Human Interest

Macaws enjoy privileged status in Venezuela’s capital

By Sarai Coscojuela

Caracas, Nov 11 (EFE).- Cristina Ochoa steps into her garden at 7 am with a tray of plantains and a can of sunflower seeds to feed some of the many macaws that grace the skies of the Venezuelan capital.

She told Efe she had observed those colorful birds with curiosity since 2016 but decided three years ago to set up two feeders with the help of her neighbors and install several seed trays in the metal trunk of a Christmas tree.

“They’re not my macaws, they’re Caracas’ macaws,” said Ochoa, who insists she never touches the birds because she knows they would feel trapped and never come back.

She greets her different visitors and talks to them while they feed, while also taking note of their characteristics. Most are blue-and-yellow macaws (ara ararauna), although others have yellow patches on their wings or are a mixture of light blue and white.

Maria Gonzalez Azuaje, an environmental studies professor at Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar University, told Efe that four species of macaws are found in Venezuela but only one – the mostly green chestnut-fronted macaw (ara severa) – is native to Caracas.

The blue-and-yellow macaw, scarlet macaw (ara macao) and green-winged macaw (ara chloroptera) previously had only been found in Venezuela’s southern, western and Llanos (tropical grassland plain) regions until someone brought them to the capital.

“There’s no way they could’ve flown here,” Gonzalez said. She noted that instead they entered via the pet market, a global problem that has altered the distribution of nearly all of the “marketable” species.”

That “migration” led to a mutation, she said, adding that the blue and white macaw that Ochoa has observed on several occasions in her garden likely occurred because species of different sub-families began to reproduce.

There are no communication barriers among members of the Psittacidae family, which includes macaws, and therefore no obstacles to reproduction. “We don’t know where this path will lead,” she said.

Ochoa observed that macaws fly in flocks made up of numerous pairs but also compete with one another for food.

Gonzalez explained that macaws and other members of the Psittacidae family are “aggressive” animals that often displace other birds.

A characteristic of macaws is their ability to eat almost anything, from cables and antennas to billboards, she said, noting that no one has yet assessed how much economic damage they have caused.

Referring to the treatment these birds receive from people, Gonzalez said most Caracas residents “love” and care for them and have even adopted them as an emblem of the city.

It is not necessary to feed macaws because they can feast on plenty of fruit and flowering trees in Caracas, according to the expert, who said it is not surprising that those birds prefer the “delicious” sunflower seeds and plantains that Ochoa and other capital residents offer them.

“People identify with the city’s macaws … (and) have adopted them as a symbol. We’re people who welcome everything that comes from outside,” Gonzalez said. EFE


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