Creative Essays

Macaws in the Morning
by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini

August 1996

Still in Costa Rica. The lowland rainforest is steamy, even at 5:00 am. A group of us stood on a bridge over a wide, sluggish river that opened its mouth to the ocean. The sun had just come up, and there were thick, low, billowy clouds along the horizon. The trees were lush green, as was the marshy area around the river. We were waiting for the morning migration of Scarlet Macaws. Every morning, the macaws migrate from their roosts in the mangroves to the rainforest, where they feed all day. In the evening, the unmistakable birds return again to their mangroves in the delta.

Macaws used to be common all up and down the Central and South American lowland coasts. Now there are only a few populations remaining. Scarlet Macaws mate for life, and always migrate in pairs. They nest every other year and lay two eggs. Only one of the chicks will survive, however. It is just too much work for the parents to raise two baby macaws. With such a slow reproductive rate, combined with extensive habitat destruction, it is not surprising that only 50 pairs remain in Costa Rica's Carara Reserve.

Standing there in the thick morning, I was thinking that the weather wasn't all that different from St. Louis, where I live. Then the pairs began to arrive. We watched them sail across the sky, like red paper kites with long, fluttering tails. The macaws looked as big as the Turkey Vultures and Bald Eagles I was used to seeing around the bluffs of the Mississippi River. I had never seen such a red bird in the sky before. We counted about 10 pairs that morning. That's a fifth of the whole Carara population. I hope they survive the next century.

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