The forests that flank southeastern Peru’s Tambopata River are among the best places in the world to see parrots, and they are home to some of the most active and longstanding macaw and parrot research projects anywhere in the Amazon basin. Macaws are large members of the parrot family, with colorful plumage and long tails. Of the many parrot genera, six are classified as macaws. At the other end of the scale, parakeets are members of multiple genera of small to medium-sized parrots.
Tambopata National Reserve hosts two of the best parrot and macaw clay licks in South America. At Tambopata Ecolodge, we offer trips to clay licks as part of our 4- and 5-day itineraries in the Reserve and its Buffer Zone. 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, including some large mammals.
For birdwatchers and all nature lovers, the macaw and parrot clay licks of Tambopata National Reserve are an attraction not to be missed. The spectacle created by the bright plumage and raucous calls of hundreds of wild birds provides one of the most memorable highlights to any traveler’s visit to the forests of the Amazon basin.
At Colorado, the world’s largest known clay lick, as many as seventeen different species of macaws and parrots have been recorded gathering together. And at the smaller Chuncho clay lick, multiple species of large macaws and parrots are routinely observed. In the forests of Tambopata as a whole, some estimates put the total number of parrot species at thirty-two, which would constitute 10% of the world’s known species!
Parrot species seen at the clay licks of Tambopata National Reserve or in the forests and wetlands surrounding the Tambopata River include the yellow-crowned Amazon parrot, the blue-headed parrot, the white-bellied parrot, the orange-cheeked parrot, and the particularly abundant mealy Amazon parrot, one of the largest parrots in the Amazona genus.
At the clay licks of Tambopata National Reserve, researchers have spent decades studying the behavior and movements of this protected natural area’s parrots, macaws and parakeets. At clay licks, these colorful, noisy birds tend to spend far more time in the area than they actually need to feed at the lick, and some species have been recorded flying more than one hundred kilometers across the forests to reach a major lick.
Scientific observations indicate that some species spend hours in the vicinity of clay licks, socializing in the trees that line the riverbanks before descending to feed on the clay deposits that assist them in dealing with the toxins contained in some of the rainforest fruits which form part of their diet.