Wild Instincts

My Time as Volunteer at the Ara Project
March 6, 2018

Wildlife reintroduction and rehabilitation is a very tricky and delicate process for any wildlife professional. At The ARA Project, we remain as hands off with the birds as humanly possible if they are going to be reintroduced back into the wild. The only time we intervene in the breeding center is if the parents abandon their chick(s) and we HAVE to hand rear. Chicks, whether hand or parent reared, are released into the wild here in Manzanillo. We hope as they age and ultimately continue breeding they will continue to develop their wild instincts like their ancestors, who previously graced the lush South Caribbean region of Costa Rica.

The first time we ascended the nest and discovered the eggs, the female happened to be in the box, quietly sitting. As we got to the box she calmly came out, sat on top and watched us curiously. We took a quick peek inside and descended, so as to not disturb her and of course to not have the birds become used to people.. For this reason (as I mentioned in the previous blog), we subsequently checked the nest when the parents both had gone off for their morning and afternoon feeds.

After continued monitoring and anxiously waiting out the incubation period, our entire staff, board of Directors and of course the local people were all in tears to hear the news that the first eggs had hatched! The chicks were completely featherless, had unopened eyes and faces truly only a mother could love. The first chick was nearly double the size as the second, very responsive and adorably wobbled about the nest. The second chick however was small, weak and extremely unresponsive. We were certain that it would not make it through the night.


It is normal for macaws to only feed one chick, especially for first time parents. Luckily, they still have over 40 years to get this right. It truly is survival of the fittest out here in the jungle. However, just to be on top of things, we decided to ascend the nest everyday for a week or two, to see how the parents would continue to rear the first chick. We monitored the chick’s growth by carefully weighing it in a small, sanitary tupperware container on a portable scale we placed inside the nest box. We also looked at its crop to see how full it was and of course snapped a few photos to share with all of you wonderful people! Don’t forget, we were still dangling on ropes 100 ft up in a tree whilst doing all of this!

The chick was growing rapidly, doubling the typical growth chart of a captive bred Great Green Macaw chick.

The chick was growing rapidly, doubling the typical growth chart of a captive bred Great Green Macaw chick. The parents were taking care of the chick extremely well. It seemed as though they were overcompensating for their failed second chick and really investing their time into the first one. Since the pair was doing such an incredible job, we decided to back off on the nest inspections and only ascend the nest once a week. They seem to be getting the hang of this.

The changes from week to week were impressive! Around day 20 the chick substantially outgrew the tupperware container, its eyes completely opened and the first colorful pin feathers started to show. Other than physical changes, it was still quite the lazy chick. Aside from opening its mouth to accept more food, the chick was always sound asleep the entire time we did its check up, making for an extremely smooth and easy inspection every single time.

Nearing the end of the first month, we started to notice some changes with the pair’s feeding behaviours. They were spending less and less time feeding up at the Manzanillo station and more time in nearby Mountain Almond trees in search for more wild food for their little pride and joy. The most recent monitoring we did was quite the spectacle. I was down on the ground monitoring from below and my fellow teammate Duaro was up at the nest. img_3226I heard the loudest call of fear from above as Duaro opened the small door to the next box. I was sure the female must have been inside. To my surprise, that was the chick making that Jurassic park-like squawk! The chick was enormous, weighing just over 1 kilo at this point from the weighing a week prior. Its beak was now completely black, very powerful and it wanted nothing to do with Duaro or getting weighed. Duaro had only seconds to snap a quick photo of the chick and rapidly descend as the parents came in like a freight train, instinctively protective of their grand baby Great Green Macaw! At this point it’s safe to say this chick was clearly developing its wild instincts and even more so brought out the wild instincts in this milestone parental pair.

by Genevieve Peterson