Macaws are massive, long-tailed parrots plumaged in such bright colors that it’s hard to believe they exist outside of a zoo. Despite being more frequently seen at bird shows, on commercials, and travel brochures to tropical locales where they aren’t native (such as Jamaica, Florida, or the Virgin Islands) than in much of their natural range, large numbers of these majestic parrots can still be encountered in some of the more wild and remote areas of Central and South America.

Since they require huge areas of unbroken forest inhabited by very few people, it should come as no surprise that macaw central just might be southeastern Peru. The Amazon rain forest in this region is like an unbroken sea of every shade of green, there are almost no roads, and there are huge, uninhabited protected areas. Oh yeah, and there’s also these places along certain river banks where macaws, parrots, and parakeets come to eat clay.

Yes, that’s right, they munch on dirt but it’s not just any old soil that they are interested in. The birds consistently take clods of dirt from particular river banks and only appear to be interested in certain types of clay. It’s thought that this helps them to remove toxins acquired from the fruits and seeds they feed upon as well as providing them with important minerals.

Although no one knows for sure why they do it, what is known is that large flocks of macaws and their smaller relatives show up at the same spot almost every day. This is great news for the eco-tourist because the spectacle presents some of the most evocative and awe-inspiring wildlife viewing in the world.

Among the dozen or so accessible clay licks in southeastern Peru, the most famous is at the Tambopata Research Center. The clay lick near this rain forest wilderness lodge attracts huge numbers of up to 16 species of macaws, parrots, and parakeets while rare animals such as jaguars and tapirs are sometimes seen in the surrounding forests.

On the best days, up to two hundred macaws of six species (!) fly in to hang out at and feed on the clay. They are also accompanied by hundreds of colorful parrots and parakeets. The mere sight of dizzying flocks of these birds flying around and feeding on the river back is incredible all on its own but throw in the fact that most of the birds are screaming and screeching and the experience leaves most people speechless.

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