Scarlet Macaw Reintroduction (2002 – 2014)
A total of 75 Scarlet Macaws were released in Tiskita Private Biological Reserve between 2002 and 2014. There were nine release groups. The reintroduction project included a study on the survival and behavior of the released macaws, and ecological research. It established a new population in the South Pacific of Costa Rica in an area where the species had previously gone extinct. The current local population size is estimated to be between 150 and 200.
Most of the released Scarlet Macaws were bred in Costa Rica by the late Margot and Richard Frisius. They were bred mainly from confiscated, often disabled, macaws rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Others were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade and found suitable for release.
Scarlet Macaw Reintroduction Debate
Recent scientific research demonstrates that the remaining Scarlet Macaw populations in Costa Rica have been recovering and that there are genetically distinct subpopulations within Costa Rica. This implies that reintroduction is no longer needed and could potentially be harmful, which is why we ended the reintroduction project in 2014 and work together with the University of Costa Rica, and other conservation partners, to focus on developing on-site conservation strategies.
A soft release method was used in the reintroduction process, meaning that the Scarlet Macaws were gradually prepared to live in the wild. On average, the macaws stayed two months in a pre-release aviary in the release site in Tiskita Private Biological Reserve.
Inside the pre-release aviary, the macaws were offered a variety of food collected from the wild by the biologist and volunteers. They also acclimatized, got used to the wildlife, and, after the first release, got acquainted with their new flock, namely the previously released macaws when they visited the release site. The macaws were considered ready for release when they were healthy, able to fly up, foraged on a variety of food from the wild, and showed normal social behavior.
The macaws were released in pairs through a two-door release compartment inside the pre-release aviary. Ideally, the next pair was released when the previously released pair had returned to the release site, usually after a few days. Some macaws remained in the release site from day one, others flew off to return after a few days, and some did not return for months or more. A few individuals died shortly after release.
After release, the macaws were offered food by hanging feeders suspended from trees. Once all the released macaws were observed foraging in the wild, the supplementary feeding was ended. Newly released macaws typically remained in or near the release site for some months, gradually expanding their home range. Nearly two decades after the first release, the majority of the surviving released macaws still more or less include the release site in their home range.
The released macaws were extensively monitored between 2002 and 2017. This study has provided data on psittacine (parrot) reintroduction, for example, post-release behavior and survival, but also on Scarlet Macaw ecology and social behavior in the wild Read more
Wild Macaw Association’s study population are the 75 Scarlet Macaws that were released and their wild-born offspring. Since the first release in 2002, we have nearly continuously collected data on the behavior and survival of the released macaws. This makes it one of the longest running follow-up studies for (psittacine) reintroduction projects in the world.
In 2014, we were able to identify over 50% of the released macaws within a seven kilometer radius from the release site. In 2008, we observed chicks fledging from released macaws (Cyndy and Big Boy) for the first time and by 2014 we had counted over 30 fledged chicks, estimating there must be many more from nest sites unknown to us. In 2016, we observed for the first time a wild-born macaw (Little Girl) fledging a chick.
Although our study has a scientific objective, we have gotten to know most of the released macaws very well after years of observing them and have grown quite fond of them. Macaws are intelligent and in the wild have soap opera-like social lives, making it worthwhile to follow them and get to know them individually. Interested in getting to know the Tiskita flock? Meet the Tiskita Macaws
Scarlet Macaw Behavior and Ecology
A new Scarlet Macaw and biodiversity conservation program was launched in 2014 by Wild Macaw Association to replace the reintroduction project that ended in 2014. We have continued the monitoring and study of the released Scarlet Macaws and their wild-born offspring, an ongoing project since 2002, including behavioral and ecological research Read more