This is our fourth blog in the Las Piedras guest blog series, following the adventures from the WildFF Friends and Family trip. Check out David’s journey to the Las Piedras Amazon Center to learn more about the group’s arrival at this jungle paradise.

Why do macaws in the Amazon need clay licks?

Macaws are beautiful, colorful, social birds and are the largest of the parrot family. Although their diet is varied including nuts, seeds, ripe and unripe fruit, flowers, plants, insects and snails, macaws that live in the Amazon basin are lacking the critical nutrient, sodium, that is needed for normal nerve and muscle function. To supplement their diet, these macaws gather at clay licks and literally eat the clay, which contains a much higher quantity of salt than their normal diet. A clay lick is a naturally forming wall of clay on a riverbank caused by erosion from the river.

Scarlet macaw

Scarlet macaw

Seeing them in action

One of our morning adventures at the Las Piedras Amazon Center took us to a clay lick that macaws frequent, and we were fortunate enough to watch an entire flock of more than 50 descend from the top of the clay lick. We were in a hideaway directly across the river with perfect viewing.

Here’s how it works. All the birds start at the top of the canopy. A few fly just a little lower. After sensing that all is safe, the rest follow. This process repeats itself for an hour or more until the whole group reaches the actual area where they eat. Several birds stay on top keeping watch. If a boat comes by (which happened), they fly up again and start over.

I reflected on how wondrous it was to see this process in action. It is only possible in a forest that has not been so deteriorated that both macaws and clay licks and so many other factors necessary for this “show” still exist. On the one hand, it is simply macaws getting additional salt. But on the human level, it is magical to watch.

Fancy watching the macaws in action for yourself? Explore volunteering opportunities with the Las Piedras Amazon Center.