Clay Licks: A (Mostly) Visual Essay


WC was criticized for writing an absolutely downer blog post yesterday. For balance, we’ll have a look at something a bit more cheerful today.

There are lots of theories as to why members of the parrot family, including Red and Green Macaws, come to clay licks. Those theories include neutralizing toxins in nuts and seeds the birds eat; finding a source of dietary sodium; or even finding a source of vitamin B12.

Regardless of the reason, WC can report that Psittacidae come to clay licks.

A clay lick is simply an exposed river bank consisting of very fine dirt. A clay lick isn’t much to look at itself.

Blue-headed parrots on a clay lick, Peruvian Amazon.

Blue-headed parrots on a clay lick, Peruvian Amazon.

But Red and Green Macaws come to the lick, it is pretty wonderful to see. The early arrivals land in nearby trees and palms, waiting for someone else to go first.

Scarlet and Green Macaws working up nerve, Peruvian Amazon.

Red and Green Macaws working up nerve, Peruvian Amazon.

Eventually, the trees are sagging from the sheer number of waiting birds. WC and his guide counted more than 700 birds.

A crowd of Macaws, waiting form someone else to go first.

A crowd of Macaws, waiting form someone else to go first.

Eventually, a pioneer – or a bird with a more desperate need for whatever the clay offers – braves the risk of predators and drops down.

A pioneer among Red and Green Macaws

A pioneer among Red and Green Macaws

And a few minutes later, a shrieking, squabbling, cacophonic mass of macaws is on the lick.

A cacophony of Red and Green Macaws

A cacophony of Red and Green Macaws

It’s a beautiful, noisy, nearly unbelievable riot of birds.

WC wishes he could provide a soundtrack

WC wishes he could provide a soundtrack

In an hour or so, it’s all over. The Macaws move on to do whatever it is these beautiful, noisy and amazing birds do all day. But believe WC when he says that the memory of their visit stays with you. WC has seen the Scarlet Ibises come to roost in Trinidad, watched polar bears in Kaktovik and been in the middle of a vast caribou herd as it moves through the Canning River.

The Red and Green Macaws at the clay lick just might top them all.

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