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Considering Science in Conservation

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

A wild red-and-green macaw chick in a nest in Paraguay

A healthy red-and-green macaw chick in their nest ready to fledge.

This is what we hope to find when inspecting nests.

Recently in Paraguay we were facing a conundrum. We had been inspecting parrot nests and, in one, the red-and-green macaw chick was missing. The cavity floor in the palm tree was deep and we couldn’t remove samples of the puzzling material in the cavity to see if it contained evidence of the chick’s death. There were feathers but we weren’t sure what else we were seeing. It was getting close to dark so we sat near the tree to observe a possible hyacinth macaw nest nearby. While perched on that hillside an idea came to me. Why not lower something heavy into the nest that had sticky tape on it and see if the nest litter would adhere?

Sunset over parrot conservationists examining a macaw nest in Paraguay

The hillside where we inspected the nest and first used our sticky bottle technique

An empty red-and-green macaw where a chick died in Paraguay

Here is what we found in one nest. The chick was missing and some kind of material and feathers are in the cavity. The material looked like bones but we couldn't tell, so we had to develop a technique to study the material.

“Tengo una idea,” (I have an idea) I said as I urged us on to our feet. We went in search of something we could tie a line to and lower into the cavity from our long extension pole to which normally we attach a camera. Stumped for a while, unable to find a suitable rock or piece of wood, I thought, “Aha, let’s use a water bottle.” We stuck tape all over it and then went fishing for samples in the coming dark.

The water bottle is lowered, and the fishing begins

Down went the sticky water bottle and up came feathers and pieces of young parrot chick bones. The chick had indeed died in the nest. We needed to know this to see if the chick had been predated or if it was another species entirely.

Nest material containing bones of a macaw chick in Paraguay

Here is what "we caught" - bone fragments from a macaw chick

As we were pulling feathers, palm tree fragments, and bones off of the water bottle, I exclaimed, “Who said science couldn’t be fun?” In response, one of my colleagues quipped, “You consider this science?”

I had to laugh because the core of our team is made up of 5 avian veterinarians and a number of veterinary students, perhaps overly trained in the sciences to be field parrot conservationists, and, in other ways, under trained to deal with ecological complexities in the field of conservation.

Veterinarians working in the field for parrot conservation in Paraguay

Our veterinary team in action with the hard science of taping water bottles

What we do have in addition to our training and backgrounds are curious minds that seek answers, love the puzzle, and delight in the wonder and intricacies of living bodies and the world in which we all live. We consider science to be the core of what gives us meaning in life, and what offers us the best chance to cherish and care for the earth and her many species.

If this is appealing to you, please apply for our new Bilingual Parrot Conservation Corps (Spanish and English) staring in January 2024. There we will meld science with wonder and commitment to become healed and healers, together. In the meantime, we continue to use this technique frequently now, becoming more skilled at science and at fishing for answers that can preserve the parrots we have committed to protect.

Wildlife veterinarians working before sunrise in Paraguay in parrot conservation

We first used the bottle technique the night before.

During sunrise the next day we put what we learned to use.

Nest material containing feathers and shed reptile skin

This time we found feathers with stress marks, reptile skin, and below, egg fragments

Macaw nest material containing feathers and egg fragments

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