“When the morning sun clears the Amazon tree line in southeastern Peru and strikes a gray-pink clay bank on the upper Tambopata River, one of the world’s most dazzling wildlife spectacles is nearing its riotous peak.”
National Reserve Tambopata tour. A 3.7 million acre reserve in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon and also the gateway to one of the planet’s most remote and extraordinary Amazon rainforest environments, is home to over 1300 species of birds, including 32 kinds of parrots.
Among the most fascinating phenomena here is that the daily flocking of birds, particularly parrots and macaws, to clay stinks. Clay licks, or”colpas”, as they’re known locally, are special deposits of clay across the Tambopata riverbanks and deep in the Amazon rainforest interior where birds and other wildlife come to consume soil.
Why should hundreds of birds eat dirt from these special sites? The birds, particularly the parrots, have a curious habit – they dexterously pluck off fruit trees, tear it open, discard the fruit and eat the hard seeds at the middle. By eating the seeds from hundreds of plants, they are exposing themselves to highly toxic chemicals. The birds come to the”colpas” to obtain hard-to-find minerals, present in large concentrations in the lick’s soil. They eat the clay to protect themselves and neutralize the effects of the toxins.
Even the macaw clay lick, the largest”colpa”, is a massive 50-meter tall cliff of reddish clay that extends about 500 meters along the Tambopata River. Here, at sunrise, a brilliant selection of colour descends upon the lick. One by one, the birds begin linking into the clay. As the morning advances, they arrive in colorful waves to consume thumb-sized lumps of this clay. The spectacle of colours throughout the feast is dazzling – Blue and Gold Macaws, Mealy Parrots, Scarlet Macaws, Dusky-headed Conures, Blue-headed Pionus are just a couple of the kinds of birds streaming in from all directions. They spend hours at a time screeching, squabbling and purring at each other before going to eat the clay. Once they descend to the stink, they concentrate on locating choice spots from which to feast on the clay. And whoosh – they are gone leaving a pageant of color and sound at the very first sign of danger.
Clay Licks are not unique to the birds. So for instance, a peccary clay lick is home to wild rainforest pigs that show up in herds to consume clay in the late mornings. Parakeet licks are observed in the remote areas of the volcano, whereas monkeys devour tree trunks with sediments, and butterflies flutter about beaches where nutrient-rich fluids have vanished. Even the macaw lick, nevertheless, with its proximity to the Tambopata Research Center, a rustic lodge established to defend the nearby lick and to accommodate researchers and travelers, which makes it a great outdoor adventure travel starting point for its intimate rainforest experience in this frontier of the Refuge.
Sylvia is a trip adviser, planner and director who generates unique intercultural experiences for families and loves to impart information,tips and personal experiences especially related to family adventure travel.