Readers’ wildlife photos

April 1, 2021 • 8:30 am

by Greg Mayer

A correspondent in Caracas sends the following photos of Blue and Yellow Macaws, Ara ararauna (also known by the English name Blue and Gold Macaw). These bellissimi uccelli are not native to Caracas, but have thrived in this urban environment. They are almost tame, having learned that many people are friendly, and a convenient source of food (photos and brief story).

Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna), Caracas, Venezuela.

My corespondent’s visitors dine on bananas and seeds . . .

Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna), Caracas, Venezuela.

. . . and will gently accept food from the hand. I have house sat for a macaw (Roberto, a scarlet macaw) and an amazon parrot (Bartolo), and know how nasty a parrot bite can be, so this shows how thoroughly these wild macaws can be trusted.

Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna), Caracas, Venezuela.

A Reuters story from 2015 identifies Caracas resident Vittorio (o Victorio, en castellano) Poggi, an Italian immigrant, as the man who introduced them to Caracas by releasing captive-bred birds in the 1970s. In the following video clip from 2018 from Channel 10 in Miami, Poggi and other caraqueños share their enthusiasm for the birds. (My correspondent sent his photos in July 2020).

This species is native to the trans-Andean lowlands of northwestern Colombia, and to the cis-Andean central Amazonian lowlands, the two parts of the range being separated by mountains and the drier areas of northern Venezuela, where Caracas is located. Exotic parrots do well in urban environments. A colleague even suggested in the 1980s that the critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata)– at the time restricted to the El Yunque rainforest— be translocated to San Juan, where several introduced species were thriving; the rainforest was a last refuge, not the preferred habitat.

Introduced parrots are now widely distributed in the United States, and even occur in Chicago— the Monk Parakeet (or Parrot), Myiopsitta monachus. Hyde Park, where the University of Chicago is located, is supposed to be a hotbed, though I’ve never seen them there, but have seen them further north, near Depaul University. (The only wild macaws I have seen were in Costa Rica– different species from Caracas.)

As Vittorio might say “Bellissimo!”

Forshaw, J.M. 2010. Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY. google preview

Haffer, J. 1974. Avian Speciation in Tropical South America With a Systematic Survey of the Toucans (Ramphastidae) and Jacamars (Galbulidae). Pub. 14. Nuttall Ornithological Club, Cambridge, Mass.

Pruett-Jones, S., C.W. Appelt, A. Sarfaty, B. Van Vossen, M.A. Leibold, and E.S. Minor. 2012. Urban parakeets in Northern Illinois: A 40-year perspective. Urban Ecosystems 15:709-719. pdf

22 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Thanks for the pix. I hadn’t heard they were near DePaul now. I’ve seen them in Hyde Park. I had an apartment one summer at 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard. There was a nest in the park there, even in winter.

  2. There is a video clip going around showing how a macaw can open bottles. A small plastic cap? Easy-Peasy. A beer bottle cap? No problem! I would not want to experience their bite. Nosir.

  3. A friend of mine in Seattle in the 1990s had a Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao).

    I once asked him: How old is [the bird — can’t remember its name now]?

    He scratched his chin, looked at the bird, back to me and said, “I don’t know. I’ve only had him since 1967.”

    He worried about who would take care of the bird when he was gone.

    I have another friend in whose home I stayed in 1991. They had an African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus). They were the third set of owners. They had no idea how old the parrot was; but they had had him for a couple of decades. The parrot immediately flew to me, and walked around on my shoulders, mumbling to me in Flemish. (Scared the crap out of me: razor-sharp bill a mile long!) They said I must have reminded him of a previous owner.

    Me and the bird:

    1. I don’t know any accurate numbers, but I’m fairly sure of having seen references to “parrots” of some sort reaching their 70s. Good little dinosaurs!

  4. My favorite parrot is the Mopsitta tanta , now lamentably extinct. They preferred kipping on their backs, but you had to nail them to their perches, or else they’d muscle up to those bars and “Voom!”

    1. The genus and species were, I guess, playfully given the pertinent nickname from fossils found in northern Europe. I don’t think anyone really knows if they were blue or even parrots.

  5. I wonder where they nest? These macaws naturally nest in cavities in palm trunks. There can’t be too many dead palm trees in Caracas. Do people put out nest boxes?

    1. They don’t necessarily need to be nesting anywhere near the city centre. When I lived in the Granite City, you’d see a different mix of species of seagull fighting over the pavement pizzas versus those nesting on flat roofs and other “cliff ledge”-like bits of the built environment. I infer that the other species were nesting out of town on real cliff faces – which would be 3 to 15km out of the city centre (of the pavement pizzas and plastic bin liners). That’s negligible commuting time for one of the sky-rats.

      I can’t remember ever seeing a sky-rat and a land-rat in a fight. I guess the land-rats know their place in the pecking order, and it’s sky-rats on top.

      1. A friend told me that the morning after a Christmas UCL Scandinavian Department party, that he saw pigeons in the UCL quad pecking at my pavement pizza! Late 90s… 🤭

        1. Generous of you.
          At least with the gradual substitution of wheelie bins for bin bags, it is easier to file your pizzas neatly these days.
          The stench helps you to complete the intention.

      1. Thanks. In the wild, nesting sites for these can sometimes be very scarce. It is hard to imagine how such a large population could maintain itself anywhere near a city without man-made nest boxes.

    2. I’ve heard back from a caraqueño (although not the photographer). He writes,

      … there are plenty of palm trees in Caracas. (And on the outskirts – by the beach, which is only 20 kilometers or so away, though past a huge mountain range – palms are probably the most common plant.)


  6. I have house sat for a macaw (Roberto, a scarlet macaw) and an amazon parrot (Bartolo), and know how nasty a parrot bite can be, so this shows how thoroughly these wild macaws can be trusted.

    That to me is saying that the house-macaw has some sort of socio-mental problem. “Cabin fever.” Whatever it is about lime in the isolation cell that makes Steve McQueen play with his baseball. Something ungood.
    Some months ago my neighbours got a puppy (paid a stupid amount for a pedigree’d one, but that’s a different issue) … which through the day I’d hear yowling and whimpering while they were out at work, and I was using our “close” to do stuff in the garden. Obviously a pack animal getting quite distressed about not being in a pack. It got to the point that cat-person-me suggested that they let the puppy out into the close (lockable door at both ends, no hands-free street access) and I’d take it out into the garden during the day, interact with it etc. Which they’d do, but since they wanted it to obey them talking to it in Romanian, they were reluctant. Did it occasionally, which the bitch liked, but not often enough I suspect.
    They got a second puppy (also pedigree’d, opposite gender, obvious illegal plans) recently to solve the problem. Which I have to grant is an effective solution to a problem of their own creation.

  7. Caracas is backed up by a mountain range. In this photo you can see hills in the distance. So parrot nests could be there. One of my favorite memories during a tropical birding trip was just before sunset, at a lodge on a backwater of the Madre de Dios in Peru, seeing a flock of blue and yellow macaws up in the sky, their colors glowing brightly in the fading sun. That made me decide that it was the most beautiful macaw. Remembering it brings tears.

    1. Yes, they are stunning birds. So are their companions in the Amazon, the Scarlet and Green-winged Macaws. I have seen large mixed flocks of Scarlet and Blue-and-yellow Macaws, an amazing sight. Here is a video I made in Peru of a clay salt lick that attracted multiple macaw species:

      1. Here is an amazing slow-motion video of this clay salt lick done by a guy with fantastic equipment. I have never seen a more beautiful macaw video than his. It will bring tears to your eyes.

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