involved in a public relations campaign for the MRCP. A feasibility study is underway and supposedly the environmental impact is being considered.

Not just the Macaws, but the habitats of many endangered species will be affected. The MRCP brief says, "most of these concerns are irrelevant," and flooding of the Raspaculo will be "minuscule". Bubba's hair started to stand up on the back or his neck and he said, "The river is a living system which transforms nutrients and transports them to biological communities. Changing its temperature and nutrient content by damming will be disastrous for flora and fauna that depend on it." Bubba went on about ecosystems, watersheds, coastal marine systems, tropical food chains and ecology disruption, but I'll spare you all that detail. He did have one very notable quote about the MRCP proposal, something his mother used to say to him when he would express some of his not-so-bright ideas to her, "Are you out of your cotton pickin' mind?"

Birds of Ambergris Caye

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