We have learned that protecting nests from poachers is hard work. Although we know that Scarlet Macaw nestling development will last for a total of about 97 days, eggs are laid at 3-4 day intervals and different Scarlet Macaw pairs nest asynchronously (at different times). This means the ages of nestlings vary between, and even within nests. So whilst one pair may lay their eggs in early January with the chicks fledging by late March, a second pair may nest in the same tree (it happens!), but begin laying their eggs in mid-February, so the last chicks fledge in late May. This makes coordinating nest guarding more complicated.
Each active nest must be protected from the time the chicks are about a month old until they fledge. This means protection programs last from mid-February through late May. It is a 24-hour, 7-days a week job, there are no shortcuts. Because macaw nests can be kilometers apart, we focus protection where several nests are concentrated in a small area, which helps to lower overall costs. We were paying $500/ month for two experienced guards to protect several nests simultaneously, but lack of funds has made it impossible for us lately.
The main site has been Finca Quebrada Bonita, a dairy farm where at least four Scarlet Macaws nest yearly in natural and artificial nests. Protection of several nests is more feasible in this pasture and tree habitat than inside dense forest. Due to this farm’s popularity with macaws and guaranteed protection, this is also a priority site for placement of artificial nest boxes. This way we can help to ensure that up to 8 chicks fledge from this farm, almost 50% of recruitment during some years.
An additional safe haven for the Scarlet Macaws to nest in is the nearby Punta Leona tourist resort and wildlife refuge. Here active macaw nests are protected with a 24-hour guard until the chicks fledge. (See link to Punta Leona newsletter in Spanish—article about macaw project, requires translation).
In addition to 24-hour nest protection, in 2005 we tried another approach: guarding the poachers. We know where many local poachers live, so guards were stationed in their towns to help deter poachers from stealing nestlings. Initial reports suggest this method was not as successful as we hoped. However, because 2005 was the first year of employing this approach, we will modify it next year and attempt these two methods to reduce poaching.
Patrolling areas containing sparsely distributed nests has also been attempted for many years. This approach has generally been ineffective as poachers lie in wait and steal the nestlings after guards leave the nest site.
We think stationing guards in poaching communities may deter poaching. However 24-hour nest guarding has been the only effective manner to ensure against chick poaching. This is the approach LAPPA has used with success in its history of Scarlet Macaw protection.