Bolivia is the only place on Earth you can find the Blue-throated Macaw, one of our most endangered, and most magnificent, species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the macaw as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2013. Read the Final Rule.
The macaw’s decline, attributed to habitat loss and pet-trade trafficking, has been so dramatic that it was once believed only isolated breeding pairs remained. Then, in 2007, researchers with Asociación Armonía, a Bolivian conservation organization, discovered more than 70 of the blue and yellow birds in a single roosting site in the country’s northwestern Beni region.
The Barba Azul Nature Reserve, the first and only protected area for the species, was established the following year. (Barba azul, which means “blue beard” in Spanish, is the local name for the macaw.) The reserve harbors not only the world’s largest Blue-throated Macaw population but also the only natural grasslands in Bolivia that are not grazed by cattle or burned for agricultural purposes.
And now, thanks to Asociación Armonía, ABC, International Conservation Fund of Canada, the IUCN NL program Small Grants for the Purchase of Nature, Loro Parque Fundación, Rainforest Trust, and World Land Trust, it has doubled in size.
A recent expansion has added 14,830 acres, bringing a total of 27,180 acres under protection. The new area includes grassy plains found in the Beni savannah, along with more than 20 forested islands in the tall-grass savannah. The palms and tropical hardwoods in the islands provide roost sites and potential nest sites for the macaw.
The list of other bird species found at Barba Azul is long. It includes the Vulnerable Cock-tailed Tyrant, Sharp-tailed Tyrant, and Black-masked Finch and the Near-Threatened Greater Rhea. Migratory birds such as Bobolink also occur, and the area has been described as a paradise for egrets, spoonbills, Jabiru, Orinoco Geese, and other waterbirds.
In 2012, Armonía staff observed more than 1,000 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, making Barba Azul the most important stopover site in Bolivia for the Near-Threatened species. The reserve extension will protect five additional miles of the short-grass river-shore habitat that the shorebird uses during its spring migration.
This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. For information about visiting Barba Azul, contact Bird Bolivia or Conservation Birding.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2014 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe.