For bird lovers, the macaw and parrot clay licks of Tambopata National Reserve are an attraction not to be missed. In fact, the spectacle created by the bright plumage and raucous calls of hundreds of birds provides one of the most memorable highlights to any traveler’s visit to the forests of the Amazon basin.
Situated in southeastern Peru, Tambopata National Reserve was created in 1990 as a refuge for what is an incredible diversity of typical Amazonian fauna and flora. Today, the National Reserve continues to protect the highest concentration of clay licks in the world, including the world’s largest known clay lick.
Known in Peru as a collpa (or colpa), a clay lick is a wall of clay formed as a river’s meander erodes its bank. These walls of clay contain nutrients which are sought avidly by several species of macaws, parrots and parakeets, as well as many other animals.
Experts have proposed a number of theories to explain why macaws and parrots consume clay from riverbanks. Most scientists now agree that these birds seek out such clay deposits for the sodium they contain and to neutralize the toxins present in their diet of seeds and berries. Some species of macaw have been recorded traveling up to one hundred kilometers across the forests of the Amazon in search of a clay lick.
Whatever the precise reason for this remarkable behavior, there can be no doubt that the resulting spectacle is something all visitors to South America’s Amazon basin should try to see at least once. At major clay licks like those which can be visited in one- or two-day excursions from Tambopata Ecolodge, every morning at first light parrots and macaws gather, often in groups of several hundred, to feed on the clay, creating an extraordinary pageant of color and sound.
At these clay licks, parrots usually arrive before macaws. Activity tends to begin just after dawn, with parrots perching in the highest branches of trees, calling out to each other and checking for predators as their numbers grow steadily, before descending en masse to the clay lick.
Collpa Colorado is the largest known macaw clay lick in the world. The riverside wall of clay is around 25 to 30 meters (almost 100 hundred feet) high and 500 meters (1600 feet) long. This remote clay lick, situated deep in unspoiled virgin rainforest, is known to be visited by 17 parrot species. The macaws observed in this spectacular setting include the red and green macaw, chestnut-fronted macaw, blue and yellow macaw, red-bellied macaw and the extremely rare blue-headed macaw.
Collpa Chuncho is the second-largest clay lick in Tambopata National Reserve, and it attracts several parrot species, among them three species of macaw: the red and green macaw, blue and yellow macaw, and scarlet macaw. This clay lick is around 10 meters (30 feet) high and approximately 400 meters (1300 feet) long. While it is situated in untouched primary forest, it is more easily accessed than the more remote Collpa Colorado.