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Oct 9, 2020

Scarlet Macaws – How Do They Adapt and Survive in the Wild?

Tonight, we bring you part two of our Belize Zoo Live feature stories. As we told you on Wednesday night, the zoo is taking their animals into the classrooms through live virtual sessions that are scheduled to start in the coming week. While there is interest from educational institutions, the Belize Zoo wants to make this experience available for local schools. To give you an idea of what the lessons may look like, in our story tonight, we learn more about the big colorful scarlet macaws. These birds are endangered and only a few hundred more are found in the wild in Belize, but they have some characteristics that they use to survive. Reporter Andrea Polanco takes us along for a lesson about macaws’ adaptation with Education Director Jamal Andrewin Bohn of the Belize Zoo.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Scarlet Macaws are nosy birds. They use their squawks and screeches to communicate in their flock – such as to send warnings or to mark their territory to secure their habitat. Sometimes these loud calls are heard miles away. Their frequent throaty vocalizations whether low, medium or high pitch help them to survive in the wild. The Scarlet Macaws strong, curved beak is a physical characteristic that helps them to adapt, whether in captivity or in the wild. They use it to cut through nuts and hard fruits.


Jamal Andrewin Bohn

Jamal Andrewin Bohn, Education Director, The Belize Zoo

“They are a seed disperser. So, for example you are giving them pepitos – a favourite snack not only to Belizeans but also to the macaws. You can look at a bird and tell a lot about what it eats based on the structure of their bill. So, their bills are made specifically for cracking open hard nuts and fruit. There is a lot of power behind that and that is why we have the friendly advisories about not putting your hands in – a parrot’s beak can do some damage. It is almost like they have a hand built into their face – they can align the seeds along the lining of their bill, use their tongue like a thumb to manipulate objects and when they have it set – they just use that force to crack it open and eat the inside. And because they are such messy eaters, half of what they eat goes in them and half goes on the ground, so if you think about macaws traveling for miles in the forest, they help to spread stuff around and help with that diversity of plants and trees.”


Although these birds use these physical and behavioral characteristics to thrive – their numbers are dwindling. The Scarlet Macaw is an endangered species. Poachers target the scarlet chicks at just days old and not much to look at – because when they are grown their colorful feathers and ability to mimic human sound make them ideal for the pet trade. These colorful feathers also help these birds to survive in the wild.


Jamal Andrewin Bohn

“So, you notice the bright red coloration right? That is what they are famous for and a lot of people are surprised that a bird in the tropics, in the green would be so bright red. You would think that they would stand out and be easily spotted by predators or hunters but from a distance they do blend in quite well with this kind of greenish environment to the point where you can be right under a tree of macaws and unless they want you to know that they are there and they suddenly fly off, you don’t even know – they do camouflage well. But what scientists have found out is that one key adaptation or benefit for having those red feathers is the pigment – the protein that make up the red that they have – the parrots produce it themselves and it is actually more resistant to getting degraded or broken down by bacteria or humidity in the tropics.”


The scarlet macaws are very social and clever birds, but they are also seen as aggressive at times. They often move or gather in a flock which is another element that has helped them exist in our forests for a long time – with some macaws living well beyond fifty years.


Jamal Andrewin Bohn

“The way that parrots evolved – they have a lot of advantages when they start to work as a group, having flocks; to forage as a group and defend themselves at night. They have an alarm system – it is almost like a community watch when they are nesting together and obviously it is easier to find mates if they are in a continuously moving community rather than going out on their own to find a mate and potentially falling prey. So, that social structure that they have has much to do with their evolutionary advantages – much like people.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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