It was day three of my rainforest adventure in the Peruvian Amazon. At about 6:00AM in the morning, our tour guide marched us down to the river to a grassy hut to watch the frenetic activity at the nearby clay lick. Peering through my binoculars through one of the small holes of the grassy hut, I could see the many parrots feeding on the clay lick located about 50 yards further downstream. I am guessing that at least 100 more birds had congregated at the lick early this morning, with about 6-7 different species represented. They were a noisy bunch as they flew back and forth from a nearby stand of trees to feed at the lick. Not only does the clay contain highly concentrated, hard to find minerals essential to the parrot’s diet, the clay appears to counteract the poisons in their diet from eating various seeds found in the rainforest.
I was staying at Posadas Amazonas, a medium sized eco-resort located about 1 hour downstream from Puerto Maldonado. One of the tour guides from our lodge informed our small tour group that the mixed flock of parrots feed on the clay lick in the morning, while later in the day 3-4 species of Macaws (large colorful parrots), commandeer the site. Apparently at this lick at least, the smaller parrot species and the macaws have different activity cycles, and they congregate in mutually exclusive groups - the smaller parrots stay together and the macaws stay together.
Looking around me in the small grassy hut, I noticed a middle-aged couple who were following the activity intently at the clay lick armed with huge telephoto lens attached to their cameras. Talking to them later at the lodge, I learned that these folk were from Virginia and they had made numerous forays into the tropics to watch parrots and their kin. They were not the so-called classical birdwatchers per se, but parrot enthusiasts. They had absolutely no interest in other species of birds. The lady pointed out to me that the parrots different from most other birds in that they have a zygodactylous toe arrangement - two forward pointing toes and two backward pointing toes. All other birds have three toes pointing forward and one backward. This configuration of feet gives the parrot a better ability to grasp objects. In fact, the lady made it clear that in her opinion, parrots were not really birds at all but deserved a higher and separate classification. She went on to explain to me that the African Gray parrot, which is considered to be “most intelligent” of all the parrots, is capable of thinking and has the intelligence level of a 3 year old child. Furthermore, these unique parrots could not only talk, but could carry on a conversation, albeit very simple, with their human handlers. Interesting…
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