Clay licks like these two on the Napo Wildlife Centre Reserve Area are scattered throughout western Amazonia. Although locals have always known about the clay licks and the ability to see parrots well at these sites, clay licks did not gain the attention of scientists until 1984.
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The video you see next to this was taken on our small point and shoot camera during our last trip to the Napo Wildlife Centre. It was a breath taking spectacle! Without a doubt one of the most spectacular wildlife sights of the Amazon is seeing hundreds of birds gather at one of the clay licks. Arguably the two best clay licks in Ecuador lie in the Napo Wildlife Center Reserve Area, certainly these are the most accessible parrot and macaw clay licks in Ecuador (these are open to visitors from the Sani Lodge too). As well as being a great wildlife experience, visiting these clay licks helps to support an 82 square mile private reserve and also supports Yasuní National Park, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
So what are clay licks?
It is now known that clay licks form an important part of the biology of parrots and macaws. Both parrots and macaws live by eating nuts from a variety of trees. Some of these trees have developed defences against having their nuts eaten: typically by having evolved a toxin that is in the nut to protect it. Any animal that eats the nut will then become sick.
However parrots and macaws have evolved with these trees, and have developed their own response to the toxins in the nuts. The answer lies in the clay. Certain minerals in the clay are able to neutralize the toxins in these nuts, and so parrots and macaws seek out deposits of this very special clay. Once a deposit is identified, parrots and macaws will come many miles to eat the clay. This allows them to eat more nuts, and in turn allows them to survive periods when the non-toxic nuts are not available.
The blind nearest the Napo (Saladero de Loros) is typically visited by hundreds of individuals of Mealy Parrot, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Blue-headed Parrot, Dusky-headed Parakeet, and occasional White-eyed and Cobalt-winged parakeets. The blind at this site is huge, with plenty of space for upwards of 30 guests at a time, and even includes a basic bathroom. Access is a simple 50m walk along a raised wooden walkway and path.
The blind in the forest (Saladero de Pericos) is typically visited by a thousand or more Cobalt-winged Parakeets. The noise is incredible! From late October through early April, hundreds of Orange-cheeked Parrots are also found in the mix, as are rarities such as the Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet and occasional Scarlet and Red-and-Green macaws. It is almost certain that other small parakeets visit this clay lick, and new species for the region and Ecuador are just waiting to be discovered!