The Bolivian endemic Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis) with less than 455 individuals left in the wild, is Critically Endangered and is only found in the Beni Savanna ecosystem. This macaw occurs in three isolated subpopulations and only in 2007 did Asociación Armonía discover Blue-throated Macaws west of the Mamore River. There, Armonía created the 11,000 ha (27,000 ac) Barba Azul Nature Reserve protecting Motacu palm forests, the key habitat for foraging and roosting Blue-throated Macaws. Very little was known about their breeding behavior and habitat during the Bolivian rainy season (November to March) as nearly all individuals leave Barba Azul to breed at previously unknown locations. During this period most of the Beni savanna is flooded making accessibility extremely difficult.
To better protect the Blue-throated Macaw throughout its range we set out to learn the sites where these birds breed using satellite telemetry. We hypothesized that sites used by the Blue-throated Macaw during the rainy season and outside Barba Azul Nature Reserve are breeding sites and a priority for conservation.
In order to select the best tracking material, we did preliminary tests conducted on captive birds that resulted in choosing Geotrak Parrot Collars, a metal, battery-operated unit that provides data through the Argos satellite system. In September 2019, we tagged three birds in Barba Azul Nature Reserve with Geotrak collars, and received migration data for two birds, until battery depletion in November and December 2019.
Our two migrant birds were tracked leaving Barba Azul on the same date (27 September), but departed in divergent directions (approximately 90 degrees in separation). They settled in two sites approximately 50–100 km from Barba Azul. Knowing their likely breeding grounds, Armonía conducted site visits to where the birds were tracked, resulting in the discovery of breeding birds. The work suggests that the Blue-throated Macaws of Barba Azul use breeding sites that are scattered across the Beni Savanna region, although within the recognized boundaries of the northwestern subpopulation.
We conclude that the use of satellite collars is a feasible option for research with the species and provide important conservation insights. The use of satellite telemetry overcomes accessibility difficulties in flooded savanna ecosystems. It helped Armonía to continue detailed search expeditions to describe the previous unknow breeding habitat. The sites where breeding macaws were found are highlighted for future conservation actions.
Satellite Telemetry, Critically Endangered, Psittacidae, Preventing extinction, Beni Savanna