The Tambopata forests, where we built our eco-lodge and created our own private conservation area in order to conserve this small corner of the Peruvian Amazon, are famous for their macaw clay licks.
These gatherings at a single location, sometimes numbering hundreds of individuals from as many as twelve different species of macaws, parrots and parakeets, have been described as among the most exciting birdwatching experiences found anywhere in the world.
Known locally as collpas, these riverside licks attract some species of macaws from as far away as 100 kilometers. They come to ingest the clay, which has a high mineral and sodium content. Just after the sun has risen over the river, birds begin to gather in large numbers in the trees around the clay deposits. Often, the first to arrive are the parrots. Gradually, they begin to leave the trees, swooping down to occupy the vegetation that clings to the riverbank.
As they do this, more and more macaws and parakeets also begin to arrive in the surrounding trees, their numbers growing along with their strident calls. After circling the lick, these birds also begin to descend, latching on to the high clay walls of the riverbank and immediately starting to consume the mineral-laden material.
Experts who have made Tambopata the focus of their studies for many decades believe that these mineral deposits constitute an essential supplement to the diet of macaws, parrots and parakeets because they help them to digest the toxins contained in some of the fruits upon which they feed.
In the forests of the Amazon, many fruits, seeds and even flowers have evolved to discourage predation by producing toxic chemicals. And so, the birds have developed this countermeasure: the clay they consume at licks appears to be rich in chemicals that bind to the alkaloids in the birds’ diet, thereby helping to neutralize their toxicity.
Scientists have also observed that the birds which feed at clay licks tend to focus their attention on deposits that are also rich in sodium. And so, it would appear that macaws, parrots and parakeets are gaining more than one dietary benefit from this extraordinary collective behavior.
At Tambopata Ecolodge, we offer our guests the chance to visit these clay licks and experience the unforgettable sight –and the incredible noise- produced by the gatherings of these dazzlingly-colored birds. With the help of our naturalist guides, we constantly monitor the changing habits of Tambopata’s species of macaws, parrots and parakeets.
In this way, at any given time we can be sure that we are taking our guests to those clay licks where regular activity can be expected, as part of our commitment to ensuring that the travelers who visit us from all over the world enjoy the very best South American rainforest vacation experience!